Both General Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and General Kenneth McKenzie, CENTCOM commander, told the Senate under oath today that they recommended the United States leave 2,500 troops on the ground in Afghanistan. Joe Biden lied to George Stephanopoulos — or couldn’t recall — when he said that every military leader concurred with his method of withdrawal, which left 13 troops dead and hundreds of American residents stranded. (It’s a shame that media outlets stopped featuring those presidential-lie tickers when Trump lost, because Biden is racking them up at an impressive clip.)
There’s more to the story than Biden’s mendacity. When Senator Tom Cotton asked Milley why he didn’t resign over the Afghan withdrawal, the general offered a reasonable answer:
It would be an incredible act of political defiance for a commissioned officer to just resign because my advice is not taken. This country doesn’t want generals, figuring out what orders we’re going to accept and do or not. That’s not our job.
But figuring out what orders he was and wasn’t going to accept was exactly what Milley had done in the final days of the Trump administration — at least, according to Woodward’s telling of the story in Peril. Milley, who admitted he spoke with Woodward (and it is quite apparent when reading the book that the specifics must have come from him), now says he never attempted “to change or influence the process, usurp authority, or insert myself into the chain of command.” Milley says he was merely a cog in the “chain of communication.”
The entire prologue of Peril is about Milley’s frantic efforts to undermine the chain of command, including a long commiseration with Nancy Pelosi about how he would subvert the president. Why would he engage in any of those conversations if, as he now says, “I am certain that President Trump did not intend to attack the Chinese.”
Peril says Milley was consumed by this exact worry. So much so, that the Joint Chiefs chairman allegedly assured his Chinese Communist counterparts that he would give them a heads-up if the United States attacked. Seems like something the Chinese could easily have taken advantage of.
From the book:
“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. It’s not going to be a bolt out of the blue.
“If there was a war or some kind of kinetic action between the United States and China, there’s going to be a buildup, just like there has been always in history.
“And there’s going to be tension. And I’m going to be communicating with you pretty regularly,” Milley said. “So this is not one of those times. It’s going to be okay. We’re not going to have a fight.”
“Okay,” General Li said, “I take you at your word.”
In a recent Politico piece, a Milley ally — or maybe Milley himself — tried to engage in some damage control by claiming to have been in the room when the general asked permission from acting defense secretary Chris Miller to conduct a conversation with Chinese. That someone felt the need to relay this fact to Politico tells us that the conversation with the Chinese wasn’t typical. Miller, for his part claims he never authorized any such call. So, then, if Woodward’s account is true, Milley conducted his own foreign policy, circumvented civilian authority over the military, and acted in a manner he now claims he should not.
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