This past week, America’s highest ranking military officer was accused of something many people might view as inconsequential. But, if true, it would be the worst breach of military discipline since Gen. Douglas MacArthur was fired by President Truman for defying his orders in the Korean War. The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (CJCS), Gen. Mark Milley, apparently twice undermined Present Trump, blatantly violating the strict military chain of command and ignoring the sacrosanct concept of civilian control of the military. Let’s unpack some details of why this alleged action is a big deal and possibly a serious crime.
According to the soon-to-be-released book, Peril, by Bob Woodward and Robert Costa, Gen. Milley made two phone calls to his counterpart, Gen. Li Zuocheng of the People’s Liberation Army of Communist China. The first call was said to have occurred last October assuring Gen. Li that, “We are not going to attack or conduct any kinetic (active) operations against you.” Supposedly, Gen. Milley thought China was worried that, if Trump lost the election, he might launch a nuclear or conventional attack in retaliation. Then two days after the January 6th confrontation at the Capitol, Gen. Milley reportedly again called Gen. Li to allay any Chinese fears that the U.S. was in chaos with an unstable president. According to the book, Milley told Li he would warn him if the U.S. was planning to attack China. After that call, Milley supposedly asked his senior officials to swear on oath that he would be involved if Trump gave an order to launch nuclear weapons. These actions would have been tantamount to Milley’s assuming the role of president.
Before being commissioned as an Air Force officer, I learned in ROTC all about civilian control of the military–a crucial concept that goes back as far as the Roman Empire. Later in my 24-year career including three major professional military schools, I was immersed in the foundational concepts of military subordination to the civil government and the rigid chain of command. By the time Gen. Milley was nominated to be the CJCS with over 40 years of military service, believe me, he understood his limited authority and chain of command restrictions very clearly. The graphic below is a simplified depiction of how the military is constitutionally and legislatively organized to ensure oversight by the president and his civilian staff. This is how American citizens ultimately control the military through elections ensuring the military can never control the citizens.
The ultimate authority over the military rests with the president and is exercised through the Secretary of Defense (SECDEF). Operational control over the use of armed forces is through military unified commanders assigned regionally and functionally. There are seven regional unified commanders covering every area of the world and four functional unified commanders. These commanders control all multi-service personal and weapons systems assigned to them. They are directly responsible to the president through the SECDEF. The military service departments (actually six in number) also operate under the president and SECDEF as they man, train, and equip forces provided to the unified commands. The four-star chiefs of the services have additional roles as the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS). In that role, their chairman, nominated by the president, rotates among the services. So what role does the JCS and CJCS play in the operational chain of command? None! The JCS is in an advisory role to the president and the National Security Council (NSC) as illustrated above by the dotted lines as opposed to the solid lines. As the principal military advisor to the president and NSC, the CJCS is the senior officer in the military. But the CJCS is subservient to the president and SECDEF and has no operational command or authority. No military person, not even those in the chain of command, has the authority to talk operational options with the enemy. Any such conversations are constitutionally reserved for the president and perhaps some delegated civilian cabinet members.
If Woodward and Costa’s book is correct, Gen. Milley, with no authority to do so, and circumventing President Trump, discussed with Gen. Li what the U.S. was going to do and not going to do militarily to China, this act borders on treason. Then, if he promised to warn this enemy, China, if there were ever going to be an attack, that is undoubtedly treason. Finally, asking his senior leaders to swear to tell him if Trump was planning to launch a nuclear attack, although a ludicrous request showing a neurotic paranoia, is military insubordination of the highest order necessitating a court martial.
When this was first reported, I was convinced it was such a far-fetched story, it must be something hyped up to sell the book. However, in subsequent days, there have been few denials expressed. The White House has only responded that the president still has “great confidence” in Milley. The Democrats are passing it off as not unlike any other routine communication between the CJSC and his counterparts. Milley, himself, said these phone calls were, “perfectly within the duties and responsibilities” of his job. This convinces me that the allegations are true. And it is not routine and responsible communication for any four-star general to give an enemy counterpart information that is classified by any assessment and limited to lines of communication between the president and other heads of state.
Sadly, this incident fits perfectly with the degenerate trend in the morals and ethics of our government. Both Milley and SECDEF, Lloyd Austin, have been focusing more on Critical Race Theory and “wokeness” in the military than on readiness to defend this nation. They are both like-minded in their hatred of Trump as they play liberal politics in their government realm that is supposed to be the least political.
If these accusations prove to be as recorded by Woodward and Costa, Gen. Milley must be fired by President Biden, then face the same disciplinary action that any sergeant, captain, or other general would face. Of course, only the president could convene a court-martial of the highest ranking officer. What are the odds of that?