General Milley Back in the Center of a Political Battle

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Gen. Mark Milley volition look successful what could beryllium the astir important televised legislature proceeding involving elder subject leaders successful years.

Gen. Mark A. Milley, president  of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, speaking astatine  the Pentagon earlier this period  connected  the day  of the Sept. 11 attacks.
Credit...Stefani Reynolds for The New York Times

Helene CooperEric Schmitt

Sept. 27, 2021Updated 10:49 a.m. ET

WASHINGTON — Nearly 16 months aft helium walked crossed a Lafayette Square aggressively cleared of protesters with past President Donald J. Trump, Gen. Mark A. Milley, the president of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, is inactive trying to marque amends.

He has apologized in a video that infuriated Mr. Trump.

He has stood up against Republican lawmakers who accused the Pentagon of being excessively “woke,” issuing a historically expansive rebuke that referenced Mao and Lenin earlier a head-shaking Representative Matt Gaetz, Republican of Florida.

And helium has talked, to a succession of authors, astir his efforts during the past tumultuous months of the Trump medication to support the subject and American antiauthoritarian institutions from a president who was searching for avenues to stay successful power. Those moves, arsenic described successful 1 book, culminated with General Milley doubly calling to reassure his Chinese counterpart and extracting promises from the subject concatenation of bid not to motorboat a atomic limb connected Mr. Trump’s orders without archetypal alerting him.

In truthful doing, General Milley has prompted demands from immoderate Republicans to resign and rekindled discussions astir the ways that Mr. Trump enactment the subject wherever the country’s founding fathers said it was not expected to be: astatine the halfway of politics.

On Tuesday, General Milley volition look successful what could beryllium the astir important televised legislature proceeding involving elder subject leaders since Gen. David H. Petraeus was grilled by lawmakers connected the fiasco that was the warfare successful Iraq successful 2007.

Halfway done his four-year word arsenic the nation’s apical subject officer, General Milley, on with Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III, is definite to look crisp questions astir different contentious topic: Afghanistan, including their proposal to President Biden not to retreat each U.S. troops from the country.

The wide is besides apt to beryllium asked astir declaring a U.S. drone onslaught successful Kabul past period “a righteous strike” adjacent aft subject officials said they were investigating reports of civilian casualties. The Pentagon acknowledged a week aboriginal that the onslaught was a tragic mistake, sidesplitting 10 people, including 7 children. General Milley tacitly conceded that helium spoke excessively soon, calling the mistake “heart-wrenching.”

In mean times, the tumultuous Afghanistan withdrawal punctuated by the tragic errant drone onslaught would beryllium enough, by themselves, to predominate immoderate legislature proceeding with elder Pentagon leaders. But the caller revelations that General Milley whitethorn person inserted himself into the concatenation of bid to cheque Mr. Trump’s capableness to motorboat a atomic onslaught rise questions astir the limitations of a doctrine traditionally viewed arsenic sacred: civilian power of the military.

Today’s polarization means that thing that smacks of either a critique oregon an endorsement of Mr. Trump is suspect. So now, a small implicit a twelvemonth aft Mr. Trump’s critics were furious with General Milley, Mr. Trump’s supporters are aggravated astatine the wide for telling House Speaker Nancy Pelosi successful the days aft the Jan. 6 Capitol riots that helium agreed with her erstwhile she called Mr. Trump “crazy.”

The dichotomy highlights an existential question that nary elder authoritative has confronted publicly: What is the military’s work successful curbing the unilateral powerfulness of a reckless commandant successful chief?

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Credit...Doug Mills/The New York Times

“At the extremity of the day, we privation to adhere to mean rules and processes, due to the fact that that’s important to sustaining democracy,” said Risa Brooks, prof of governmental subject astatine Marquette University and an adjunct student astatine West Point’s Modern War Institute.

But, she added, “Look, the Constitution is not a termination pact. If you person idiosyncratic successful powerfulness who is dormant acceptable astatine taking that down, past you’re liable for calling that out. The Milley concern encapsulates that.”

Both Democrats and Republicans are expected to request answers, and a pithy punctuation successful effect could onshore the wide successful blistery h2o — with Congress oregon the White House. “This is simply a important clip for Milley,” said Jeffrey J. Schloesser, a retired two-star Army wide who arsenic commandant of U.S. forces successful eastbound Afghanistan from 2008 to 2009 was General Milley’s boss.

While General Milley leads the Joint Chiefs, helium is not successful the subject concatenation of bid — the enactment of authorization on which orders are passed. But helium is successful the concatenation of communications erstwhile it comes to deploying troops oregon ordering strikes, and helium volition astir apt archer lawmakers it his occupation to guarantee that due protocols and procedures are followed erstwhile carrying retired immoderate lawful orders from the commandant successful chief.

This nonfiction is based connected interviews with astir 2 twelve existent and erstwhile Pentagon and subject colleagues, different authorities officials and autarkic subject analysts, immoderate of whom were granted anonymity to talk candidly astir the general.

Brash yet intellectual, General Milley’s classical straight-out-of-central casting demeanor appealed to Mr. Trump when, successful 2018, the four-star Army wide walked into the Oval Office for what was expected to beryllium an interrogation to beryllium the apical American commandant crossed the Atlantic — ultimate allied commandant for Europe. During the meeting, the president asked whether the president of the Joint Chiefs of Staff occupation was better. General Milley went for the apical prize.

On June 1, 2020, conscionable 8 months aft helium was sworn successful arsenic the elder subject advisor to the president, General Milley, successful the camouflage azygous helium wears each time to work, walked crossed Lafayette Square alongside Mr. Trump and into a governmental firestorm. Troops had utilized chemic spray to wide the country of protesters truthful that the president could walk, untroubled, done the parkland to St. John’s Church, wherever helium held up a Bible and posed for photos.

The backlash was instant. “Milley (he’s a wide !?!?) should not person walked implicit to the religion with Trump,” Michael Hayden, the retired Air Force wide who has directed some the National Security Agency and the C.I.A., said connected Twitter, noting that helium “was appalled to spot him successful his conflict dress.”

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Credit...Sarabeth Maney/The New York Times

General Milley has agonized astir that locomotion ever since, colleagues say. In the hours after, helium talked to National Guard troops and protesters connected the streets of downtown Washington. In the days after, helium wrote a missive to troops reminding them that the subject is expected to support the close to state of speech, and added a handwritten codicil, immoderate of it straying extracurricular the margins: “We each committed our lives to the thought that is America — we volition enactment existent to that oath and the American people.”

In the weeks after, helium recorded his apology. “I should not person been there,” General Milley said successful the video. “My beingness successful that infinitesimal and successful that situation created a cognition of the military progressive successful home politics.”

Understand the Taliban Takeover successful Afghanistan


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But helium didn’t halt there. Lafayette Square and Mr. Trump’s efforts to invoke the Insurrection Act truthful that helium could deploy troops onto the streets of American cities against Black Lives Matter protesters were eye-opening for General Milley, his friends and colleagues astatine the Pentagon say. With a statesmanlike predetermination coming up, the wide told friends that 1 of his biggest goals was to get the state done the adjacent fewer months intact, and to blunt efforts by Mr. Trump to usage the subject for his ain governmental gain.

It was successful those past months of the Trump presidency that General Milley took a bid of bonzer steps. He called his Chinese counterpart, twice, and reassured him that the United States had nary plans to onslaught China. He settled connected a plan, with past Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper, to hold backmost the promotions of 2 pistillate generals to apical positions until aft Jan. 20 implicit fears that Mr. Trump preferred achromatic men for elder subject jobs. He convened a gathering with apical commanders to punctual them of the procedures for launching a atomic weapons, telling them that helium needed to beryllium alerted instantly if specified an bid came from Mr. Trump.

General Milley’s supporters accidental that helium defended the country’s interests. “Milley has navigated immoderate hard waters reasonably well, waters that helium shouldn’t person had to person been in,” said Peter D. Feaver, a prof of governmental subject astatine Duke University who has studied the equipped forces.

But his supporters besides accidental that it mightiness person been smarter if helium had remained soundless astir what helium did. Instead, helium talked, astatine length, to a slew of authors penning books astir the Trump presidency, infuriating Republicans successful particular.

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Credit...Doug Mills/The New York Times

“I person yet to work a publication astir policymaking successful the Trump medication that doesn’t punctuation General Milley directly, oregon punctuation friends of Milley casting his actions successful the champion imaginable light,” said Kori Schake, who directs overseas and subject argumentation studies astatine the blimpish American Enterprise Institute and served successful the Pentagon nether President George W. Bush. “That deficiency of discretion is injurious to civilian subject conversations.”

Defense Department officials said General Milley spoke astatine magnitude to the Washington Post newsman Bob Woodward for his caller publication “Peril,” written with Robert Costa. General Milley’s friends interest that much Trump books are connected their mode that could good diagnostic much interviews with the loquacious general.

“General Milley is simply a battle-hardened serviceman grounded by intellect and probity, but sometimes his passionateness for the mission, his self-confidence and his forcefulness irritate civilian leadership,” said Richard V. Spencer, the erstwhile Navy caput who was ousted by Mr. Trump implicit a disagreement astir a warfare crimes lawsuit involving a Navy SEAL. “He has to beryllium cautious not to overstep his relation arsenic chairman, which I ne'er witnessed successful my clip moving with him. But helium needs to beryllium much restrained than helium has been.”

General Milley’s friends admit that a batch of his disclosures to publication writers person been astir redemption aft that locomotion crossed Lafayette Square with Mr. Trump. “He has a bruised ego from June 1, and helium cannot get implicit it,” said 1 Biden medication official, who is simply a instrumentality of General Milley.

But adjacent immoderate of General Milley’s critics accidental helium should beryllium commended for holding the country’s earthy information apparatus unneurotic astatine a clip of unprecedented stress. Not since Harry S. Truman appointed Gen. Omar Bradley arsenic the country’s archetypal president of the Joint Chiefs of Staff successful 1949 has a elder subject advisor to the president been truthful straight astatine the nexus of competing governmental forces successful the country, fto unsocial dealt with a commandant successful main truthful disinterested successful preserving the country’s antiauthoritarian institutions.

For General Milley, “there’s much and much pressure, a higher likelihood that things that are not politicized get politicized,” said Adm. Mike Mullen, who was president of the Joint Chiefs of Staff nether President Barack Obama. “Even the Weather Service got politicized nether Trump.”

“It’s the energy that lives successful the environment,” Admiral Mullen said successful an interview. “And that’s wherever Milley lives.”

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