Yesterday I did a big column at The American Spectator on Gen. Mark Milley, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff who’s reported in the forthcoming book Peril by Bob Woodward and Robert Costa to have essentially perpetrated a military coup against President Trump two days after the Jan. 6 Capitol riot. The book also claims that Milley had more than one call with his Chinese counterpart, Gen. Li Zuocheng, during which he said a number of alarming things including that if America was going to attack China, Milley would call to inform him first.
Milley had an option he could pursue if he truly believed what he said, which was that he could have resigned. He could have told the American people in his resignation letter that he didn’t believe Trump was sane and that he couldn’t in good conscience follow orders from him. And he could then have left it to Pelosi to follow the Constitution and institute proceedings as provided by the 25th Amendment to remove a president unfit to fulfill his duties.
But he didn’t do that. Instead, Milley instigated a military coup against the president of the United States.
This after he was secretly conducting foreign policy and giving assurances to our most dangerous international adversary that America would not act against them.
What if, based on Milley’s conversations with Li, the Chinese had seized on what they saw as an opportunity to attack Taiwan? That isn’t a fanciful scenario, you know; they’ve been preparing for it since long before October of last year and are now openly aggressive toward the Taiwanese. It seems only a matter of time before the balloon goes up over the South China Sea. For Milley to have defanged this country via a backchannel is a gross violation of the chain of command.
At the very minimum.
Last week in a column in this space, I argued Milley and the rest of the Biden national security and foreign policy team should all be impeached over the utter calamity that was the Afghanistan withdrawal. It isn’t necessary to revisit Milley’s role in that: shilling for the abandonment of Bagram Air Base in the middle of the night and thus opening the door to the predictable likelihood that his Chinese pals will end up with it. That decision had an awful lot to do with the loss of those 13 American servicemen to an ISIS suicide bomber amid the needlessly chaotic withdrawal from Kabul.
Giving up Bagram and withdrawing from Afghanistan in the fashion we did is something Milley is now saying was the best we could do. But he undermined Trump’s efforts to get our troops out of Afghanistan in far more advantageous circumstances; Trump tried to pull them all out before leaving office, and if he’d done so, it would have been in the middle of the winter, months before the Taliban’s fighting season began anew. Instead, Milley was party to an even more irresponsible, helter-skelter retreat on behalf of a president far more cognitively unstable than Trump had ever been.
But he never tried to countermand Joe Biden’s orders.
Our constitutional system cannot survive the treachery of men like Mark Milley. He has to be removed from his position. Frankly, in a nation serious about its own laws and willing to uphold the standards which built it, Mark Milley would be facing a court martial under a charge of sedition and possibly treason, with the not-insignificant potential of the rest of his life spent in Leavenworth and an unnatural death at the hands of military justice.
The column assumes what’s written by Woodward and Costa is accurate, but if it isn’t, we could have an even bigger problem on our hands.
At least some measure of this has to be true, because Milley hasn’t denied it. Based on other excerpts from the book which have made their way into its publicity push, it’s quite clear that Milley was a principal source for Woodward and Costa – in return he’s set up as its hero.
What Milley has said, through a spokesman, is that his calls with the Chinese and his demand that top military staff essentially take an oath of allegiance to him with respect to the nuclear codes were in keeping with proper military procedures, and that he hadn’t gone rogue outside the chain of command.
That’s essentially a confirmation of Woodward and Costa’s reporting. The question then becomes one of context. At Axios, Jonathan Swan raises the possibility that Milley might have puffed up his role in these October and January incidents…
Behind the scenes: In mid-October 2020, top Pentagon officials grew concerned about intelligence they’d seen. It showed the Chinese were consuming their own intelligence that had made them concerned about the possibility of a surprise U.S. strike against China, three sources familiar with the situation tell Axios.
- One of the sources said: “I think they [the Chinese] were getting bad intelligence… a combination of ‘wag the dog’ conspiracy thinking and bad intel from bad sources.”
Then-Defense Secretary Mark Esper worried the Chinese were misreading the situation and that their misperception could lead to a conflict nobody wanted.
- Esper directed his policy office to issue a backchannel message to the Chinese to reassure them the U.S. had no intention of seeking a military confrontation. The message: Don’t over-read what you’re seeing in Washington; we have no intention to attack; and let’s keep lines of communication open.
- These backchannel communications were handled a couple of levels below Esper, one of the sources said. U.S. officials involved thought the Chinese received the initial message well. Milley followed up later in the month with a call to his Chinese counterpart to reiterate the message, two of the sources confirmed.
- It’s unclear whether anyone at the Pentagon told President Trump or the White House what they were doing.
Around the same time Esper learned of the Chinese concerns, he also learned that a long-planned deployment to Asia had been moved up a couple of weeks earlier than previously planned, to accommodate COVID quarantine protocols.
- Esper told colleagues the last thing the Chinese needed to see at that moment — when they were already misreading Washington’s intentions — was more planes, according to one of the sources.
- Esper went so far as to delay this long planned exercise in Asia until after the election, to lower the temperature.
Axios has not independently confirmed that Milley told his Chinese counterpart he would give him a heads up if the U.S. planned to attack China.
- One source familiar with Milley’s conversations with his Chinese counterpart would only broadly characterize them as Milley saying something to the effect of: “We’ll both know if we’re going to war… there’s not gonna be some surprise attack and there’s no reason for you to do a pre-emptive strike.”
If what Swan is reporting is true, then Milley was attributing to himself what Esper was doing with respect to those military exercises. This morning Erick Erickson kicked that idea around…
Could it be as simple as Gen. Milley, a man with a very well known ego, decided to make himself the hero of the story? Given the direct quotations from private conversations in the book and Swan’s subsequent reporting, there is no doubt that Gen. Milley is a key source for Woodward.
It seems entirely plausible that Milley cut Esper out of his retelling the story and made it seem like Milley was the hero. For a variety of reasons, this would be deeply, deeply troubling. Milley would, essentially, be writing the civilian chain of command out of the true history and claiming he alone took the responsibility. It would be Milley claiming he, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, proactively bypassed his civilian commanders to tell the communist Chinese that he would leak military orders to them.
That seems most plausible, makes Milley an ego driven fabulist, and is another reason he should resign or be fired. Perhaps President Biden can make Milley the fall guy for Afghanistan.
But on the other hand, there is this…
Former acting Secretary of Defense Christopher Miller, who led the Pentagon from the period after the 2020 election through Inauguration Day, said that he “did not and would not ever authorize” Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley to have “secret” calls with his Chinese counterpart, describing the allegations as a “disgraceful and unprecedented act of insubordination,” and calling on him to resign “immediately.”
In a statement to Fox News, Miller said that the United States Armed Forces, from its inception, has “operated under the inviolable principle of civilian control of the military.”
“The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff is the highest-ranking military officer whose sole role is providing military-specific advice to the president, and by law is prohibited from exercising executive authority to command forces,” Miller said. “The chain of command runs from the President to the Secretary of Defense, not through the Chairman.”
Fox News has learned there were about 15 people present for the calls. Sources told Fox News that there were multiple notetakers present, and said the calls were both conducted with full knowledge of then-Defense Secretary Mark Esper and then-acting Defense Secretary Chris Miller – something Miller denied.
“If the reporting in Woodward’s book is accurate, it represents a disgraceful and unprecedented act of insubordination by the Nation’s top military officer,” Miller said, adding that if the story of Milley’s “histrionic outbursts and unsanctioned, anti-Constitutional involvement in foreign policy prove true, he must resign immediately or be fired by the Secretary of Defense to guarantee the sanctity of the officer corps.”
So Chris Miller, who would have been Milley’s superior in January and Esper’s deputy in October, is denying this bit about how all of Milley’s communications with the Chinese were vetted by all the folks. Obviously this is something which has to be gotten to the bottom of, which it appears will be the priority when Milley appears at the Senate Armed Forces Committee on Sept. 25. Swan says that Milley’s staff was hoping that appearance would be his opportunity to rehabilitate himself on Afghanistan – likely by pinning the blame for pulling out of Bagram Air Base on Joe Biden’s demand that the troops all come out – but that’s going to be tough to pull off now that the Senators, particularly the Republicans, are going to want to grill him on whether or not he’s committed treason.
The only good news from Milley’s standpoint in the event that the Swan-Erickson interpretation of all this turns out to be correct that that he might be able to answer “not guilty” on the treason question. In every other respect, though, all of this – really, no matter how you interpret the details of it – paints Milley as an unbelievably bad actor and somebody who shouldn’t be spending one more minute as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
There are rumblings that Republicans in the House are trying to find a few Democrats willing to go along with an impeachment of Milley. Honestly, if you’re a Democrat congressman in a swing district it’s hard to understand why you wouldn’t be willing to vote for that, on the Afghanistan question alone, much less this. It’s beginning to feel like Milley is being made out as the fall guy for Afghanistan, which is fine – so long as attempts to isolate the trouble with him don’t succeed.