Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley apparently revealed to authors Bob Woodward and Robert Costa, that, in the closing days of the Trump administration, he had secretly gone outside the chain of command to communicate with Communist Chinese
General Li Zuocheng and tell him that the United States would not strike and pledged to give him a heads up if Trump ordered an attack, according to reporting by The Washington Post.
“General Li, you and I have known each other for now five years. If we’re going to attack, I’m going to call you ahead of time. It’s not going to be a surprise,” Milley is reported to have said.
(Somewhere in whatever afterlife ancient warriors occupy, General Sun Tzu, author of The Art of War, was no doubt laughing his ass off after that exchange.)
What we find particularly interesting is the timing of the two calls: The first was on Oct. 30, just four days before the presidential election, and the second on Jan. 8, two days after rioters stormed the U.S. Capitol. What gave Milley the idea the Red Chinese needed reassuring at those two moments? Did Donald Trump threaten some kind of Götterdämmerung ending to his administration that included an attack on Red China? There’s absolutely no evidence that he did.
According to POLITICO, the evidence as to whether Milley made the calls without notice to Pentagon civilians is a little murky. However, former acting Defense Secretary Chris Miller said that if the Woodward and Costa report is accurate, “it would be completely inappropriate and completely contrary to civilian oversight of the military if he was conducting foreign policy activities or national security activities of that nature, but I don’t know if that call is accurate. I don’t know if it’s true or not.”
He added that such a call would be “pretty troubling for civilian oversight and would be really contrary to the Constitution if true. … If the way the Woodward book portrays the nature of the phone call is accurate, it’s not in accordance with the way we do things in our government and our republic.”
While the Biden White House and Pentagon have been furiously spinning to make the calls sound routine, and the Woodward and Costa report an exaggeration, in a statement the authors told POLITICO: “We stand by our reporting.”
This whole bizarre episode reminds us of director Stanley Kubrick’s 1964 cult classic film Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb in which a paranoid general went rogue to start a nuclear war with the Soviet Union.
But wait a minute classic film buffs will protest – in the movie Brigadier General Jack D. Ripper was the bad guy for trying to start a war, here General Milley is a good guy because he is allegedly trying to stop one.
We think that’s too shallow a reading of both the movie and Milley’s treasonous behavior.
The point of the film – aside from its obvious anti-nuclear weapons agenda – was to tell the story of how easily a rogue general – like Mark Milley – could start a nuclear war.
In Almost Everything in Dr Strangelove Was True, a 2014 essay for the New Yorker written by Eric Schlosser, the author noted that, upon taking office, John F Kennedy “. . . was surprised to learn [that] a subordinate commander faced with a substantial military action” could start the thermonuclear holocaust on his own initiative if he could not reach you.”
Kennedy and his national-security advisers sought to encode the NATO stockpile of approximately three thousand American nuclear weapons stored in Europe, but the Air Force and the Navy refused to add code switches to the weapons in their custody, thus making the idea of a rogue commander all too chillingly plausible, noted Tara Brady in an article for the Irish Times.
“When Strangelove was released,” wrote Schlosser. “There were all these articles about how implausible it was, how nothing like this could ever occur. And that was a lie. There were no locks on the bombs. There were no controls on them. When President Kennedy took office he didn’t know that the authority to use nuclear weapons had secretly been granted to low level commanders. Kubrick looked really closely at our nuclear war plan. He spoke to a lot of people in the military. And he was correct in assuming that we could have a nuclear war by accident.”
And of course, the opposite is also true – we could lose such a war or be destroyed if our senior or even fairly junior officers simply decided to ignore their orders and refused to engage the enemy – which is where Mark Milley reenters our story.
Can we afford to entrust our national defense to the commander who left billions of dollars of weapons behind for our enemies when he ordered the chaotic retreat from Afghanistan? Can we trust a commander subject to such paranoic whims that he thinks – without evidence – that his Commander-in-Chief is going to start a nuclear war and promises our greatest enemy that he will give them a heads-up if an attack is coming? The answer is obviously no.
In 1964 Kubrick’s film was panned by many conservatives as being anti-military, anti-American or even “pink.” But the important point that it made – who is in charge of America’s massive military power matters as much or more than the power itself – is still relevant, and it tells us that Mark Milley is not just insubordinate, but a dangerous lunatic who cannot be trusted anywhere near the chain of command of America’s 21st century military arsenal.
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley
Bob Woodward and Robert Costa
Communist Chinese General Li Zuocheng
The Art of War
Biden foreign policy