Yesterday it was reported that General Mark Milley the Head of America’s Joint Chiefs of Staff had maintained secret communication with the head of the Chinese Army because he feared that then President Trump would be so irrational and unstable that he could start a military conflict with Bejing. The report, an excerpt of Bob Woodward’s incoming book Peril, also highlighted that Gen. Milley had even told General Li Zuocheng that not only the U.S. would not attack China but also that he told Li “If we’re going to attack, I’m going to call you ahead of time. It’s not gonna be a surprise”.
The book has also claimed that Miley believed that former president Trump had suffered a mental decline after the 2020 election, something he conveyed to Speaker Nancy Pelosi a few days after the Capitol Riots of January 6th. Milley also reportedly tried to review the procedures of launching a nuclear strike with fellow military officers, telling them that while the President had the authority to do so, any decision would need to include Milley.
The news has caused outrage throughout Washington D.C. with Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) issuing a statement addressed to President Biden calling him to immediately fire Gen. Milley from his post if the reports were true as he “worked to actively undermine the sitting Commander in Chief of the United States Armed Forces and contemplated a treasonous leak of classified information to the Chinese Communist Party” he also warned that Milley’s actions could threaten to “rip apart” the core principle of civilian control of the military.
Former President Trump also criticized the actions of General Milley, saying that if Woodward’s reports are truthful then those actions would be “treason” and that he should be tried for that. Trump also dismissed the concerns of him calling a nuclear strike on China “totally ridiculous”.
Biden has maintained his support to Milley, with White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki saying to reporters that President Biden believes Milley to be a “patriot” and someone who has “fidelity to the Constitution” with Psaky declining to address the specific allegations of whether Milley had dismissed the chain of command as she would not comment on “unconfirmed reports about prior conversations during the past administration”
Milley confirmed talking to Chinese military in January
General Milley has defended his actions, with the Pentagon issuing a statement admitting that Milley had indeed had calls with Chinese military officials both in October of 2020 and -crucially- on January 2021. However, the statement argues that Milley’s call with Chinese military officers was not improper as they were part of the job of the chairman of the joints chief of staff to “conveying reassurance in order to maintain strategic stability”.
The statement also justifies the alleged review of nuclear attack protocols conducted by Gen. Milley by saying that such a meeting was “to remind uniformed leaders in the Pentagon of the long-established and robust procedures in light of media reporting on the subject”. The press release, however, does not mention whether those calls between Milley and General Li were made with the knowledge or consent of then-President Trump or the Acting Secretary of Defense, nor does it discuss the details of such conversations.
Christopher Miller, who was the acting Secretary of Defense from November 2020 to January 2021, said to Fox News that he did not authorize any type of secret calls between General Milley and Chinese military commanders, calling Milley’s actions a “disgraceful and unprecedented act of insubordination” which is why he thinks that Milley should resign immediately.
Senator Rubio also released a video condemning the Pentagon’s statement defending Milley’s calls with the Chinese, saying that he does not believe these calls were a normal part of Milley’s job as they are being presented by the reporters as something that was highly unusual. Rubio also said that he thinks that Miley himself was the source of the reports because “he wanted to make look himself good”.
The military reportedly also talked to China in October 2020
A new report by Axios’ Jonathan Swan says that former Secretary of Defense Mark Esper, who resigned days after the 2020 election, was growing concerned in October 2020 about the possibility that China’s top military leadership was feeding off from bad intelligence which had made them concerned about the possibility of a U.S. surprise attack to Chinese military assets.
According to Swan, Esper then ordered his policy office to establish a backchannel with China to reassure them that the American military was not planning any type of surprise attack on China. the communications were handled by people below the level of Esper and were then followed up by a call from Milley to the Chinese later that month, which is something that would b consistent with the Pentagon’s statement admitting to calls in October.
Axios also reported that Esper ordered a military exercise to be delayed for a few weeks in order to cool the tensions with the Chinese military, something that was also reported in Woodward’s book.
It is not clear, however, if these types of calls remained commonplace after Esper left office in November 2020 or if the President was told about the backchannel communications with the Chinese back in October 2020. Axios also could not confirm if Milley had promised General Li to give him a heads up if the U.S. was to launch a military operation against the Chinese Army.
Congress will have the chance to get Milley to answer this questions himself
The four-star general, who would surely also be asked about the military debacle on Afghanistan, is scheduled to answer questions to the Senate’s Armed Services Committee on September 28th.
The facts over Milley’s conduct over the final days of the Trump presidency remain murky at best and it is quite likely that Republican lawmakers will ask Milley about the nature of the calls he had with Chinese officials, whether he informed the civilian leadership about those communications if he really told general Li he would let him know if the U.S. would attack China, and of course, if he himself is the source of the leaks to reporters.
Although we still do not know many details about Milley’s actions in January of this year, one thing is certain, he is now the center of a potentially damming political scandal.