I read Howard Freedlander’s piece in The Spy on the “Military Conundrum” created by General Mark Milley’s call to his Chinese counterpart, Gen Li Zuocheng, on 8 January, two days after the insurrectionist assault on our democracy.
Milley was trying to allay Chinese fears of an attack by the United States. Quoting Bob Woodward and Robert Costa, in their book “Peril”, US intel believed “The Chinese thought that Trump in desperation [in having lost the election] would create a crisis, present himself as the savior, and use the gambit to win reelection.”
Shortly before or after General Milley’s call to Gen Li [Woodward and Costa do not make it clear], Speaker Pelosi expressed the same worry in a face-to-face meeting with Milley. She wanted assurance that Trump could not launch a nuclear attack on China by himself. Milley affirmed that there were “procedures” which guaranteed that that could not happen.
I agree with Mr. Freedlander that circumventing President Trump in this manner was a violation of normal chain-of-command protocols, both political and military. I also agree that policy decisions on going to war, or not, belong to civilians in the Congress and Executive branch, not the military.
However, I disagree with Mr. Freedlander’s view that General Milley should have resigned rather than calling General li.
This is not a normal situation we are talking about. Nor is it a normal president we were dealing with. I have voted in fifteen presidential elections, so I have experience with only the last third of our commanders-in-chief. But I have never seen the likes of Donald Trump. Not even Nixon, whom I confess to have supported early on, was as impulsive, self-centered, power-hungry, and ignorant/disdainful of the US Constitution. In the end, Nixon, to avoid impeachment, displayed honor in resigning. I see no honor in the perpetrator of the Big Lie, only child-like selfishness.
From the day he lost the election to inauguration of President Biden on 20 January, I worried that Trump might attack Iran, North Korea, or even China in a “Dr. Strangelove” move in order to stay in power. Am I being too melodramatic? Unrealistic? I don’t think so. I’ve come to expect non-normality with Trump. I heard his niece, Mary Trump, say on the Lawrence O’Donnell show, “This is the first time in his life that he lost something that he couldn’t lie, cheat, or steal his way out of, so his desperation is what General Milley was dealing with.”
I don’t think Milley’s resignation-with-explanation would have been as reassuring to the Chinese as was his person-to-person call. His words would have carried less credibility than that of a sitting Chairman of the Joint Chiefs.
General Milley is scheduled to testify before the Senate Armed Services Committee on September 28. I hope and expect it to be televised. He will have a chance to explain why he did what he did. I’ll try to reserve my final opinion until then, but for now, Milley looks to be a hero in the mold of Lt. Col. Vindman, Fiona Hill, and Ambassador Yovanovitch.
Bob Moores retired from Black & Decker/DeWalt in 1999 after 36 years. He was the Director of Cordless Product Development at the time. He holds a mechanical engineering degree from Johns Hopkins University