After the Afghanistan withdrawal fiasco, some said General Mark Milley should no longer be chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, so Tuesday’s Washington Post blockbuster, excerpted from Robert Costa and Bob Woodward’s new book Peril, only adds fuel to that fire.
I was raised in politics, and then I was counsel on Gen. Flynn's defense, so I feel like I know how shocking it can get. But this takes my breath away. Milley told Chinese leaders "he would not carry out 'any kind' of military action ordered by Trump."https://t.co/pIhE016XBv
— Molly McCann (@molmccann) September 14, 2021
Costa and Woodward report, “Twice in the final months of the Trump administration, the country’s top military officer was so fearful that the president’s actions might spark a war with China that he moved urgently to avert armed conflict.”
In two secret phone calls, they report, Milley assured Gen. Li Zuocheng of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army that the United States would not attack Beijing. One call allegedly took place four days before the 2020 presidential election; the second was two days after the Jan. 6 Capitol siege.
“Milley went so far as to pledge he would alert his counterpart in the event of a U.S. attack, stressing the rapport they’d established through a backchannel. ‘General Li, you and I have known each other for now five years. If we’re going to attack, I’m going to call you ahead of time. It’s not going to be a surprise,’” the book says. Milley did not relay the conversation to then-President Donald Trump.
In early January, the general also called on the admiral overseeing the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command to postpone military exercises, to which the admiral complied.
Whether or not this violates the infamous Logan Act, there is no circumstance when a military officer should conduct his own covert foreign policy without informing civilian leadership.
The amazing thing is how Milley apparently bragged about violating his oath and stepping outside the chain of command to thwart his superior
— Will Chamberlain (@willchamberlain) September 14, 2021
These activities strike at the heart of our constitutional system, which places the president and Congress in charge of major foreign-policy decisions that the military then carries out.
As a friend texted me late Tuesday, “In the name of democracy, Milley should be investigated and hopefully removed. Any president who takes his oath seriously would fire him immediately.”
Normally I am not so rash, nor do I toss around words like treason, but as a historian, I realize civilian leadership is paramount.
President Harry Truman famously relieved Douglas MacArthur of his command when the popular general wanted to widen the Korean War into China and began telling this to foreign governments without involving Truman. President Abraham Lincoln removed John C. Fremont from command when the general desired faster movement on freeing slaves than Lincoln could politically manage.
If this report is true, General Milley seized authority, told the Chinese that America was bluffing, and unilaterally canceled military exercises without involving the president, secretary of Defense, or State Department.
Major media outlets, naturally, are lauding the general for undermining civil authority, and Milley doesn’t seem concerned or ashamed, since he’s proud enough of his actions to tell partisan journalists. Expect no resignations.
If this is true GEN Milley must resign. He usurped civilian authority, broke Chain of Command, and violated the sacrosanct principle of civilian control over the military. It’s an extremely dangerous precedent. You can’t simply walk away from that. #dotherightthingintherightway https://t.co/izsMMCFPrz
— Alexander S. Vindman (@AVindman) September 14, 2021
Late Tuesday, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) asked President Joe Biden to fire Milley.