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Milley Defends China Calls in First Public Comments

Top military leader says they were 'routine,' will go into more detail before Congress
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Sep 17, 2021 7:45 AM CDT
Milley Defends His Calls to China as 'Routine'
Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Mark Milley listens to a question during a media briefing at the Pentagon, Wednesday, Aug. 18, 2021, in Washington.   (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

(Newser) – The nation's top military officer has offered his first public comments on the controversy over his newly revealed calls to China in the waning days of the Trump administration. In an interview with the AP, Gen. Mark Milley says the calls were above board. Coverage:

  • In defense: Milley, chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, described his calls to Chinese Gen. Li Zuocheng as "routine," the purpose being "to reassure both allies and adversaries in this case in order to ensure strategic stability." He added: “And these are perfectly within the duties and responsibilities of the chairman," per the Wall Street Journal.
  • Testimony: But Milley declined to say much more, for now. "I think it’s best that I reserve my comments on the record until I do that in front of the lawmakers who have the lawful responsibility to oversee the US military," Milley said. "I’ll go into any level of detail Congress wants to go into in a couple of weeks." Milley is scheduled to testify on Sept. 28.

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  • Background: As revealed in a new book by Bob Woodward and Robert Costa, Milley called Li in October and again in January to assure him the US would not be attacking China. The book, Peril, asserts that Milley felt Trump was becoming unhinged in his final stretch as president and might lash out militarily. "If we’re going to attack, I’m going to call you ahead of time," Milley reportedly said. Per the book, the general also gathered senior US military officials and had them pledge to loop him in to any decisions on the use of nuclear weapons.
  • Critics: Former President Trump and other Republicans have called for Milley's resignation, accusing him of undermining the presidency. And the criticism isn't only from Trump supporters. Retired US Army Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, a whistleblower who resigned during the previous presidency, said Milley must go. "He usurped civilian authority, broke Chain of Command, and violated the sacrosanct principle of civilian control over the military," Vindman tweeted, per USA Today. "It’s an extremely dangerous precedent. You can’t simply walk away from that."

  • One view: At the Atlantic, Tom Nichols makes the case that Milley's calls to his Chinese counterpart were appropriate but that Milley's efforts to insert himself into the nuclear protocol are more concerning. "The real problem here is that Milley was in this situation at all," writes Nichols. "As is almost always the case when civil-military relations become unstable, the civilians are the problem, and the civilians must provide the remedies. There are several possibilities, including passing a law to restrict the first use of nuclear arms, or in peacetime adding the requirement of a second confirmation to the president’s orders."
(Read more Mark Milley stories.)

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