Washington, D.C. – October 9, 2023
General Mark Milley, who has recently completed his four-year tenure as the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the highest-ranking military position in the United States, looks back on his eventful term, characterized by efforts to prevent confrontations with Russia and China and a highly visible dispute with former President Trump.
During his term, General Milley faced significant challenges, including overseeing America’s chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan and facilitating the provision of billions of dollars worth of American military equipment to Ukraine. In his final hours in office, he engaged in a phone call with the commander of Ukraine’s armed forces, highlighting the ongoing Ukrainian counteroffensive against Russian occupation.
When questioned about the length and difficulty of the conflict in Ukraine, General Milley emphasized the uncertainty surrounding its duration. He stated that there is no definitive timeline but acknowledged that it would be a prolonged, arduous, and bloody endeavor, given Russia’s occupation of 41,000 square miles of Ukrainian territory.
In recent developments, Republicans in Congress have put an end to Kevin McCarthy’s speakership, temporarily affecting further aid to Ukraine. The White House reported that of the $113 billion already committed to Ukraine, only a limited amount remains, sufficient for just a few more months.
General Milley defended the significance of supporting Ukraine in the face of domestic issues, stating that a victory for Putin in Ukraine could necessitate a substantial increase in the defense budget and elevate the risk of a major power conflict within the next 10 to 15 years.
As the principal military advisor to the commander in chief, General Milley elucidated his role, emphasizing that while he is obligated to provide advice to the president, no president is bound to follow that counsel.
General Milley’s tenure also witnessed his strained relationship with former President Trump, which deteriorated significantly after the January 6th insurrection. Their discord began during the racial justice protests in the spring of 2020, with General Milley acknowledging that he had unwittingly stepped into a political minefield during that time.
One pivotal moment occurred on June 1, 2020, when President Trump contemplated invoking the Insurrection Act to deploy the U.S. Army to quell domestic unrest. On that evening, General Milley, attired in battle fatigues, joined the president and his Cabinet in a march across Lafayette Square to St. John’s Church for a photo opportunity.
General Milley expressed regret over his presence on that day, and ten days later, he publicly apologized to graduates of the National Defense University for his actions.
Regarding his relationship with President Trump, General Milley admitted that he considered resigning but opted for a pact with then-Defense Secretary Mark Esper to safeguard the military from political exploitation.
In response to former President Trump’s recent comments suggesting that General Milley’s communications with China were egregious, General Milley affirmed that his actions were neither inappropriate nor treasonous. He underscored that these calls were authorized, coordinated, and known to Congress, emphasizing their role in conveying to the Chinese that the U.S. had no intentions of attacking them.
General Milley’s tenure was not without challenges, including the botched withdrawal from Afghanistan and the decline in public confidence in the military. However, he asserted that the USA military remains one of the most respected institutions in the country and acknowledged the need for improvement.
As General Milley passes the baton to his successor, Air Force General Charles Q. Brown, Jr., the challenges posed by China, Russia, and the ongoing conflict in Ukraine continue to shape the nation’s defense priorities.