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Well, he did it again.
Journalist Bob Woodward has been repeating a familiar formula for roughly 40 years now. Like clockwork, Woodward ends up spending his days collecting information about the inner workings of presidential administrations and publishes “inside accounts” of what is happening in the White House every few years.
Every president knows these books are coming, and like clockwork here we go again. “Peril,” Woodward’s third book on Donald Trump — and also his first on Joe Biden, as it straddles both administrations — is set to be released soon, and so now it is time for the release of headline-inducing, gossipy revelations intended to get coverage for and ultimately sell the book.
This time, the hook for his promotional tour is Gen. Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
In the book, Woodward and co-author Robert Costa claim that Milley and other high-ranking military officers attempted to circumvent the supposed danger of “an increasingly unstable” Donald Trump in the days after the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol.
At one point Milley “summoned senior officers to review the procedures for launching nuclear weapons,” according to the Washington Post’s coverage of the book’s contents, “saying the president alone could give the order — but, crucially, that he, Milley, also had to be involved.”
In addition, Milley apparently engaged in back-channel communications to the Chinese, attempting to reassure them that everything was stable in the government. According to the Post, “Milley went so far as to promise [Gen. Li Zuocheng] that he would warn his counterpart in the event of a U.S. attack.”
Due to the way in which these incidents are characterized, it isn’t that hard to figure out that Milley or those very close to him were the sources for Woodward. This would not be out of character for Milley, who has been accused of using the media to make himself look good by dishing extensively anonymously. According to Axios, “Even some of [Milley’s] friends are cringing over his extensive and high-profile scenes in these books and perceptions that he’s participated on “deep background” with multiple authors.”
In other words, what you are now hearing about is likely the self-interested spin of a very public, manipulative participant in the story.
And if this report is true — particularly as it relates to the communications with the Chinese — the revelation is a stunning admission. A high-ranking military officer communicating a promise not to attack a geopolitical adversary, and then pledging to warn them pre-emptively in the event of an attack is a shocking and disturbing betrayal.
Regardless of your opinion of Trump, understand what you are reading here. Milley and other senior military officials decided on their own that they should actively work against and attempt to thwart the orders of the lawfully elected president. They should take matters into their own hands to work with a non-friendly foreign government to undermine orders that had not even been given, and never were.
If you despise Trump, you are likely cheering, certain that he is an unstable monster and that Milley is a heroic figure who took steps to protect and save the American republic. Consider, though, that this is exactly what Milley would like you to think, which is exactly why he is likely leaking this information in the first place.
But put aside Trump, and consider the implications of a military that ignores the civilian control. Consider a military that decides that its own goals and perspectives are right, and that of the elected leaders of the country are wrong, and decides to take action to guarantee they get what they want.
Flash your mind back to the days of the Kennedy administration, for instance, when a conflict very much like this existed during the Cuban Missile Crisis. Then, many top military officers were totally opposed to President John F. Kennedy’s approach and wanted to engage in military strikes, rather than pursue a blockade and diplomatic solution.
Celebrating what Milley did would be akin to celebrating those generals ignoring Kennedy and ordering military strikes in opposition to the authority of the president of the United States. That is the kind of thing that happens in countries that experience military coups and ignore any tradition of civilian control of the military. That is not a place this country ever wants to be.
If Trump was indeed as unbalanced and dangerous as Woodward’s book claims, then the path to correcting the problem is the invocation of the 25th Amendment of the Constitution, or the impeachment process in Congress, and the president’s eventual removal. If Milley was so concerned that he decided he had to act, then his phone calls should’ve been reserved to members of the cabinet and Congress, not foreign governments.