But Milley’s testimony may also open him to questions about his final weeks and months in Trump’s service, highlighting how he became one of the most politicized military leaders of recent times. He is one of many normally apolitical figures drawn into the partisan melee, in large part due to the extreme pressures placed on the fabric of the U.S. government – and the barriers that normally exist between politics and the military – by the former. commander in chief.
Milley’s own apparent willingness to cooperate with accounts exposing the difficult final days of the Trump presidency, meanwhile, has opened him up to criticism that he is playing his own political games. Milley was already a controversial figure after being forced to apologize for accompanying Trump to a notorious political photoshoot in Washington following the death of George Floyd at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer in May 2020. The stunt took place in Lafayette Square shortly after the area was violently cleared of protesters.
In Tuesday’s hearing and in a second session before the House Armed Services Committee the next day, Milley will come face to face with some of his most ardent Republican critics – some of whom will have a vested interest in confronting him given the antipathy for the general, whom he described as “stupid” during an incendiary rally in Georgia on Saturday night.
Republicans accuse Milley of biggest military transgression
Milley comes to the hearing facing accusations from Republicans that he went behind Trump’s back to assure China that the then president would not launch an attack on the rising Asian superpower and subvert the civilian control of the army by distorting the chain of command. In their new book, “Peril,” Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Robert Costa report that Milley feared that Trump’s mental state had seriously deteriorated during his last days in office and that he had called a meeting of the main commanders to tell them not to take orders for military action, including with nuclear weapons, without speaking to him.
“You never know what a president’s trigger point is,” Milley told his senior officials, according to the book, which also records his contacts with top Chinese military officers.
Republicans, especially Sen. Marco Rubio, took to the reports to accuse Milley of effectively fracturing civilian control of the armed forces by deciding that the military’s judgment was more stable than that of the Commander-in-Chief. The Florida senator called on Biden to fire Milley and accused him of considering a “treasonable flight” from the Chinese Communist Party.
According to “Peril,” Milley made two calls across the Pacific after worrying that Beijing feared Trump’s volatile mood following the loss of the Oval Office could lead him to attack militarily.
During a trip to Europe earlier this month, Milley said the contacts were nothing out of the ordinary, but pledged to speak about his conduct during the post-election period during the hearing if it is. asked him.
“I’m going to go into all the levels of detail that Congress wants to go into,” he said.
Senator Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee, for example, said Milley, Biden, Austin, Vice President Kamala Harris and Secretary of State Antony Blinken and others should resign or be arraigned for the withdrawal from the Afghanistan. Another pro-Trump GOP committee member Senator Josh Hawley of Missouri, who was among lawmakers who challenged the certification of Biden’s election victory, accused Milley of breaking the chain of command.
Fears of a coup
Milley’s pre-hearing appearance also comes amid a wave of new revelations about the tumultuous events that led to the U.S. Capitol uprising by a mob instigated by the ex-president on January 6. In one, CNN published a note from a pro-Trump lawyer detailing the steps then-Vice President Mike Pence could take to block the certification of Biden’s election victory, which was revealed. for the first time in “Peril”.
He is quoted as telling his aides that Trump was the “classic authoritarian leader with nothing to lose” and that the United States could face a “Reichstag” moment – referring to the burning of the German parliament used as a ruse by the Nazi of Adolf Hitler. Party to cement power in the 1930s.
These are amazing reports, which Milley has yet to fully address in public since they first appeared. And again, there must be questions as to whether the top military officer in uniform got too caught up in the political uproar.
But at the same time, and as was also the case in the notorious time of Lafayette Park, no Chairman of the Joint Chiefs in the modern era has faced the kind of extreme circumstances that Milley looked down on, a factor that historians are likely to consider this when they assess its role.
The idea that a defeated Commander-in-Chief could prepare a coup – apparently validated by later revelations – would have been unthinkable before Trump. And no modern president has torn apart the conventions of political and military procedure like Trump.
In that sense, Milley’s testimony could also serve as a warning about what could happen to us if Trump, currently the apparent frontrunner for the 2024 Republican nomination, were to capture the White House again. Milley is one of the few high-ranking figures, including Republican officials in some battlefield states, who have resisted Trump’s efforts on multiple fronts to subvert the will of voters and cling to power.
It is far from clear that Milley has overthrown the civilian chain of command – contacts with Chinese military officers are routine and, in fact, there have been no politically motivated orders for military action from Trump. But the fact that America’s most powerful uniformed officer thought it might be necessary to intervene to avert disaster raises a frightening scenario. And that may invite debate over the current system, under which a president has streamlined the power to order a nuclear attack within minutes – a process in which the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs is not directly involved.
It also seems unlikely that Trump, if he wins a second term, would take any risk in appointing senior military officers who he was not convinced were completely loyal to his cause.