General Milley: Whisper to presidents, target of intrigue

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Updated 1 hour 39 minutes ago

WASHINGTON (AP) – General Mark Milley has been the target of more intrigue and political debate in two years as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff than any of his recent predecessors have been in four years. One after another, firestorms lit up around him – which is unusual for an officer who by law is a whisperer to presidents and by custom makes sure to stay above the fray.

From racial injustice and domestic extremism to nuclear weapons and Donald Trump’s suitability as commander-in-chief, Milley has become entangled in politically charged issues, regularly propelling him into the headlines of the world. topicality.

Milley is expected to face tough questions on these and other issues when he testifies with Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin at a Senate hearing on Tuesday and a House panel on Wednesday. The hearings were originally supposed to focus on the withdrawal from Afghanistan and the chaotic evacuation of Kabul airport last month.

But since then, Milley has been criticized by Republicans for his interpretation in a new book as having taken unusual steps – some say illegal – to protect himself against Trump’s potential outbreak of war with China or Iran or the order of an unprovoked nuclear attack in the last few months. of his presidency. Milley reportedly agreed with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s assertion during a phone call in January that Trump was “crazy.”

Even during Milley’s swing across Europe last week, the headlines harassed him and reporters questioned him. Most of the time, he pushed questions away or buried them in a detailed historical precedent.

Rugged and square-jawed, with a bushy brow bar over often mischievous eyes, Milley is quick with a quip and often a curse. His oversized personality, born from Irish roots in Boston, belies a sharp intellect and a penchant for digging deep into military history. The Princeton-trained Milley often answers simple questions with a deep dive into history that can reach back to the Greeks, cover long stretches of both world wars, and explain the context and concepts of war.

While facing accusations of disloyalty for what Bob Woodward and Robert Costa’s book “Peril” reported as assurances to a Chinese general that he would warn him of an American attack, Milley said. takes hold of his identity as a soldier who responds to civilians. leaders. He declined to make his case in the media, instead telling reporters he would present his answers directly to Congress. Her only brief comments were that calling the Chinese was routine and part of her job duties and responsibilities.

“I think it’s best that I reserve my comments on the matter until I do so in front of lawmakers who have legal responsibility for overseeing the US military,” Milley said. “I’m going to go into all the levels of detail that Congress wishes to address. “

While some in Congress have accused him of overstepping his authority, President Joe Biden backed him up.

Loren Thompson, longtime observer of the U.S. defense establishment as director of operations at the nonprofit Lexington, says Milley is a victim of extreme Washington partisanship and possibly his own efforts to shape its public image.

“His opinions and descriptions of his behavior behind closed doors appear too frequently in revealing books like the book Woodward and Costa,” Thompson said. “So maybe Milley took a more active approach to trying to shape his image, and that hasn’t served him well.

Not all of Milley’s controversies have been tied to Trump. During a House hearing in June, Milley passionately defended the military’s openness to allowing young officers to study ideas they might disagree with, such as “critical theory. of race ”, and he said he wanted to understand the“ white rage ”and motivations of those who participated in the January 6 riot at the United States Capitol.

Presidents of Joint Chiefs traditionally keep a low public profile. Of the 19 who came before Milley, none were fired, and it doesn’t look like they will be. Of recent presidents, only Naval General Peter Pace served less than four years when the George W. Bush administration did not hire him for another two-year term, citing the division of his association with the war. in Iraq.

Created in 1949, the president’s mission is to advise the president and the defense secretary. By law, the president does not command any troops. The role grew in importance during America’s two-decade war in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Milley commanded troops during tours of both wars. These battles, in which he lost many soldiers, helped chart his course when he rose from an armored officer in 1980 to an army chief of staff 35 years later.

His arrival in the president’s office on September 30, 2019 was accompanied by an unusual twist.

Almost a year before he was sworn in and just days before James Mattis stepped down as Defense Secretary, Trump announced that Milley was his choice to succeed General Joseph Dunford as president. The timing was unusually early in Dunford’s tenure, and it may have had as much to do with Trump’s antagonism towards Mattis as his belief that Milley was made for the job.

This is how Trump described it when he attacked Milley this summer over reports that Milley feared last year that Trump was using the military in a coup. State. Trump said he picked him as president to upset Mattis, who he said didn’t like Milley. In fact, Mattis had recommended the Air Force’s top general for the job, not Milley.

Milley’s gregarious nature may have initially appealed to Trump, but he quickly soured on him. In June 2020, Milley privately opposed Trump’s speech on invoking the Uprising Act to put troops on active duty on the streets of Washington to counter protests sparked by the Minneapolis police murder of ‘a black man, George Floyd.

Milley also expressed public regret at being part of a Trump entourage who strolled through Lafayette Square on June 1, 2020, to position himself near a church where Trump held up a Bible for photographers. Critics slapped Milley for appearing to be a political pawn. A few days later, Milley said he had made a big mistake. In the months that followed, he appeared to risk being sacked by Trump.

In the book “I Alone Can Fix It,” Washington Post reporters Carol Leonnig and Philip Rucker reported that on the day that President Joe Biden was sworn in, Milley expressed his relief to former First Lady Michelle Obama.

“No one has a bigger smile today than me,” Milley said.


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