The recent investigations and hearings surrounding the activities of Gen. Mark Milley, including his testimony before the Senate and House Armed Service Committees, make it clear that Gen. Milley must resign or be removed from his office as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
One of the most inviolate rules of our American republic is that the military of the United States will not participate in the politics of our country. Since the beginnings of our republic, the U.S. military has been subordinated to civilian authority. This is how America addresses the simple reality that a coup d’etat is possible only with the initiative or complicity of the military. History is replete with examples of military take-overs by military leaders who believe only they can protect their country from internal threats. The American military defends our country. It is also the only institution that can extinguish our republic.
Gen. Milley has behaved persistently as a frustrated politician in uniform, going beyond his role as advisor to the President in military matters. He has expressed himself on political issues in numerous private meetings, book interviews, and public discussions. He has opined that his Commander in Chief, the elected President of the United States, might misuse his powers to attack Iran. The rising nuclear power of Iran and what to do about it is the business of elected and duly appointed civilian officials. The military ascribing improper motives to elected officials is exactly what Americans should not tolerate.
Civil war history has become a political debate in America today. Gen. Milley has chosen to engage in this discussion. He identifies “white rage” in America and states a need to address it in our military. Gen. Milley entered into this discussion, urging the creation of a commission to change the names of military bases while contradicting his commander in chief. Gen. Milley at the time recognized the nature of this issue when he said: “I personally think the original decision to name bases after Confederate Generals were political decisions, and they’re going to be political decisions today.” Indeed he is right. This debate is political.
On the subject of the January 6 protests in Washington, D.C., Gen. Milley engaged in that discussion, claiming that the protests amounted to a “Reichstag moment,” harkening back to Hitler’s imposition of dictatorial authority in 1933. He described the protests as “The gospel of the Fuhrer.” He equated protesters with “brownshirts in the streets.” In a meeting, he said, ‘We’re going to “put a ring of steel around this city, and the Nazis aren’t getting in.” Gen. Milley should remember the United States law of Posse Comitatus, which prohibits the use of the regular military in domestic settings unless called upon under strict circumstances by the elected President of the United States or at the request of an elected Governor of a state.
Gen. Milley also confronted Presidential Chief of Staff Mark Meadows and questioned the motives of our elected officials. When Mr. Meadows suggested he not worry about such fantasies, the General told Meadows “just be careful,” which could be taken as a warning if not an implied threat. This is not proper coming from a man who purports to speak for our country’s military power. As Gen. Milley said in a meeting, “we have the guns.” Indeed they do.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi called Gen. Milley and sought to intervene in the military chain of command. Speaker Pelosi described the commander in chief as “crazy.” Gen. Milley should have reminded Speaker Pelosi of the constitutional provisions to address her opinions instead of giving her reassurances. Gen. Milley made no secret of his political leanings when he spoke to former first lady Michelle Obama at President Biden’s inauguration and told her “no one has a bigger smile today than I do.”
Much has been made of Gen. Milley advising the President that he should not completely withdraw from Afghanistan. This confirms that the blame for the Afghanistan catastrophe is directly on the shoulders of President Biden. Gen. Milley has explained his call to his Chinese military counterpart. He asserts that his call was at the direction of civilian authority. None of this is objectionable, except that he is contradicted by former Acting Secretary of Defense Christopher Miller and by former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, both of whom stated that Gen. Milley never briefed them on the call as he said he did.
All of this is a distraction from the main point. Gen. Milley has repeatedly and persistently engaged in the politics of this nation while in uniform. One might even agree with the political positions he has taken while still believing he should not be engaging in politics in the first place. Another General may come along tomorrow who might likewise think he and the military are the only saviors of the republic. Maybe the next General won’t be so wise and just as General Milley.
The damage has been done. The precedent has been established. Maintaining Gen. Milley in his office is a bad object lesson for every present and future commissioned officer. We must start on the road to restoring the principle of military-political separation.
President Truman acted decisively and discharged General Douglas McArthur when he believed Gen. McArthur did not respect civilian authority. President Biden should have done the same with Gen. Milley. Failure to dismiss Gen. Milley is a failure of presidential leadership.
Either by resignation or removal, Gen. Milley must go.
• James S. Gilmore III is the immediate past U.S. Ambassador to the Organization for the Security and Cooperation in Europe and was the 68th Governor of Virginia.
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