If the Pentagon were to hand out medals for dodging the incoming artillery from Congress, General Mark Milley, the beleaguered Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, would have several more to add to his uniform.
The controversy swirling around the Pentagon’s top uniformed officer showed no signs of abating on Wednesday after a book bomb revealed the general had indeed bypassed former President Trump during the final days of his administration to reassure people. Chinese Communist leaders that the United States had no intention of attacking them and would warn them in advance if a strike was in progress.
The book by Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Robert Costa also said General Milley was so concerned with Mr. Trump’s mental state that he called the top military leaders together and advised them not to launch a nuclear strike ordered by the president unless he is there.
Since the book’s report was revealed, Mr. Trump has severely criticized the general he appointed to the most senior post just two years ago, and Republicans and even a few Democrats on Capitol Hill have expressed their anger. and their unease with the actions of the general and the condition of civilians. army control.
“If the allegations are true, General Milley should make history as a traitor to the American people,” Rep. Andy Biggs, Republican of Arizona, said in a Twitter message.
Senator Tammy Duckworth, an Illinois Democrat who sits on the Armed Services Committee, said she had “real concerns” about General Milley’s conduct, though he ultimately did not cross the line .
“I don’t think at any time from the reports I’ve read [that] he actually ordered his subordinates to betray the president’s orders, ”Ms. Duckworth, an Iraq war veteran, said in an interview. “I think what he said was make sure ‘I’m in the loop.’ And then do your homework.
“I think it’s appropriate, but I have real concerns,” she added.
Don’t back down
General Milley did not back down from his criticism, defending his actions on Wednesday while not denying the substance of the book’s report.
Col. Dave Butler said in a statement to reporters that the general’s calls in the busy weeks before and after the 2020 presidential election were both routine and had been authorized by the regular comment channel.
“His appeals with the Chinese and others in October and January were consistent with these reassured duties and responsibilities in order to maintain strategic stability,” the colonel said in a written statement. “All of the president’s calls to his counterparts, including those reported, are staffed, coordinated and communicated with the Defense Department and the interagency.”
President Biden and Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin also stood next to the Joint Chiefs chief on Wednesday.
“The president knows General Milley,” White House spokeswoman Jan Psaki told reporters. “… They have worked side by side through a series of international events and the President has complete confidence in his leadership, his patriotism and his loyalty to our constitution. “
But the political storm has shown no sign of abating, with a number of Republican members of the House and Senate calling on General Milley to be sacked or court martialed. Texas Senator John Cornyn, a member of the GOP leadership and the Senate Intelligence Committee, said he refused to judge whether the general should step down, but said at a minimum that the president “must explain himself to the Congress”.
And even retired Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, who has emerged as a key witness who testified against Mr. Trump in his first impeachment trial, called on General Milley to resign if he had made the matters reported.
“If this is true, General Milley must step down,” Vindman said on Twitter. “He usurped civil authority, broke the chain of command and violated the sacrosanct principle of civilian control over the military. It is an extremely dangerous precedent. You can’t just walk away from it. “
Pentagon officials did not deny the allegations contained in the forthcoming book, “Peril,” by MM. Woodward and Costa. But they argued that the book puts a grim twist on common practice, and that senior U.S. military leaders frequently speak to their counterparts in other countries, even opponents like China.
“Frequent communication with two countries like Russia and China is not atypical for a Chairman of the Joint Chiefs,” Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said on Wednesday. “These communications are routine. They are staffed and they are coordinated.
Trump is worried
The book says General Milley came to believe that the Chinese feared Mr. Trump would launch a preemptive missile strike against them because he was getting erratic about the results of the 2020 general election. The general called his counterpart. Chinese on Jan.8, 2021, shortly after pro-Trump supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol in an unsuccessful attempt to prevent the election from being certified.
A spokesperson for the Joint Chiefs of Staff said the appeals with Chinese government officials were “consistent with these duties and responsibilities, reassuring in order to maintain strategic stability.”
Retired Army Lt. Gen. Jerry Boykin, Assistant Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence in the George W. Bush administration, said he was initially suspicious of any of Mr. Woodward’s books, the famous but polarizing Post reporter.
“I think he’s proven that he doesn’t always do things right,” said Lt. Gen. Boykin, currently executive vice president of the Family Research Council. “But if it’s correct, it’s amazing. These are the kinds of things that need to be dealt with by Congress and the military leadership in a courtroom. “
“I’ve never heard of anything like this,” Lt. Gen. Boykin said. “[Gen. Milley] must be taken to task on this matter. He must be held accountable. “
Breaking a standard
The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff is America’s highest military figure, but is technically outside the chain of command for any military action. By law, he is strictly the chief military adviser to the president and the defense secretary.
“When he provides his best military advice to the president, he synthesizes the best military advice from other joint leaders in each of the departments,” said Katherine Kuzminski, director of the Military and Society Veterans Program at the Center for a New American. Washington, DC Security Think Tank
“He is also responsible for taking the president’s point of view on strategy and reflecting it to joint chiefs,” she said. “It is truly an important post which serves as a link between the political world and the military services themselves.”
If the allegations in the Woodward book are true, General Milley’s actions raise serious concerns about civil-military relations in the United States, Ms. Kuzminski said.
“This is not the role of the president. It breaks a standard, ”she said. “You don’t want a president to interfere in the political apparatus.”
General Milley’s actions could also further politicize a U.S. military that has seen its official partisan neutrality questioned in recent years, Ms. Kuzminski said.
“In Milley’s case in particular, I think both sides of the aisle think he’s playing for the other side,” she said. “The left criticized him for being an ‘agent of the right’ and now the right is criticizing him for being an ‘agent of the left’.”
General Milley is expected to appear before Congress on September 28, where he already faces a potentially hostile reception regarding the Pentagon’s handling of the chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan and the strategic costs of the Taliban’s victory over the government-backed government. the United States in Kabul. The book’s revelations won’t make grilling any easier.
General Milley’s relationship with Mr. Trump was strained even before the November 2020 election, as the White House and the Pentagon clashed over the potential use of the military to help deal with public protests related to the race in the summer of 2020. The general also apologized for showing up in military fatigues as Mr. Trump marched to a church near the White House to hold up a Bible and vow to restore order to the streets of the capital.
If the allegations in the book are correct, General Milley should resign or be removed from office, Ms. Kuzminski said.
“It feels a bit ‘thug’. You now have a president who was prepared to subvert the executive branch if he saw fit, ”she said. “Once you break a civil-military standard, it becomes evident that you are ready to break the civil-military standards. “
• Jeff Mordock contributed to this report.