A General reminding his subordinates that there is a procedure to be followed regarding nukes, and demanding they follow it? Easily defensible. That’s not the real story here.
Calling a Chinese General without authorization and assuring him our government was stable, while simultaneously promising to provide them early warning in advance of any US attack? Uhhh… that is unprecedented and… really not awesome.
“Gen. Li, I want to assure you that the American government is stable and everything is going to be OK. We are not going to attack or conduct any kinetic operations against you… Gen. 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.”GEN Mark Milley to his Chinese Counterpart
Those who know me well know I’m no blind fanboy of the last president. I commended his prudent policies and initiatives while readily criticizing his policies with which I disagreed. His personal style was blatantly unstatesmanlike and not my cup of tea, to say the least. I despise worshipful support of politicians. I find hysteria in opposition just as despicable. What shocks me is how many people can have so much hate for our former President that they will excuse virtually any action done in opposition to him. For example Democrats, historically the less militaristic of the two major political parties, are praising an unelected General for violating the chain-of-command, undermining elected civilian leadership, and contacting a Chinese General and engaging in unauthorized diplomacy and foreign policy. That clearly undermined the Office of the President as well as the Secretaries of State and Defense, and sent a clear message of disarray and disharmony to a near-peer competitor. “But Trump was unhinged,” they object, “GEN Milley saved us from calamity.” Look, I get that “Orange Man Bad,” but that precedent and its implications should scare the living hell out of anyone with any sense at all.
- Trump drew the ire of Milley & Co by trying to end wars, not start them, so the idea he’d randomly start a war with China his last week of the White House seems a bit silly, to say the least. If you genuinely think it was likely that the President was going to launch an attack on China or randomly use nukes unprovoked, you’ve probably got a little oppositional hysteria going on.
- There’s a name for providing time-sensitive classified information to a foreign power: espionage. If that information were to be provided to aid an enemy, there’s a different word for that that gets thrown around far too liberally and casually. Either way, the very thing a spymaster attempts to secure from the spies he recruits are promises to provide information to him and his foreign power for “the greater good.” Just read a Clancy novel.
- Imagine if China had taken Milley’s assurances of a heads up in the case of unprovoked attack and somehow decided, “Well, we can’t just wait for them to attack us. If it’s that imminent, let’s strike first,” resulting in God only knows what. Unlikely, I know, but even the most remote possibility makes the action seem astonishingly reckless. He was gambling with US foreign policy in an unaccountable way, completely devoid of civilian oversight. The potential strategic ramifications of this dude doom-casting to the Chinese (“Don’t worry guys, we’ve totally got it under control!” makes it sound like you totally don’t have it under control.) can’t be fully understood by any one person, which is why single individuals don’t get to make those kinds of decisions in a vacuum. Especially unelected single individuals in uniform.
- There have been recent high profile cases of officers getting relieved for going outside of the chain-of-command with their concerns. Those officers were punished swiftly, as they had to be. If Milley had concerns, he should have brought them to Acting Secretary of Defense Chris Miller, whom I personally know to be a good, decent, and sane man who would prevent something insane (and highly unlikely) like randomly launching nuclear weapons. Milley must be treated just like every other officer who’s violated the chain-of-command recently. Otherwise we’re making our Inside-the-Beltway four stars part of a ruling elite same as our elected ruling elite: Above the law and untouchable.
I’ve already called for General Milley’s
resignation over the Afghanistan withdrawal debacle (specifically closing Bagram Airfield and withdrawing troops before getting AmCits and SIV holders out). Him violating the chain-of-command, contacting foreign generals, speaking on behalf of the United States without authorization, and promising information about US military activities and intentions? Think about what his “back-channel” communication looked to China strategically. I guarantee you they thought, “Wow, the US is weaker and in greater disarray than we thought. Dolla, dolla bills, y’all!”
I’ve spent considerable time in countries where the military routinely inject themselves into the political process and usurp political leaders “for the good of the country.” We cannot tolerate that here in these United States. If the Woodward allegations are true and accurate, Milley must be relieved (which he now deserves twice over at least), and potentially prosecuted for violation of multiple articles of the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ).
I want to be very clear about something: I do not castigate GEN Milley because he did these things circumventing President Trump in particular. I would feel precisely the same way about a General circumventing and undermining President Biden today, or had a General done something similar under President Obama (who I certainly didn’t support on a personal level). You can despise President Trump and be glad he is no longer in office (or any other President for that matter) and still recognize the danger of our military generals overstepping their boundaries as defined by the Constitution and the UCMJ and purposefully undermining civilian leadership. Rule of law must be upheld, and that means holding GEN Milley accountable for his actions.
The problems in our general and flag officer ranks reflect a cultural rot in our military and society as a whole. I’ve been reading, studying, observing, and contemplating the phenomenon for many years now and will try to begin tackling writing about some of the causes and cures soon.