No Minister

Seven Days in January: why General Milley must resign.

General Curtis LeMay

After the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962 it became known that the famous WWII bomber pilot, General Curtis LeMay, and then US Air Force Chief of Staff, had had a very serious disagreement with President Kennedy. LeMay’s approach was that Cuba had to be bombed and the Soviet nuclear missiles taken out. The USSR would not go nuclear because they knew how badly they were outmatched in nuclear arms.

When Kennedy instead took the option of putting a “quarantine” around the island and negotiating with the Soviets to pull the missiles, LeMay and many other military men were livid.

The outrage was so strong that many Leftists of all shades, with Cold War paranoia rampant and what they believed was the militarisation of the USA, felt that a military coup was now a distinct possibility. So deep was this feeling that key people in Hollywood made a famous conspiracy theory movie about it, with Kennedy’s knowledge and approval.

Welcome to real life in 2021.

The first inkling of something weird came with this report on January 8.

The reaction on the US Right was a mixture of outrage at Pelosi’s relentlessly partisan bullshit and concern at the degree to which she had inserted herself into the chain of command. Pelosi was effectively trying to foment a coup against the legally elected president of the U.S. and interfere with his constitutional powers, when she had no right or ability to do so.

The idea that Trump, the first President since Eisenhower not to launch a war, would suddenly launch a nuclear attack on China seemed, and is, trumped up political insanity. Pelosi may have actually believed this or it may have been yet another of her endless political attacks resulting from her intense partisan hatred of the GOP combined with an ever more personal hatred of Trump. Either way it was a nonsense.

Still, the story did not go anywhere. People shrugged it off as just another crazy Beltway story to go with many others in those days.

Then, in July, a book was published by Washington Post reporters Phil Rucker and Carol Leonnig, “I Alone Can Fix It: Donald J. Trump’s Catastrophic Final Year” that carried more details. The authors wrote that Milley and his deputies feared that people close to Trump would advise him to take rash military action such as launching an armed strike, quickly withdrawing U.S. troops from Afghanistan or deploying troops in a way that was related to the election results.

“They may try” but won’t succeed, Milley told his deputies about a possible coup, according to the book. “You can’t do this without the military. You can’t do this without the CIA and the FBI. We’re the guys with the guns.”

Milley declined to comment and Trump haughtily dismissed the claims. Again the story vanished into the ether in about 48 hours. Even the NYT’s Chris Caldwell stated bluntly that “General Milley had no direct evidence of a coup plot”. No he didn’t and of course all this vaunted intelligence that supposedly had Milley preparing for a coup, showed no preparation at all for the “insurrection” of January 6, which raises the question of whether it was just all in his head.

Caldwell titled his piece “What if There Wasn’t a Coup Plot, General Milley?” and put forward this warning:

While some might greet such comments with relief, General Milley’s musings should give us pause. Americans have not usually looked to the military for help in regulating their civilian politics. And there is something grandiose about General Milley’s conception of his place in government. He told aides that a ‘retired military buddy’ had called him on election night to say, ‘You represent the stability of this republic.’ If there was not a coup underway, then General Milley’s comments may be cause more for worry than for relief. Were we really that close to a coup?

For all Mr. Trump’s admiration of military officers, they wound up especially disinclined to accommodate his disorderly governing style

We might be grateful for that. But our gratitude should not extend to giving military leaders any kind of role in judging civilian ones.”

I think Caldwell gives Milley too much credit. I’d already seen enough of the man during his “White rage” Congressional testimony in June to conclude that he was a mediocrity as a political thinker and a drama queen besides. The Afghanistan debacle reinforced that in spades. In fact the degree of “intelligence” and “military preparation” in that situation reminded me very much of Milley in late January.

But in the last few days the biggest blockbuster of them all has come out. A book by the famous Watergate journalist Bob Woodward, which revealed even more details, including claims that Milley had conducted direct phone conversations with his Chinese counterpart because of his fears about Trump:

“In a pair of secret phone calls, Gen. Mark A. Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, assured his Chinese counterpart, Gen. Li Zuocheng of the PLA, that the U.S. would not strike, according to a new book by Bob Woodward & Robert Costa.”

This report claims Milley pledged to alert his CCP counterpart in the event of a U.S. attack, quoting Milley as saying: “General Li, you & 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.”

I held back from writing a post simply because I don’t trust Woodward, who has coasted on his Watergate reputation while seeming to invent “quotes” and other “facts” that support his reporting, none worse than his completely implausible claims decades ago about a deathbed confession by former CIA director Bill Casey. Also this could have been reported months ago but Woodward waited until there was a book to sell, so he’s likely adding a lot of spin to help flog it and make money.

That said, he is right much more often than wrong. Woodward seems to use the tactic of the late Robert Novak, who gave people the choice of being sources for his reporting or the target of that reporting – which also leads me to think that the source of this story is fucking Milley himself.

I wanted to see what Milley’s response would be. His denial finally came a couple of days ago from his spokesman Col. Dave Butler. Or was it a denial?

“The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs regularly communicates with Chiefs of Defense across the world, including with China and Russia

These conversations remain vital to improving mutual understanding of U.S. national security interests, reducing tensions, providing clarity and avoiding unintended consequences or conflict…”

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…”

Yada, yada, yada. All this did was fan the flames. Here’s the thing with denials. It’s typically useful when giving one to actually deny the thing you are being accused of. This statement doesn’t do that. Instead there’s a bunch of qualifiers and weasel words that any political spin merchant would be proud of.

What we don’t see is any reassurance that he followed the proper chain of command by notifying the president of his actions. Milley also does not deny what Woodward says he told the Chinese. In other words, this denial isn’t a denial at all. Rather, it’s confirmation that he did do what he was accused of.

The key point here is not what exactly was said or not said. It’s the fact of the calls themselves.

Milley claims that he was assuring the Chinese understood our national security interests. But those are not his interests to dictate. A US president is elected to be the civilian head of the military and to lead the nation’s foreign policy. Milley was not elected and he had no right to do what he did, exactly as Caldwelll warned.

In trying to cover for him the Axios media site reported that there were actually two calls from Milley – one on October 30 and one on Jan. 8, the first with 15 people on the line. Supposedly the former was a follow-up to a communication made to the Chinese by Secretary of Defence Mark Esper, because of Pentagon concerns in October that the Chinese were getting bad intelligence about our intentions. However, once again there’s no report that Trump was told about any of this. And the same rule applies to Esper as to Milley:  it isn’t the responsibility of the Secretary of Defence to conduct foreign policy.

But there’s also another problem here. If this report is accurate, they lose their excuse about this being about the election and the fears arising from Jan. 6. But the bigger problem is that Esper wasn’t even Secretary of Defence on Jan. 8 since he was fired in November 2020 and replaced by Christopher Miller. So whose authority was Milley operating under? It wasn’t from Trump or Esper. Miller has since jumped into the story:

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.”

That last point will probably come as a surprise to many, who just assume all senior military are the same. They’re not and they have very circumscribed roles. The CJCS is not permitted to tell senior military officials that no action should be taken without him being involved.

Retired Army Colonel Douglas McGregor, made that point explicit in a TV interview:

“[The CJCS] has no statutory authority over operational forces of any kind. That means that he is not in a position to order anyone in the armed forces to say or do anything. Can’t do it. He is preeminently the senior military advisor to the president. That’s what he is.”So in theory, before he would make such a phone call, he would discuss the subject of the phone call with the president, the Commander in Chief. He certainly would not do something without coordinating with the National Security Advisor and the Secretary of State because this is beyond defense, this is foreign policy statement he is making.”

What Milley did in conjunction with Pelosi is the biggest breakdown of US constitutional order in modern history. This is a general essentially declaring himself a military dictator (without using the words), calling up foreign adversaries to let them know he had their back and would sell out his own country to give them information. And for what? There is no evidence Donald Trump was going to order an attack on China. Rather, Milley’s actions were driven by his delusional god complex (something hinted at by the NYT’s Caldwell months ago).

But even if you assume Trump was going to do something dangerous, Milley’s obligation would be to refuse the order, resign, and notify Congress. It would not be for him to make secret calls to the Chinese to let them know he’s going to feed them information.

And to have the two most senior Democrats – Pelosi and Schumer (with whom Milley also talked) – be so involved with this means they were committing the very thing of which they accused Trump; a coup.

As is often the case with the Left, their fears have proven to be their desires projected on to their enemies.

As for Milley, a large group of retired Generals and Admirals had already signed a letter demanding that he resign. Some went further and explained why a Court-Martial would be more appropriate. And that was over the Afghanistan rout.

This is far worse than that. He needs to resign or be made to resign right now. Biden won’t do it of course but there are other courses of action.

Written by Tom Hunter

September 17, 2021 at 11:03 am

6 Responses

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  1. What are the other courses of action that haven’t already happened? The President is the Commander in Chief and hires and fires the senior military. Congress can’t do it. They can’t order a court martial,. They can only hold hearings with the consent of the majority.
    The immeasurable anger on Capital Hill will be solely confined to the Republicans, and for the moment they are in the minority.
    There is also no way that this is going to be seen anywhere near as dangerous as Jan 6. Most people will have been reassured they were protected from war, just as they were when Nixon was in his end days.

    Wayne

    September 17, 2021 at 11:33 am

  2. Gee I hope there are some safeguards in place in case Biden wants to launch a nuclear strike.

    Chris

    September 17, 2021 at 12:50 pm

    • The same as have always been in place. Key codes carried on “The Biscuit” by the President, two-man rules, etc. There’s a lot of steps to go through to launch, although the JCJS is not one of them. It’s one of the many reasons why Milley’s actions and words are being seen as such grandstanding by other retired military officers.

      And that’s before we even get to the Constitutional threat by Milley and company.

      Although it sounds like we may have some new rules in place, in which case I look forward to the Democrat-D.C. bureacracy and MSM response when some future CJCS has a phonecall with the GOP House Speaker and GOP Senate Leader to explain how pissed of they are with a Democrat President who the GOP leaders think is insane, followed by doing end runs around that President.

      Tom Hunter

      September 17, 2021 at 1:31 pm

  3. He has to go. He took a big, fat, step across a red line that must never be crossed in a modern democracy.

    Civilians order the military. Period.

    scrubone

    September 17, 2021 at 1:12 pm

  4. I think Milley was also encouraged by the response in mid-2020 when he let it be known that he did not support Trump’s suggestion of deploying National Guard and US Army and Marine units in the cities worst hit by BLM/Antifa violence

    Milley was anticipating (because Trump was talking about it obliquely) an order to deploy troops under the Insurrection Act to the disputed cities and states. Trump was at least toying with the idea that the states’ failure to seriously address the discrepancies made it a situation where the law was no longer available to the citizens of those states, so the federal government, including the regular military, must intervene. Milley apparently disagreed with that application of the Act to the situation, and was prepared to disobey any orders to that effect, on the grounds that they would be unlawful, even though such things had been done many times before by previous US Presidents (Bugger that for a game of soldiers).

    Alright, suppose that Eisenhower’s and Kennedy’s generals, backed by DOD attorneys, had said the President’s interpretation of the laws was wrong and that nothing authorised federal troops to deploy to Southern states to enforce school desegregation? That the remedy for governors failing to obey court orders was more court orders, fines, or more legislation, but that the situation had not deteriorated to a point that made military involvement legal?

    Then what about the junior officers under Milley or under those past generals? Do they get to make their own legal analysis, with some agreeing with the president and others agreeing with the chairman? After all, once the chain of command is broken where does it end? It’s all well and good to say you’ll refuse an unlawful order if it’s something blatant like putting minorities on boxcars. Much more difficult when probably half the judges plus or minus one would agree with the order.

    Tom Hunter

    September 17, 2021 at 3:57 pm

  5. Who knew that Douglas MacArthur and George McLellan would rise from the dead and be reincarnated as General Milley?

    It’s nothing new actually. Even after he dismissed McLellan during the Civil War, President Lincoln had to go through quite a few other generals who turned out to be more skilled at politics than battle. He even re-hired McLellan at one point before finally accepting that he was still useless. McLellan returned the favour by referring to Lincoln as “The original Gorilla”</i<

    Climbing the greasy pole towards high positions in the Pentagon involves a lot of politics. Indeed one of the slurs cast as those climbers is “Perfumed Princes of The Pentagon”. But the fact that they were skilled at politics in the Pentagon doesn’t give them the right to decide political questions in the civil world. Generals of whatever name or era should stay out of civilian politics, especially while serving.

    The various banana republic experiments with governments led by military men on white horses should be a cautionary warning, and Milley himself should note that it’s usually not the Generals but the Colonels who’ve led those “experiments”.

    Tom Hunter

    September 18, 2021 at 9:02 am


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