I am currently in a packed ballroom for the Center for a New American Security's (CNAS) annual June conference, with 1400 military officers, think tank fellows, civil servants, and other security types. According to Richard Danzig, CNAS' chairman, several thousand potential attendees had to be turned away, which is understandable given the think tank's newfound prominence. Eleven former CNAS officials are either currently serving in the administration or awaiting confirmation. Michele Flournoy, the former CNAS president and current undersecretary of defense for policy, has four CNAS staffers working for her at Pentagon alone. Given as CNAS' website lists 11 experts remaining, the center's representation in the administration, relative to its size, is unparalleled.
The big event at the conference was General David Petraeus' keynote address, but before he even began, Danzig broke some big news. Nathaniel "Nate" Fick, only 32 years old but already CNAS' COO, will succeed current CEO Kurt Campbell once he is confirmed as assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs. Fick is a former Marine Corps captain, and served in Iraq, Pakistan and Iraq, giving him an unusual degree of operational experience with the three countries with which CNAS is primarily focused. He has written a best-selling memoir of his combat experiences, and was a main character in Evan Wright's Generation Kill, as well as the HBO mini-series based on that book.
In a particularly funny coincidence, Fick decided to join the Marines as an undergraduate at Dartmouth after having seen a book talk by Tom Ricks, then a Washington Post reporter. ""Although I had reached the decision largely on my own, Tom Ricks, in an hour-long talk on a cold night at Dartmouth, finally convinced me to be a Marine," he wrote in his memoir. Ricks is currently a senior fellow at CNAS; Fick will soon be his boss.