News & Politics

Truman Fired MacArthur: Biden Gives Milley a Pass for Doing the Same Thing

AP Photo/Alex Brandon

The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Mark Milley, went outside the chain of command in calling his Communist Chinese counterpart to deliver a warning about Donald Trump based solely and exclusively on his personal interpretation of political events.

Milley called People’s Liberation Army General Li Zuocheng on October 30, 2020, and January 8, 2021, according to a story in Bob Woodward’s new book, Peril, to assure the Communist general that he would give him advance warning if the U.S. chose to attack.

Milley was giving an assessment of domestic political events in issuing his “warning.” It was beyond his purview and, obviously, his expertise. The political implications of Milley’s actions are totally beside the point. What’s at stake is nothing less than the supremacy of civilian authority over the military.

And yet, Joe Biden has chosen to keep Milley as JCOS chair. The Pentagon itself is closing ranks to defend the general.

“The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs regularly communicates with Chiefs of Defense across the world, including with China and Russia,” Colonel Dave Butler, Milley’s spokesman, said in a statement on Wednesday. “His calls with the Chinese and others in October and January were in keeping with these duties and responsibilities conveying reassurance in order to maintain strategic stability.”

How can it possibly be routine to assure the Chinese that the political decision to attack China — if it were ever made — was a fit subject to give the enemy advance notice of? Perhaps Eisenhower should have dialed up Nazi chief of the general staff Franz Halder and informed him of when D-Day was going to happen?

Yes, it’s an exaggeration. But Milley’s pre-emptive move to inform the Chinese that he wasn’t going to allow an elected president to carry out his responsibility as commander in chief — a responsibility Milley didn’t have and wasn’t elected to determine — stinks of treason or, at least, an overstepping of authority.

The Truman library gave this rationale for President Truman firing General of the Army Douglas MacArthur: “Truman felt that his decision was just because MacArthur had overstepped his authority, defied direct orders from his superior and interfered with Truman’s hope of ending the Korean War quickly.”

Politico:

In a 1973 article in Time magazine, Truman was quoted as having said, off the record, in the early 1960s: “I fired him because he wouldn’t respect the authority of the president. I didn’t fire him because he was a dumb son of a bitch, although he was, but that’s not against the law for generals. If it was, half to three-quarters of them would be in jail.”

In his 1956 memoirs, Truman wrote: “If there is one basic element in our Constitution, it is civilian control of the military. Policies are to be made by the elected political officials, not by generals or admirals.”

Milley had no respect for Trump. And how smart is it for a general to assure a potential enemy that the United States wouldn’t engage in a surprise attack?

Clearly, Biden has ample reason to fire Milley. But…Orange Man Bad.

That’s a fairly weak standard to enforce: Trump was worse, so there. But truly, Biden has no excuse for not disciplining Milley. At the very least, the publicity surrounding this revelation has damaged Milley’s credibility in Congress. And the reaction to the incident has set an outrageous precedent for actions by future joint chiefs chairmen.