Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Mark Milley Lets President Trump Know That the Drawdown in Afghanistan Isn't Going to Happen

AP Photo/ Evan Vucci
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Secretary of Defense Mark Esper, left, and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley, right, listen as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo delivers a statement on Iraq and Syria, at President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago property, Sunday, Dec. 29, 2019, in Palm Beach, Fla. (AP Photo/ Evan Vucci)


A cursory reading of the U.S. Constitution should leave anyone with the clear view that the U.S. Armed Forces’ commander-in-chief is, in fact, the President of the United States. What has become exceedingly clear over the past four years is that there are many, perhaps a majority, of general officers/flag officers who have no more reconciled themselves the events of November 2016 than has Hillary Clinton or Bill Kristol.

Repeatedly over the last four years, we’ve seen senior military leaders appear to defy direct orders from the president openly. We saw it with the decision to ban, sorta, transsexuals from enlisting in the military. Why anyone thought it was a good idea to enlist people suffering from a mental illness diagnosable under the DSM V and taking a daily cocktail of hormones to maintain the illusion to themselves that they are what they manifestly are not and give them access to firearms is still not terribly clear to me. We saw it when President Trump pardoned SEAL Chief Eddie Gallagher, and the local commanders not only attempted to give meritorious service awards to an utterly corrupt prosecution team, but also decided to try to administratively strip Gallagher of his hard-earned SEAL Trident.

Now we have a new one to add.

Yesterday, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Staff Mark Milley gave an interview on NPR. This is how The New York Times describes it:


General Milley was aware before the interview that he would be asked about the comments by Mr. Trump and his national security adviser, Robert C. O’Brien, a senior U.S. official said. And, in his remarks, General Milley sought to distance himself from embracing any strict timetable for withdrawing U.S. troops from Afghanistan, but phrased his comments in a way that did not directly contradict Mr. Trump, with whom he has a good one-on-one working relationship.

With no warning to the Pentagon, Mr. O’Brien told an audience in Las Vegas on Wednesday that the United States would cut its troops in Afghanistan to 2,500 by early next year. That, by itself, raised eyebrows at the Defense Department, where officials said they were still operating under orders to reduce troop levels to 4,500.

The answer Milley gave was, “I think that Robert O’Brien or anyone else can speculate as they see fit. I’m going to engage in the rigorous analysis of the situation based on the conditions and the plans that I am aware of and my conversations with the president.”

It is no secret that the Army does not want to leave Afghanistan and that President Trump does. I’m not privy to all the machinations involved in Pentagon conference rooms, but my guess is that no one wants to be Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff when we leave Afghanistan. And I suspect that a non-trivial number of people there do believe that hope is a method, and they truly believe that if we hang in there just another decade or three, that some deus ex machina will emerge that will provide a victory (whatever the hell that might look like). And, of course, there are organizational “equities” to consider. An end of the war in Afghanistan will impact both the Defense budget and the ticket punch used to advance careers.


The fact that Milley gave such a combative answer to a statement by the National Security Advisor that was clearly in line with the president’s thinking is telling. He wasn’t telling O’Brien to FOAD; he was telling President Trump to do that. He was basically saying to President Trump, “You’re going to lose in November, so I don’t care what you want to do.” Knowing in advance that he was going to be asked about O’Brien’s statement and dismissing it as though it were irrelevant was a clear signal that Milley and his compatriots on the Joint Chiefs of Staff intend on slow-rolling the troop drawdown, confident that a mildly (right now) demented Joe Biden and the Brookings Institute crowd he’ll bring into Defense and State will keep the forever war in Afghanistan alive and well.

My colleagues, Stu Cvrk and Mike Ford, have both been writing a series of posts. Stu’s series is on how wokeness has completely overwhelmed the U.S. Naval Academy, and Mike’s is on the clear signs of an insurrection in some parts of the nation, and how institutions have been corrupted. I’d encourage you to read them both and then reread this post.

We’ve reached a state of affairs where the nation’s senior military officer feels confident in making a public break with his boss, because he’s decided the prerogatives of his service are superior to the foreign policy of the United States as articulated by the president. You can’t have armed men saying, “I’m just not going to do that” to the nation’s elected political leadership. That is a perilous place to be, and a free people cannot long survive if their servants now view themselves as the masters.


[CORRECTION: for reasons I don’t understand, I misidentified GEN Milley under his previous title as Army Chief of Staff. That has been corrected.]


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