There’s one thing more deadly than a prepared and determined enemy: an inept commander. Combine the two and you have a recipe for disaster — particularly if that inept commander is the reason the determined enemy stays prepared.
Early last month, The Washington Post reported on snippets from the then-unreleased book “Peril” by Bob Woodward and Robert Costa, which covered the last year of the Donald Trump presidency and the beginnings of the Joe Biden presidential era.
The most alarming detail to come out prior to the book’s publication was a phone call on Oct. 30, 2020, between Joint Chiefs of Staff Chair Mark Milley and his Chinese counterpart, Gen. Li Zuocheng, during which Milley sought to assure China that intelligence that was making them jittery shouldn’t concern them.
This wasn’t the way to do it, and yet it’s how Milley reportedly carried it off: “General Li, you and I have known each other for now five years. If we’re going to attack, I’m going to call you ahead of time. It’s not going to be a surprise,” Milley said during the call.
I’ve only found one prior precedent for an administration official alerting an enemy of an attack. Granted, it was an unauthorized nuclear attack on the Soviet Union — and right after the Soviet Union had activated a so-called “doomsday device” which would trigger global annihilation if they were struck with an atomic weapon.
Also, I don’t remember a President Merkin Muffley or learning in U.S. history about him alerting the Russkies — and, come to think about it, he looked an awful lot like Peter Sellers. And then there’s the fact this documentary, “Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb,” seemed to have unprecedented access to the kooky inner workings of the Cold War-era war room. Plus, it seemed to imply most of humanity was wiped out at the end, which seems like a counterfactual alternate reality. Just a sec, I’m going to Google this one.
OK, check that — I’ve found zero prior precedent for an administration official alerting an enemy of an attack.
While the fact Milley hadn’t denied making the remarks in the two weeks that followed the first article about the phone call, one held out hope that the version of events spelled out in “Peril” was false or missing context. Lo and behold, as Milley made clear during an appearance before the House Armed Services Committee on Wednesday, it wasn’t.
“I am certain, guaranteed certain, that President Trump had no intent to attack,” Milley said Wednesday, according to Fox News. “And it was my task to make sure I communicated that, and the purpose was to de-escalate.”
He was further pressed on whether he told Li he would leak information of a planned attack to the Chinese.
“I said, General Li, there’s not going to be a war, there’s not going to be attack between great powers,” Milley said.
“And if there was, the tensions would build up, there’d be calls going back and forth from all kinds of senior officials. I said, hell, General Li, I’ll probably give you a call, but we’re not going to attack you. Trust me. We’re not going to attack you.
“These are two great powers, and I am doing my best to transmit the president’s intent, President Trump’s intent, to ensure that the American people are protected from an incident that could escalate.”
The only missing context, in fact, is that former Defense Secretary Mark Esper was the one who ordered the calls. According to Milley, both he and Esper felt there was a “body of intelligence” that was “persuasive” to the both of them that China “thought wrongly that the United States is going to attack them.”
Despite that, Milley insisted he is “not going to tip off any enemy to what the United States is going to do in an actual plan.”
“What I’m trying to do is persuade an adversary that’s heavily armed, that was clearly and unambiguously, according to intelligence reports, very nervous about our behavior and what was happening inside this country,” Milley said. “And they were concerned that we, President Trump, was going to launch an attack.”
That’s the way Milley tried to tamp down tensions between Beijing and Washington? Picture this: The People’s Liberation Army is concerned the turmoil in the United States is so great that Trump might launch a first-strike attack on them. One of the top military officials in the United States says that’s not the case — but not only that, he vouches that if any of that happens, he’s going to warn them ahead of time.
According to Milley, this meant nothing, since Trump “was not going to launch an attack” and he insisted “I would never tip off any enemy to any kind of surprise that we were going to do.”
Even assuming this is unalloyed truth, what would Beijing think? Is it unreasonable to assume a situation in which this remark could have caused them to consider the chaos in the United States, which they apparently believed existed at the time, was so great that Milley was literally willing to rat out his own president and country if there were a situation in which an attack was being prepared? That doesn’t tamp down tensions.
Surely, too, there were a panoply of other options to convince Li there wasn’t going to be an attack without promising him, “Don’t worry — if someone decides to attack, you’ll be the first to know.”
Aside from the implications at home, could Milley not realize how this could have backfired with the Chinese? This isn’t even considering the possibility a conflict erupted in the last few months of the Trump presidency with China — perhaps unlikely, although not as unlikely as it might seem if the intelligence tea leaves were disturbing enough for Milley to give Li a ring.
Granted, Milley already isn’t particularly popular among conservatives like me, what with his defense of critical race theory training based on his desire to understand (his words) “white rage.” That vacuous stupidity was merely aimed at our troops, however — and they can roll their eyes at whatever Ibram X. Kendi nonsense is shoved at them and go on their merry way.
The same can’t be said if the head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff is phoning ahead with attack plans: “Yes, Gen. Li? About our talk in October…” And thus, untold numbers of U.S. soldiers could be doomed, perhaps with no chance to respond.
In short, this is a man who should be running a mess hall on our bases somewhere, not our highest-ranking enlisted member. There’s no context in which his remark, no matter how well-intended he believes it may have been, should have come without serious repercussions.
And yet, it’ll likely pass without incident — if just because no one on the left sees anything wrong with it.