Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Army General Mark Milley at the Pentagon in Arlington, Va., August 18, 2021. (Yuri Gripas/Reuters)
General Mark Milley should face an investigation, without delay, concerning the allegations contained in a new book by Bob Woodward and Robert Costa. And if the claims turn out to be true, Milley should be removed from his post as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff immediately, and perhaps face more stringent sanctions for going behind the president’s back to the Chinese military during the waning days of Donald Trump’s presidency.
We had occasion, during the Trump years, to warn not only about steps that Trump took to undermine the American system of government, but also about threats to that system created by the actions of others in response to him. Any consistent defender of constitutional government should be alarmed by both. Extralegal and anti-democratic steps justified as responses to a crisis have a way of becoming habits.
Woodward and Costa report that General Milley had grave concerns about Trump’s mental stability in the run-up to the 2020 election and through the aftermath of the January 2021 Capitol riot. He was also concerned that the Chinese military would overreact to saber-rattling by Trump, possibly creating an unnecessary military conflict. There are proper ways to air such concerns, such as insisting that presidential directives comply with the law and are properly handled through the chain of command, or marshaling support among the president’s senior advisers to counsel him against rash actions. There are many known occasions of the latter approach working with Trump, who never did order new acts of military force in his last months in office. There are even proper civilian procedures, much discussed and repeatedly attempted during the Trump era, to remove a commander-in-chief.
What is never proper is for an American military officer to go to hostile foreign governments to tell them things at odds with the message the president decides to communicate. According to the book, General Milley went to the head of the Chinese military to tell him, in effect, that Trump
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