Improving Advice and Earning Autonomy: Building Trust in the Strategic Dialogue

Over the last three U.S. presidential administrations, questions about the appropriate level of military autonomy have dominated the practice of civil-military relations at the strategic level. Secretary Donald Rumsfeld is said to have browbeaten senior officers early in the Iraq War. The Obama administration has been charged with micro-managing troop levels in Iraq, Syria, and Afghanistan. And now, some assert President Trump has relinquished control over military strategy and policy to his generals and the Secretary of Defense. These tensions have caused pundits and armchair generals—along with serving and retired generals and admirals —to ask questions about the relationship between methods of civilian control and effective national strategy.

In reality, this debate is nothing new. Arguments about the appropriate level of military autonomy have surfaced in nearly every military endeavor in American history, and well-developed theoretical frameworks about how to nurture military expertise and establish civilian control of the military in a republican system date to at least Plato’s Republic. Yet, when it comes to civil-military relations in the United States, virtually all discussions begin with the arguments set forth in Samuel Huntington’s The Soldier and the State. Huntington set out to describe the theoretical foundations for an American military profession at the dawn of the Cold War; however, he instead has created deep and lasting misunderstandings about what it actually means to be a profession and about the role of military advice in a republican society. Huntington’s arguments continue to cast a dark and debilitating shadow over the provision of military advice and American civil-military relations.

Good military advice flows out of trust relationships, and the candor that good military advice requires depends on mutual trust. Yet Huntington’s theory has created the lasting impression that civilian leaders must implicitly trust, and grant autonomy to, military leaders. Autonomy is not—and should not be—mechanistically or automatically granted; like trust, autonomy must be earned and re-earned continuously through the daily demonstration of character and competence, and the commitment by members of the profession to police themselves and hold one another accountable. So, after more than sixteen years of inconclusive wars, it is time for military officers to step out of Huntington’s shadow and improve the quality and nature of the military advice they provide.

This article will argue that U.S. military leaders must recognize their advice must evolve as political conditions change; must focus more on cooperation with civilians than on civilian control; empower mid-level leaders and staff officers to participate fully in the interagency process; anticipate problems rather than waiting for a political end state; and focus on how military tools can accomplish civilian goals. If U.S. military leaders take these steps, they will be able to emerge from Huntington’s shadow and earn a greater measure of autonomy and trust.

It’s Hard to See Clearly in Huntington’s Shadow

Huntington’s shadow has warped the theory and practice of American civil-military relations for decades. In fact, Huntington’s theory of objective control has become so pervasive that it is now frequently referred to as the “normal theory of civil-military relations.” According to Huntington’s logic, the most effective method of civilian control is for political leaders to bestow professional legitimacy on military officers and to grant them broad autonomy in the execution of military operations. In turn, military officers agree to develop unique military expertise, hold each other accountable, and maintain a posture of political neutrality. When it comes to decisions related to the use of military force, civilian and military leaders inhabit separate civilian and military spheres; they therefore have clear and distinct responsibilities.[1] Civilian leaders set broad national objectives, provide broad policy guidance up front, and determine whether to use military force; military leaders determine how to accomplish those objectives and get the job done, all with minimal political meddling or civilian oversight.

Huntington’s shadow has warped the theory and practice of American civil-military relations for decades.

Morris Janowitz offered the first challenge to Huntington, noting civilian and military spheres are not—and cannot be—as distinct as Huntington’s normal theory suggests.[2] In practice, military expertise and civilian prerogatives overlap and the line between them—if one exists at all—is nearly impossible to find. Following the Bay of Pigs fiasco, President Kennedy captured this problem cogently in a set of talking points for his discussion letter with the Chiefs:

You may ask me what kind of advice I look for you to give me. The easy answer is military advice but I know it is not that simple. Most of our national problems are shot through with political, economic and psychological considerations as well as military and my final decision must take all of them into account. But I look to you to present the military factor as you see it from your professional background without fear or hesitation because of conflict with other factors involved. I have many advisors speaking for the other factors but you are the sole military voice and I want it to come to me clear and unfiltered. At the same time, you are more than military men and I also expect you to help me fit military requirements into the over-all context of any situation—recognizing the most difficult problem in our Government is to combine our assets in a unified, effective pattern.[3] 

Other scholars—including Janine Davidson, Hew Strachan, and myself—have also identified other aspects related to the overlapping nature of civilian and military spheres. Davidson has highlighted the chicken-and-egg nature of the strategic dialogue, in which civilians demand options before offering clear strategic guidance and military leaders expect clear direction before generating options.[4] Strachan has noted that effective strategies depend on the effective integration of diplomatic, informational, military, and economic instruments of power.[5] And my own work has emphasized the contingent nature of political decision-making. Under almost all circumstances, political leaders require information about the necessary level of commitment, the costs and risks of military action, the likelihood of success, and the impact on other global contingencies before they can make political value judgments about whether to use force and to what end.[6]

Huntington’s clear, parsimonious theory has proven remarkably seductive to American military officers for decades.

Another significant challenge to Huntington’s normal theory is that it is actually not all that normal. In fact, Huntington’s theory may have corresponded with reality in only a few cases in American military history. The application of principal-agent theory—most notably in the work of Peter Feaver and Debbie Avant—provides not only a theoretical alternative to Huntington, but also represents a major empirical challenge to objective control.[7] In reality, civilian leaders make complex decisions about when and how to assert their authority over military leaders. At the same time, military leaders often insert themselves into the political fray as they try to play Congress against the president, or vice versa, to maximize their autonomy or advance their own policy preferences.[8] And political leaders often try to politicize appointments to senior military positions in order to counteract the tendency of some military officers to limit options or withhold information in order to shape the outcomes of the policy process.[9]

Even if objective control were more normal, however, Eliot Cohen has strongly suggested the granting of robust military autonomy may not, in practice, be the most effective method of civilian control. In Supreme Command, Cohen details several cases—including Lincoln during the Civil War, Clemenceau in World War I, and Churchill during World War II—in which wartime civilian leaders were effective not in spite of the fact that they meddled in military affairs, but precisely because they did so.[10] Cohen identifies at least two major reasons why civilian oversight might lead to more effective strategic outcomes. Perhaps most importantly, close civilian involvement guarantees political primacy and helps ensure political objectives drive military strategy. Additionally, a continuous, “unequal dialogue” allows military and civilian perspectives to be integrated and reconciled as political and military circumstances change.[11] Since the nature of war is marked by uncertainty, competition, and non-linearity, the application of military expertise in a political context requires constant civil-military coordination and adaptation.[12]

You’re Not a Profession Just Because Huntington Says You Are

Despite these and other effective critiques of the theory of objective control, Huntington’s clear, parsimonious theory has proven remarkably seductive to American military officers for decades. Yet there is another more troubling aspect of the normal theory of civil-military relations. Although Huntington has given us the language and terminology associated with modern professions, in practice his theory has led many officers to misunderstand what it really means to be a profession. Autonomy is not an independent variable political leaders can vary to incentivize professional behavior; autonomy is something military officers must earn and re-earn continuously. As Dr. Don Snider has argued, you are not a profession just because you say you are.

Professions at their core are grounded in a trust relationship in which the client grants legitimacy to members of the profession because they demonstrate character, competence, and self-abnegation on a daily basis. Professions, at a minimum, are made up of members who develop abstract, expert knowledge, and apply it ethically, while holding one another accountable.[13] As military officers repeatedly demonstrate these characteristics, they earn trust and increasing autonomy.

Huntington’s normal theory has turned this causal relationship on its head. Under objective control, civilians freely grant autonomy to military officers in the belief that doing so will incentivize military leaders to develop expertise and remain politically neutral. Huntington has unwittingly taught generations of American officers that civilians should grant them autonomy, and that their own level of professionalism is—at least in part—contingent on whether civilians grant them sufficient autonomy and avoid micro-management. In doing so, he has also created another impression, often lurking in the shadows, that expressions of military autonomy during the advisory process should somehow overrule legitimate civilian authority when the two come into conflict. Unless civilian leaders abdicate their own responsibilities, however, some tension between civilian and military perspectives is inevitable in American civil-military relations.

Autonomy is not an independent variable political leaders can vary to incentivize professional behavior; autonomy is something military officers must earn and re-earn continuously.

This pervasive expectation becomes all the more problematic given the findings above: (1) there is no such thing as purely military advice; (2) bureaucratic and political realities do not match Huntington’s theory in practice; and (3) strategic effectiveness relies on close and continuous civil-military dialogue and coordination. Consequently, many U.S. military officers enter their first (and second and third and fourth) tours in Washington with deeply flawed expectations about the nature of civil-military interactions and fundamental misunderstandings about how to provide effective military advice in a political context. As Peter Feaver has articulated, civilian and military leaders are a bit like newlyweds, each entering the marriage with preconceived notions of how things ought to go that diverge sharply from the likely behavior of the other. For military officers, in particular, many of these expectations appear to be derivative of what they have learned from discussions of Huntington’s normal theory.[14] And so they are set up for repeated disappointments and frustration about how civilians sitting across the table are just not getting it.

Another fairly recent development that is consistent with Huntingtonian ideas is the proliferation of best military advice (BMA).[15] In this realm, it is no longer clear if best is a pronoun describing an earnest effort to provide the highest quality military advice, or whether it is part of a proper noun, BMA, with too much emphasis on best when compared to advice offered by other departments or agencies.[16] Some cynics might ask whether there is also PMA (Poor Military Advice), MMA (Mediocre Military Advice), or GBNRGMA (Good But Not Really Great Military Advice). While humorous, this question is not as laughable as it at first might sound. After all, intelligence agencies manage to qualify their assessments as high, medium, or low confidence. Thanks in part to Huntingtonian ideas, though, the military advice offered by senior military officers the United States is only the best military advice, despite a statutory requirement only to provide “military advice.” Although a more careful empirical analysis would be required to demonstrate a causal link between the recent treatment of best military advice and Huntington’s ideas, some military leaders have used Huntington’s logic to defend the practice of BMA.

Some Advice on Military Advice

Military advice that helps connect military operations with policy is necessary to develop effective strategy. Yet, as Eliot Cohen has pointed out, military advice is always given within the context of an unequal dialogue. This description should bother neither civilian leaders nor military officers. Under the U.S. system, ultimate civilian authority is a given under the Constitution. But, even in the unequal dialogue, many military leaders do not understand just how dependent civilian leaders often are on the military for information and advice in all sorts of circumstances. Consequently, this civilian dependence on the military lays upon members of the profession an immense responsibility to be transparent as well as an obligation to explain the logic and assumptions behind their advice. And any effort by officers using that dependence to manipulate outcomes, or even the hint that they are doing so, invariably will undermine cooperation, trust, and the development of sound policymaking and strategic development at every level.[17] During the Afghanistan policy review in 2009, for example, assertions that military leaders were withholding options from President Obama impacted American civil-military relations for years to come.[18]

When military leaders do not meet their Constitutional and statutory responsibilities to provide effective military advice in a responsive manner, civilian leaders will begin to look elsewhere for information. In fact, no president in the modern era has limited himself to only the military advice generated by the formal processes under the military’s control. As is their prerogative, presidents often seek military advice from many circles, including officers on active duty serving in non-traditional White House appointments, retired military officers, or civilian defense analysts. Members of Congress also frequently request a wide range of views on military topics. Far from the strict military and civilian spheres Huntington envisions, the national security decision-making process is instead flooded with a kaleidoscope of views from many quarters.[19] In such an environment, military advice had better be good.

No president in the modern era has limited himself to only the military advice generated by the formal processes under the military’s control. As is their prerogative, presidents often seek military advice from many circles...

The problems associated with the proliferation of best military advice as a concept deserve a more fulsome treatment than can be accomplished in this essay, but—at least at some level—the concept appears to epitomize an attempt to preserve military autonomy and represents a vestigial Huntingtonian influence on today’s officer corps. Whispered narratives—suggesting the U.S. would have won in Iraq and Afghanistan if civilian leaders had just gotten out of our way—have begun to enter into professional conversations in the halls of the Pentagon and command posts around the globe even as civilian leaders question the quality of the advice given by U.S. military leaders. Moreover, a significant part of the professional discourse about civil-military relations that takes place in military journals and at professional military education institutions has begun to focus on how senior military leaders should respond when political leaders don’t accept military advice, with very little discussion of whether military advice has served the republic well.

Civilian leaders in the United States certainly have not played their part perfectly, and the trust and respect required for effective civil-military relations and strategic dialogue is a two-way street. Moreover, if civilian leaders dictate bad policy, strategy will be defective. At the same time, however, professions have an obligation for introspection, for self-policing, and for holding themselves to account. After more than sixteen years engaged in inconclusive wars, it is time for U.S. military officers to take a more critical look at themselves and ask whether their actions truly have been worthy of trust, or whether they have simply come to believe they deserve autonomy. It is time to step out of Huntington’s shadow and begin a new conversation about how to give more effective military advice. The military can and must do better than best military advice.

Military leaders must do more to earn the trust of civilian leaders and to participate more effectively in strategic dialogue. Here are five specific ways military leaders in the U.S. can move beyond Huntington’s normal theory of civil-military relations and improve the quality of military advice:

  1. Military leaders must recognize their advice should evolve as civilian direction and political conditions change. Policymaking and strategy development (and implementation) in the U.S. interagency process is far more iterative and interactive than Huntington suggests. The provision of effective military advice typically takes place over days, weeks, months, and sometimes years. It is part of a continuous dialogue between civilian and military leaders, and it needs to be updated and adapted when political and military circumstances change. At the outset of a crisis or military conflict, no single memo containing best military advice will anticipate the complications that can or will arise. As costs increase, enemies innovate, or diplomatic considerations change, military leaders need to recognize that political goals may also change. Particularly in a polarized republic, there are frequently significant disagreements about available means and often even a lack of agreement about desired ends. Military advice must therefore be iterative, responsive, and interactive. Military advice not integrated with other instruments of national power or devoid of political context helps no one. When providing military advice, military officers need to be cognizant of, but not solely limited to, the political constraints within which civilian leadership operate. Of course, senior officers should not provide only politically attractive options. However, they do need to show that they are willing to develop the options they have been asked to develop, even if they think the options unwise. At the same time, military leaders need to be prepared to have a detailed, honest, and candid discussion about associated costs and risks, even—and perhaps especially—when their advice is not what political leaders want to hear.
  2. Military leaders should focus less on civilian control and more on civil-military integration and cooperation. As J.P. Clark has argued, knowing which civilians exercise civilian control and understanding what they actually control can be difficult in the United States. Military officers miss the point if they allow themselves to become focused on whether a particular official is, in the words of Rosa Brooks, “the right civilian.” To be sure, military leaders and staff officers should not take orders from civilian counterparts in another agency or from civilians on the staff of the National Security Council (and these civilian counterparts shouldn’t give them), but—based on my personal experience—these events are far rarer in reality than they are in some officers’ imaginations. Military officers should not cringe or assign ulterior motives every time they receive a call from someone at Foggy Bottom or in the West Wing. In fact, most interactions between civilian and military counterparts in the U.S. interagency process provide an opportunity for both sides to learn from one another and look for common solutions to problems. My own experience indicates this often is not the case. Immediately before I attended my first Policy Coordination Committee (PCC) meeting,[20] a fellow officer working on the Joint Staff pulled me aside and said, “You’ll see—these civilians just don’t understand the military.” Yet after nearly a ninety-minute meeting in which a director and senior director on the NSC staff asked that same officer a number of reasonable questions which she couldn’t—or at least didn’t—answer, it was abundantly clear why they didn’t understand the military.
  3. Senior military officers must empower mid-level leaders and staff officers to participate fully in the interagency process. To some degree, the lack of information provided by the officer mentioned above was not entirely her fault. Although the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs has a statutory and constitutional responsibility to provide military advice to the president and the Secretary of Defense, and the statutory and Constitutional responsibility to provide recommendations to the Congress, the Chairman and the Joint Chiefs are not the only ones who are involved in the provision of military advice. Staff officers from the Joint Staff often represent the Chairman in mid and low-level interagency meetings. Although low level interagency meetings generally have limited or no authority to make binding decisions, they can play an important role in coordinating and integrating diplomatic, informational, military, and economic tools of power into strategic options that can later be considered by Deputies or Principals. Yet a dearth of military advice and information is often a limiting factor in these conversations. A common DOD/Joint Staff refrain known all-too-well by all PCC participants is, “We have a paper in development, but I can’t comment today because the SecDef/Chairman hasn’t provided his feedback yet.” In many cases, these papers aren’t even delivered until a Deputies Committee or Principals Committee meeting, meaning that military advice is often disconnected from diplomatic and political realities.[21] Exercising a form of mission command that would empower staff officers to participate more fully in the interagency process could help identify gaps and seams between military and civilian thinking earlier in the process and would contribute to better-integrated strategic options for later discussion by senior civilian and military leaders. Nevertheless, as Loren DeJonge Schulman and Mara Karlin have argued, this change in culture will require active encouragement by leaders at the highest levels of the Pentagon.
  4. Military leaders must anticipate problems political leaders might want to solve; they should not wait for themor expect themto provide a political end state before planning begins. Although Huntington’s normal theory suggests clear civilian direction will come at the start of the process, military leaders should instead assume a political endstate will come at the end of the decision making process. It will also be subject to constant updating and revision as a policy is implemented. As Janine Davidson has argued, understanding this reality may not be enough to remove all barriers to effective civil-military coordination; there are some remaining doctrinal and institutional impediments to the provision of more responsive military advice.[22] Yet military officers can do more to anticipate the potential problems civilian leaders might ask them to solve. Military officers can begin parallel planning processes with different envisioned end states, even as senior leaders and staff officers engage their counterparts to try to get a better sense of political direction. Senior military leaders should also prepare for preliminary interagency conversations about potential strategic options and available capabilities, even as they begin to think through second and third order effects and implications for other, competing priorities. They should also foster dialogue that probes civilian leaders about what problems they might want to address while providing information about what different options or courses of action might be possible. While this recommendation may seem almost anodyne, countless interagency meetings end every week with a member of the Joint Staff stating, “You just need to figure out what you want us to do, and we can start to work on options.”
  5. Military leaders should focus on what the military can do, not on what political leaders should do. Military advice that identifies only the best option from a military point of view is bad advice if it is not integrated with other instruments of power. Advice that withholds options from civilian policymakers simply because military officers find them undesirable is also bad advice. Moreover, military leaders should expect civilian leaders and interagency counterparts to have questions, and they should be prepared to give candid and complete answers. Early during my tenure at the Pentagon, I overheard a general officer discussing a civilian request to outline how the services could cut ten percent from their budgets. The senior officer commented, “Could we cut ten percent from our budget? Sure. But we aren’t going to tell them that, because if we do, then they might cut ten percent.” In a healthier civil-military dialogue not colored by Huntingtonian ideas that military and civilian spheres are separate, the officer might have instead initiated the process to develop the option and to fully assess the costs, risks, and implications of such a decision in relation to other potential options. To help civilian leaders integrate civilian and military tools, military officers should provide strategic options to civilian policymakers even if they think a certain course of action may be unwise. They also should articulate potential risk and explain clearly the implications of all the options in terms of time, troops, blood, treasure, escalation, and ends. Moreover, they should be willing to admit when they simply don’t know—or can’t predict with any precision—how a potential option may unfold. Military expertise must always be balanced by humility, candor, and courage, both in terms of submitting to the decisions of legitimate civilian authority and in terms of recognizing the inherent limitations of military advice. As Kori Schake has argued, the ability to operate effectively in political environments is not a skill most senior military officers possess, but it should be. In contrast to Huntington’s claim that military and civilian spheres are distinct, military officers must be able to operate in a political context. Military institutions should create opportunities, such as attendance at civilian graduate school or fellowships in other civilian agencies that help develop these skills.


This article has not attempted to render a full accounting of the quality of military advice provided to civilian leadership. Nor does it suggest civilian leaders are exempt from responsibility for strategic blunders and miscalculation. It has, however, made the case that military leaders need to think more critically about whether the advice provided as part of the unequal dialogue has been effective and whether it has served the republic well. In recent years, civilian and military leaders have accomplished our national objectives in neither Iraq nor Afghanistan, for example, and poor military advice is at least partly to blame. In short, best military advice simply has not been good enough, as military leaders have not adapted their advice to changing civilian direction or integrated it effectively with other civilian instruments.

Military autonomy is no panacea, though, and it may even be a cure worse than the disease.

Military autonomy is no panacea, though, and it may even be a cure worse than the disease. Huntington’s theory of objective control was ill-suited to American civil-military relations when it was written, and it is no more applicable today. Yet, too many military officers, and some civilians, continue to cling to Huntington’s flawed notions of objective control and ignore bureaucratic and political realities. It is past time for the U.S. military to recognize that—even when civilians are guilty of the charge of micromanagement or abdication of responsibility—they have a responsibility to provide advice and behave in a way that is worthy of trust. Military leaders should not expect autonomy. They need to earn it.

Jim Golby is a U.S. Army Strategist. He previously served as a Special Advisor to the Vice President of the United States and as a Special Assistant to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. These views expressed are the author’s and do not reflect the official position of the U.S. Army, the Department of Defense, the U.S. Mission to NATO, or the U.S. Government.

Have a response or an idea for your own article? Follow the logo below, and you too can contribute to The Bridge:

Enjoy what you just read? Please help spread the word to new readers by sharing it on social media.

Header Image: Jim Mattis/Flickr


[1] It is important to note that Huntington was reacting to an earlier model of civil-military relations, fusionism, which claimed that the new way of global, mass mobilization war (World War II) had so thoroughly taken military affairs out of the narrow domain of military tactics that notions like a clear dividing line were obsolete.

[2] Many of Janowitz’s ideas echoed earlier fusionist arguments.

[3] It is not clear whether President Kennedy delivered these points as written; however, their main principles were later codified in National Security Action memorandum 55, available here:

[4] Davidson, Janine. "The Contemporary Presidency: Civil‐Military Friction and Presidential Decision Making: Explaining the Broken Dialogue." Presidential Studies Quarterly 43, no. 1 (2013): 129-145.

[5] Strachan, Hew. The Direction of War: Contemporary Strategy in Historical Perspective. Cambridge University Press, 2013.

[6] Golby, James Thomas. "Duty, Honor... Party? Ideology, Institutions, and the Use of Military Force." PhD diss., Stanford University, 2011; Golby, James T.. "Beyond the Resignation Debate." Strategic Studies Quarterly 9 (2015).

[7] Feaver, Peter. Armed servants: Agency, Oversight, and Civil-Military Relations. Harvard University Press, 2009; Avant, Deborah Denise. Political Institutions and Military Change: Lessons from Peripheral Wars. Cornell University Press, 1994.

[8] Avant, Deborah, and James Lebovic. "US military attitudes toward post-Cold War missions." Armed Forces & Society 27, no. 1 (2000): 37-56.

[9] Golby, James Thomas. "Duty, Honor... Party? Ideology, Institutions, and the Use of Military Force." PhD diss., Stanford University, 2011; for more recent allegations of this behavior, see: Woodward, Bob. Obama's Wars. Simon and Schuster, 2011, or For example, because President Clinton believed the military options General Colin Powell provided for Bosnia included inflated costs and troop numbers, Clinton launched a very deliberate selection process when it came time to identify his next Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. After the Senate confirmed Clinton’s appointment of General John Shalikashvili, the military options he received changed significantly.

[10] Cohen, Eliot A. Supreme Command: Soldiers, Statesmen and Leadership in Wartime. Simon and Schuster, 2012.

[11] Ibid.

[12] von Clausewitz, Karl. On War. Translation by Michael Howard and Peter Paret. (1976).

[13] Snider, Don M. The Future of the Army Profession. Edited by Lloyd J. Matthews. Boston: McGraw-Hill, 2005.

[14] Rapp, William E. "Civil-Military Relations: The Role of Military Leaders in Strategy Making." Parameters 45, no. 3 (2015): 13.

[15] Huntington did not explicitly use the term “best military advice,” but this practice draws heavily on Huntingtonian ideas.

[16] Discussion with Peter Feaver on 31 July 2017.

[17] Richard H. Kohn, “Building Trust: Civil-Military Relations for Effective National Security,” in American Civil-Military Relations: The Soldier and the State in a New Era, edited by Suzanne C. Nielsen and Don M. Snider (Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2009), 264–89.

[18] Woodward, Bob. Obama's Wars. Simon and Schuster, 2011.

[19] George, Roger Z. The National Security Enterprise: Navigating the Labyrinth. Georgetown University Press, 2017.

[20] As laid out in National Security Presidential Memorandum 4, the Policy Coordination Committee (PCC) is the lowest level interagency meeting in the U.S. national security apparatus. Management of the development and implementation of national security policies by multiple executive departments and agencies typically shall be accomplished by the PCCs, with participation primarily occurring at the Assistant Secretary level.

[21] The Principals Committee (PC) is the Cabinet-level senior interagency forum for considering policy issues that affect the national security interests of the United States and is convened by the National Security Advisor. The Deputies Committee (DC) serves as the senior sub- Cabinet interagency forum for consideration of policy issues that affect the national security interests of the United States.

[22] Davidson, Janine A., Emerson T. Brooking, and Benjamin J. Fernandes. Mending the Broken Dialogue: Civil-Military Relations and Presidential Decision-Making. Council on Foreign Relations, 2016.