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General Mark Milley Must Be Relieved of Duty

Milley China Call
Army Gen. Mark A. Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, briefs the media on Afghanistan, the Pentagon, Washington, D.C., Aug. 18, 2021. (DoD photo by Lisa Ferdinando)

The Washington Post published a bombshell report on Tuesday that claims the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Mark A. Milley, took it upon himself to reach out to our greatest potential rival, China, and offer to give them advance warning of U.S. military action directed against them. Though far from the only violation of Milley’s oath of office revealed in the article, that is enough to warrant the president immediately relieving Milley of duty.

The Post article provided excerpts ahead of the release of the upcoming book “Peril” by Bob Woodard and Robert Costa chronicling the final act of the Trump presidency and the first six months of the Biden Administration. The most explosive revelation from the excerpt was the claim that Milley bypassed the White House and took it on his own to engage with the commanding general of the Chinese military.

According to Woodward and Costa, Milley feared China might believe Trump would order the United States to attack. Instead of voicing concerns to the President, instead recommending actions that might assuage Beijing of such fears, Milley took matters into his own hands.

He called – without the knowledge of the president or Secretary of State – the commanding general of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army. According to Woodward and Costa, Milley told his counterpart, “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.”

For those who don’t like Trump thought his policy judgment was flawed, Milley could come across as a hero, as one who protected the country from an awful fate. That would be shortsighted, however, and miss the true danger of allowing generals to take such powers upon themselves. First, to the point itself, there is no evidence presented that Trump intended, much less took action to engage in a war with China, only that Milley was afraid he might. Thus, the Chairman took action by talking to our chief adversary for something that would never have happened.

Secondly, once a precedent has been set whereby a general or senior ranking official can get away with going rogue in defiance of a president, there is no going back – and would not be limited to one political party. Take a scenario related to the issue of Taiwan, for example.

Within the U.S. military and foreign policy establishment, there are roughly two schools of thought on the possibility that China might make good on its threat to unify the island by force. One is that Washington should actually give security guarantees to Taipei and defend them at all costs if China attacks. The other argues that fighting China over Taiwan is foolish, that the U.S. likely couldn’t win a war near China’s borders, and that in a worst-case scenario, the war could turn nuclear, killing millions of Americans. If Beijing does the unthinkable and does attack, Biden would be faced with a horrible dilemma.

Make good on the implied commitment to defend Taiwan and risk a nuclear war, or allow China to successfully take Taiwan, giving some the impression of American weakness. Whichever choice Biden made, he would be guaranteed to have fierce opponents at the highest levels of the Pentagon to his decision.

Woodward and Costa claim that Milley took action because it was “a good-faith precaution,” to ensure there was, “no accidental war with China or others, and no use of nuclear weapons.” If Biden chose to go to war with China over Taiwan, what is to prevent Milley – or any of the other high-ranking generals who have the same strongly-held views – from again acting on his “good faith” belief that he has to prevent war with China and actively subverts the president’s decision? Chillingly, even that might not be the worst outcome.

The idea of a military coup in America has always been considered so improbable that few would ever take the threat seriously. But acts like these Milley has taken move us dangerously close to a place where some officers in the future might consider it. They would, no doubt, be acting in what they believe to be the best interests of the country, regarding the decisions of a civilian president as representing a danger to the nation, and seize control by removing the president from power.

We fool ourselves if we don’t think that could happen in America. If we allow this continued insubordination of our top military leaders against our duly elected civilian leaders – regardless of whether we agree or strongly oppose any given policy – to succeed, we run the risk of paralyzing our government in a moment of crisis or one day suffering a coup. To forestall that possibility, we need to stop this trend dead in its tracks now.

Milley must be relieved of duty. Today.

Daniel L. Davis, now a 1945 Contributing Editor, is a Senior Fellow for Defense Priorities and a former Lt. Col. in the U.S. Army who deployed into combat zones four times. He is the author of “The Eleventh Hour in 2020 America.” Follow him @DanielLDavis1.

Written By

Daniel L. Davis is a Senior Fellow for Defense Priorities and a former Lt. Col. in the U.S. Army who deployed into combat zones four times. He is the author of “The Eleventh Hour in 2020 America.” Follow him @DanielLDavis1.

12 Comments

12 Comments

  1. Thomas Knapp

    September 14, 2021 at 6:30 pm

    If Congress declared war, China would have due warning of pending attack. If Congress did not declare war, any such attack would be illegal.

    How is a general reassuring his somewhat adversarial counterpart that the US government will not break its own law or international law a problem?

  2. Slack

    September 14, 2021 at 7:29 pm

    US has history of attacking without declaration of war. Reagan’s attacks on syrians in Lebanon in 1983 are good example. US has fired at iranian boats in persian gulf despite gulf not American property. Trump’s attacks in Syria are deemed by some as illegal or immoral as he was lured by jihadists.

    Trump was known for his emotional instability and comical outbursts and White House was called adult day care center when he was there.

    Person to be fired is Blinken who recently threatened war thus revealin US as a nation aligned with wars.

  3. skippingdog

    September 14, 2021 at 7:36 pm

    General Milley should clearly be awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

  4. Steven Andros

    September 14, 2021 at 7:56 pm

    Once again, imagine the explosive outrage if a conservative general did – against obama or any democrat. Hypocrisy and double standards is the stock and trade of the left.

  5. Jimmy John Doe

    September 14, 2021 at 8:04 pm

    China would be extremely foolish and VERY VERY STUPID if even for only just a moment it thinks US won’t attack it.

    US has relied on false premises to attack Grenada, Iraq, vietnam and other places. Why would china ever be exempt from this policy or approach ?

    The foolishness and stupidity is most apparent in decisions on Djibouti, intention to cut forces and glaringly childish pro-State Dept pronouncements on Taliban recently.

    Just over 100 years ago, western and jap troops were there alright and in amply supplied formation, too, and their warships were plying up and down major rivers and along the coasts and missionaries were busy churning out ‘rice converts’ by the busloads or shiploads. Stupidity with hubris as companion knows no bounds.

  6. kevthepope

    September 14, 2021 at 8:19 pm

    You should be treated the same way China would treat one of its own that did this- and you know darn well how it would end. BANG.

  7. Slack

    September 14, 2021 at 9:52 pm

    US was completely comfortable with bombing Laos, a neutral country by the terms of Jul 23 1962 geneva agreement. Yet no declaration of war.

    Roughly, over a ten-year period, USAF dropped more than two million tons of ordnance (iron bombs, cluster bombs, mines, deceleration bombs). It has yet to clean up the left behind ones.

  8. Commentar

    September 14, 2021 at 10:24 pm

    Taiwan was once wrested from china by japan via military force, yet today US, Japan and Australia have voiced military support in case of war between the two.

    Chiba has every right to take taiwan and it really doesn’t need to go to war to achieve repossession. A good way would be to ban all flights to the island that transit the mainland.

    Yet china is so weak to do even that as its leadership has vastly over extended itself with foreign investments and foreign ties, belt and road stupidity projects and a desire to project a diplomatically civil and calm partner image (a false facade) when the destroyer of worlds is lurking right at the front door.

  9. Slack

    September 14, 2021 at 11:57 pm

    US military commanders must always remember the nuremberg trials where german officers’excuses for waging war against humanity citing obedience to state orders were rejected.

    That lesson was easily forgotten by admiral Scott Swift, then commander of Pacific Naval Forces, who in 2017 said he would nuke china immediately upon receiving Trump’s order. Huh?

    But in Oct 1962, Capt William Bassett clearly remembered, when he ordered his man to shoot anyone daring to launch Mace-B nuclear missiles from okinawa as they were targeted on chinese and north korean cities.

  10. Commentar

    September 15, 2021 at 3:09 am

    US military machine is like genghis’ military machine. Thus naturally, its job is to make wars. But US govt is far worse, because it is similar to hitlerian germany or tojo’s japan, its left hand unable to know how its right is behaving, & vice versa.

    It has consistently objected to the no-first-strike policy.

    In Nov 1979, NORAD called Zbigniew Brzezinsky, the ultra hawkish security boss that soviet missiles were on the way. A second call said many more missiles were in the air. Zbigniew was about to ask the president for retaliatory strikes when a 3rd call said: “false alarm”.

  11. ADM64

    September 15, 2021 at 12:08 pm

    I am astonished by the number of comments that clearly miss the point of the problem: no general or admiral has any authority or responsibility for communicating with or opposing the real (let alone imagined) opinions of the duly elected officials. Indeed, communicating with the officials of other, adversarial or enemy nations, borders on the definition of treason.

    Pre-emptive military action at the discretion of the commander in chief, if deemed necessary, is wholly within the President’s constitutional authority. Congress alone can remove him if he is judged to have exceeded his authority. In any event, generals have no such discretion.

    As to a lot of nonsense about Nuremberg and similar things, generals and admirals are allowed to resist illegal orders actually given to them. They are not allowed to make up their own orders nor are they allowed to make foreign policy. Under the Constitution, our military leaders have two, and only two roles. One, they are advisers on the technical aspects of military force. Two, they are the executers of policy, fighters in wartime. They answer to both the President as CinC and to the Congress (for its oversight role). In each case, they can speak freely but are accountable for what they say because while the Congress is entitled to candor, the President is entitled to officers who will carry out his policy. And that’s it.

    The number of instances in which senior US officers have been wrong about both purely military, let alone strategic issues of a dual military-political nature, matters is lengthy and extends back to the Civil War (at least). There have been multiple times when senior leaders (e.g. McClellan during the Civil War) have opposed civilian leadership decisions, been wrong, and were ultimately removed. MacArthur was actually more right than wrong in Korea, but he, too, had to go because it wasn’t his call to make.

  12. Donald Link

    September 17, 2021 at 1:24 pm

    ADM 64has it quite right. In the case of Milley, his “use by” date has passed. He is a holdover from the Trump administration and if this is his propensity of action, he seems to be equally unsuited for the new Biden administration. One of the few examples of the proper separation of politics and military action took place in the Roosevelt administration. The President made the political decisions, some disastrously wrong, and the military carried their mission in a generally successful manner.

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