25th Amendment, Bob Woodward, China, Constitution, Defense Department, Donald Trump, election 2020, Im-Politic, Jen Psaki, Joint Chiefs of Staff, Mark Milley, military, Pentagon, Peril, Robert Costa, treason, Washington Post
I’d bother to advise General Mark Milley to lawyer up – fast – except I can’t imagine that even Johnnie Cochrane (Google “O.J. trial”) – ultimately could get the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff off the hook for treason charges if claims made by an upcoming book on the Trump administration’s final months are true. Worse, the President of the United States seems just fine with such behavior from the person who’s both the top military advisor to the chief executive and to the Pentagon.
It should go without saying that Milley, as with every other American, deserves a presumption of innocence. But his behavior since the publication of excerpts from Peril, by Washington Post correspondents Bob Woodward (of Woodward and Bernstein Watergate fame) and Robert Costa decidedly resembles that of someone who’s guilty as sin.
As stated by another Post reporter, according to Woodward and Costa, Milley called his Chinese counterpart last October 30 and told him, “General Li, I want to assure you that the American government is stable and everything is going to be okay.”
Allegedly, Milley continued, “We are not going to attack or conduct any kinetic operations against you.” (With this phrasing, Milley for some reason might have been trying to exclude cyber-attacks from his promise.)
And here’s the key passage: “If we’re going to attack, I’m going to call you ahead of time. It’s not going to be a surprise.”
Again, if true, any number of aspects of this phone call could be shocking and disgraceful for any number of reasons centering around the possibility that the General shattered the principles of civilian control over the military by taking an unauthorized initiative with major implications not only for U.S. national security but overall U.S. foreign policy as well.
And whether Milley was completely freelancing or not, the notion that former President Trump’s dangerously unstable state of mind excuses this behavior is utterly unacceptable. The Constitution’s 25th Amendment lays out procedures for dealing with situations like this, and none of them were invoked before Milley picked up the phone.
Worse, keep in mind that Milley made the first of two phone calls to Beijing was made October 30, before Election Day and well before Trump set off alarm bells with his behavior in the voting’s aftermath. In addition, if Milley really believed that Trump would order an unprovoked attack on China, his own sanity needs to be questioned.
Even if you fear that a Trump victory last November would have freed him to make all manner of reckless decisions, there’s no reason to think that China would have been placed in any danger unless Beijing set the stage for war by, say, invading Taiwan. In fact, one of the most common (however bizarre, given the massive tariffs and damaging sanctions he’d imposed) criticisms of the former President’s China policy at the time was that in order to preserve his 2020 trade deal with the People’s Republic, he’d been treating China and especially its dictator Xi Jinping with kid gloves. The Biden camp itself was making this accusation as late as last September.
But none of Milley’s supposed offenses compare with the claim that he told China’s top military officer that if Trump decided to strike, he’d warn the Chinese. Talk about providing “aid and comfort” to an enemy – a centerpiece of American law’s definition of treason. And from a real world standpoint, what if Milley got wind of such plans a few days before the attack was scheduled? Would he have given the Chinese that much warning? Which would have given them a chance to launch their own preemptive strike? How do you think that would have worked out?
Further, what if Milley was simply worried that Trump might try this, with no concrete evidence, or less-than-conclusive evidence? Just because he thought Trump was crazy. Would he have warned China in this circumstance? Who can tell?
For these reasons, the Woodward-Costa claims are so jaw-dropping that you’d expect an innocent Milley to deny them specifically and indignantly – with wording on the order of “I never told General Li or any other Chinese official that I would warn them about an impending U.S. attack.” If I was him, I’d threaten a slander suit, too, if the authors didn’t recant (and probably even if they did).
Milley, however, hasn’t done anything close. The only statement issued (and not by him, but by his spokesman) ignored the charges. And almost as interesting, his allies in the government haven’t denied these charges expressly, either, when speaking (anonymously, of course) to other journalists. Most disturbing of all, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki issued similar remarks yesterday – which must mean that Mr. Biden himself isn’t interested in getting to the bottom of this crucial matter.
The good news is that soon, neither the President nor the General may have a choice. On September 28, Milley’s scheduled to testify (under oath, natch) before the Senate Armed Services Committee on the Afghanistan debacle. You can be sure that the Woodward-Costa charges will come up, too. And if Milley deides to keep playing footsie, don’t be surprised if you see an attorney at his side – and even counseling him to take the Fifth.