Journalist joins academy faculty


In yet another step to build the reputation of its growing foreign affairs and language programs, the Naval Academy has named Robert Kaplan - an author and Atlantic Monthly correspondent - as a visiting political science professor.

The choice reflects the academy's recent overtures to language and cultural experts to develop a humanities curriculum than can rival the renown of its undergraduate engineering programs. Academy officials have recently unveiled plans to vastly increase instruction in the languages and cultures of regional hot spots where graduating midshipmen are most likely to serve.

Although others hired for visiting professorships at the Annapolis military college have come from outside of the academic world, Kaplan - known for his prescient writings about Iraq and, well before the war, the threat stateless organizations and unstable societies pose to the United States - is a first as a prominent journalist.

"I have a real palpable sense of the incredible responsibilities that will be thrust on someone just a year or two out of the academy," Kaplan said in a telephone interview yesterday.

"A teacher's job is to give them as sophisticated a grip on the world in general rather than a narrow specialty. We live in an age of warfare where the actions of even the lowliest corporal, let alone a lieutenant or ensign, can have strategic consequences under the klieg lights of the global media," he said.

William Miller, the Naval Academy's academic dean, said hiring Kaplan as a "distinguished visiting professor in national security" reflects the language and culture goals and the school's commitment to hiring faculty who have done scholarly work but also have had some "practical" experience in their subjects.

"Bob Kaplan is exactly the kind of person we're looking for," Miller said, adding that he had "experienced history and made history."

"He's been embedded with troops from all four service branches and he's been on the front lines and can relate his observations with personal experience as well as his own scholarship. I think it's going to be a great marriage, and we're looking forward to it."

The position is funded with a $3 million endowment from the Class of 1960, one of several such posts added in recent years as the school's alumni association has begun raising private funds to support the school.

Kaplan, who will continue writing for Atlantic Monthly while he fills the post, said he was offered the job last spring and took it without hesitation.

"First of all, it was a great honor," he said. "Secondly, I've always wanted to teach. Thirdly, I've just spent the last four years, embedded several months of each of those years, with all the four armed services - and not only in Iraq and Afghanistan, I have spent many weeks aboard submarines and aboard destroyers. I have seen sailors and Marines all over, so I know the kind of responsibilities that a young junior officer has just a year or two out of the academy."

For his most recent book - Imperial Grunts: The American Military on the Ground - Kaplan traveled the world and spent time with troops in Colombia, Iraq, Yemen, Afghanistan and the Philippines.

During that time and in other travels, he said, he has constantly run into recent academy graduates.

Kaplan, 54, lives in Western Massachusetts and plans to commute by air and stay several days a week in Annapolis. He is married and has one son who is a senior in college.

He began his career writing for the Rutland Herald in Vermont, doing "everything from obituaries to covering the school board and interviewing the governor."

After Kaplan left daily journalism, his work took him to world hot spots and he won attention writing about the Baltic in the early 1990s. His work is said to have influenced President Bill Clinton's decision-making about that region, and President Bush reportedly read Imperial Grunts during his Christmas break last year.

Although some academy leaders have had occasional public disputes with civilian faculty in the past, Kaplan said it would not be a problem for him.

"When you're going to a place you haven't been before, it's important to listen," he said. "In general, I've never been shy about saying what I think, in print or in lectures. I think it's a matter of being direct and straightforward but also very polite and understanding of other people's feelings who have different points of view."

Miller said Kaplan will be a strong addition to the faculty, one of several in recent years who will help with the school's new focus. Others added include Brannon Wheeler, a Middle East expert who is bringing focus to studies on that region; and John Limbert, the recently retired dean of the State Department's language school at the Foreign Service Institute. Limbert will help the academy develop its foreign language and culture programs, establishing it as a leader in that arena.

"We don't try to make them celebrities. We try to bring people with rich personal experiences into the classroom," Miller said. "We're bringing in absolutely the finest people with the richest experience we can and putting them in contact with the midshipmen."

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