Academic journal article Military Review

The Need for a Brigade Politics-and-Policy Staff Officer

Academic journal article Military Review

The Need for a Brigade Politics-and-Policy Staff Officer

Article excerpt

By June 2015, morning battlefield-update briefs were routine in the 3rd Brigade Combat Team (BCT) of the 82nd Airborne Division's Baghdad command post. On one morning of that month, however, there was a critical difference: it was the first time a member of the staff was asked to provide commentary and analysis about the politics-and-policy decisions of regional governments, coalition partners, and the government of Iraq. Given my position as an assistant professor of American politics, policy, and strategy at the United States Military Academy at West Point, Col. Curtis Buzzard, the 3rd BCT commander, asked me to help explain how the 7 June national elections in Turkey might influence our partnership with the Iraqi Army's Ninewa Operations Command and the operational planning to liberate Mosul.

This was not the first time that a brigade commander asked me to fill this role. In 2008, while serving with the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) in Yusifiyah, Iraq, Col. Dominic Caraccilo asked me to study the Iraqi political process, interact with key State Department (DOS) officials, meet regularly with local political leaders, act as an advocate for the Iraqi population, and advise him on the political landscape within the areas of operations and interest. (1) Seven years later, I volunteered to spend the summer with 3rd BCT because I believed the setup of brigade staffs did not account for the difference between its evolving operational needs and the structure and responsibilities of its staff. I worked with 3rd BCT in the summer because they, like every other BCT in the Army, had no officer at the brigade level to examine the politics and policy of their assigned region, and no foreign-service officers embedded in their formations.

During discussions in Iraq with others on the brigade staff, subordinate battalions, and our higher headquarters, it became apparent we lacked a clear procedure or person to assist in interpreting the Iraqi government's political decisions, in exploring the domestic politics of regional partners and adversaries, or even in understanding the differences between the Title 10, U.S. Code, authorities and functions of the combined joint task force and the Title 22 functions of the Office of Security Cooperation that has been operating in Iraq since 2011. (2) This lack of understanding reduced our capacity to partner, advise, and assist when our counterparts asked questions about regional dynamics or global issues with which we were not familiar or for which we lacked an appreciation. The BCT staff structure limited our ability to fully understand our operational environment and best apply combat power.

This gap also highlighted the apparent beginning of what has become a recurring complaint about field grade officers and more senior military leaders--that the "best military advice" they provide is too frequently tactically sound but strategically and politically uninformed. As former vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. James Cartwright noted,

We forget the other elements of national power will be integrated into
the objective at the highest levels of government. We fail to recall
the use of force is a political decision--part of a larger
strategy--and that the end state will not be the political
introduction of force; it will be a political settlement. That is, the
principal reason for military intervention is to facilitate the
political objectives. (3)

Army Doctrine Reference Publication 5-0, The Operations Process, indicates that commanders and staffs must consider operational variables--political, military, economic, social, information, infrastructure, physical environment, and time--when conducting analysis and planning, stating, "The operational variables are fundamental [emphasis added] to developing a comprehensive understanding of an operational environment." (4) Consideration of just the political and social operational variables may require staffs to evaluate up to seventeen different subvariables. …

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