Milley’s Soft Coup

While well-intentioned, the Chairman's actions were illegal and dangerous.

Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Mark Milley, top center, watches as President Donald Trump signs the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2020 at Andrews Air Force Base, Md., Friday, Dec. 20, 2019, before traveling to Mar-a-lago in Palm Beach, Fla. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

See my follow-up “Milley and Woodward Revisited

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Mark Milley repeatedly exceeded his legal authority and violated professional norms to check what he saw was a rogue President, according to a new book by Bob Woodward and Robert Costa.

CNN (“Woodward/Costa book: Worried Trump could ‘go rogue,’ Milley took secret action to protect nuclear weapons“):

Two days after the January 6 attack on the US Capitol, President Donald Trump’s top military adviser, Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Mark Milley, single-handedly took secret action to limit Trump from potentially ordering a dangerous military strike or launching nuclear weapons, according to “Peril,” a new book by legendary journalist Bob Woodward and veteran Washington Post reporter Robert Costa.Woodward and Costa write that Milley, deeply shaken by the assault, ‘was certain that Trump had gone into a serious mental decline in the aftermath of the election, with Trump now all but manic, screaming at officials and constructing his own alternate reality about endless election conspiracies.’Milley worried that Trump could ‘go rogue,’ the authors write.

“You never know what a president’s trigger point is,” Milley told his senior staff, according to the book.

In response, Milley took extraordinary action, and called a secret meeting in his Pentagon office on January 8 to review the process for military action, including launching nuclear weapons. Speaking to senior military officials in charge of the National Military Command Center, the Pentagon’s war room, Milley instructed them not to take orders from anyone unless he was involved.

“No matter what you are told, you do the procedure. You do the process. And I’m part of that procedure,” Milley told the officers, according to the book. He then went around the room, looked each officer in the eye, and asked them to verbally confirm they understood.”Got it?” Milley asked, according to the book.

“Yes, sir.”

[…]

Milley’s fear was based on his own observations of Trump’s erratic behavior. His concern was magnified by the events of January 6 and the ‘extraordinary risk’ the situation posed to US national security, the authors write. Milley had already had two back-channel phone calls with China’s top general, who was on high alert over the chaos in the US.

Then Milley received a blunt phone call from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, according to the book. Woodward and Costa exclusively obtained a transcript of the call, during which Milley tried to reassure Pelosi that the nuclear weapons were safe.

Pelosi pushed back.”What I’m saying to you is that if they couldn’t even stop him from an assault on the Capitol, who even knows what else he may do? And is there anybody in charge at the White House who was doing anything but kissing his fat butt all over this?”Pelosi continued, “You know he’s crazy. He’s been crazy for a long time.”

According to Woodward and Costa, Milley responded, “Madam Speaker, I agree with you on everything.”

WaPo (“Top general was so fearful Trump might spark war that he made secret calls to his Chinese counterpart, new book says“) adds:

Twice in the final months of the Trump administration, the country’s top military officer was so fearful that the president’s actions might spark a war with China that he moved urgently to avert armed conflict.

In a pair of secret phone calls, Gen. Mark A. Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, assured his Chinese counterpart, Gen. Li Zuocheng of the People’s Liberation Army, that the United States would not strike, according to a new book by Washington Post associate editor Bob Woodward and national political reporter Robert Costa.

One call took place on Oct. 30, 2020, four days before the election that unseated President Donald Trump, and the other on Jan. 8, 2021, two days after the Capitol siege carried out by his supporters in a quest to cancel the vote.

The first call was prompted by Milley’s review of intelligence suggesting the Chinese believed the United States was preparing to attack. That belief, the authors write, was based on tensions over military exercises in the South China Sea, and deepened by Trump’s belligerent rhetoric toward China.

“General Li, I want to assure you that the American government is stable and everything is going to be okay,” Milley told him. “We are not going to attack or conduct any kinetic operations against you.”

In the book’s account, Milley went so far as to pledge he would alert his counterpart in the event of a U.S. attack, stressing the rapport they’d established through a backchannel. “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 also summoned senior officers to review the procedures for launching nuclear weapons, saying the president alone could give the order — but, crucially, that he, Milley, also had to be involved. Looking each in the eye, Milley asked the officers to affirm that they had understood, the authors write, in what he considered an “oath.”

The chairman knew that he was “pulling a Schlesinger,” the authors write, resorting to measures resembling the ones taken in August 1974 by James R. Schlesinger, the defense secretary at the time. Schlesinger told military officials to check with him and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs before carrying out orders from President Richard M. Nixon, who was facing impeachment at the time.

Though Milley went furthest in seeking to stave off a national security crisis, his alarm was shared throughout the highest ranks of the administration, the authors reveal. CIA Director Gina Haspel, for instance, reportedly told Milley, “We are on the way to a right-wing coup.”

In addition to my longstanding view that reporters who have information vital to the public have a duty to publish that information as soon as it is vetted rather than saving it to juice future book sales, this raises troubling questions about the propriety of Milley’s actions. Regular readers know that I agree with his assessment of Trump’s mental state and fitness to serve as Commander-in-Chief. But it is the job of civilian policymakers, not the armed forces—much less the Chairman—to check an unstable President.

Milley is not in the chain of command. His perch is the most prestigious in the US armed forces but his role is to serve as the principal uniformed advisor to the President, the Secretary of Defense, and the National Security Council. He can not, therefore, “pull a Schlesinger.” The Secretary of Defense is second in command of the armed forces, appointed by the President, confirmed by the Senate, and empowered by statute to make policy.

Were the President to decide, against the advice of the Chairman, to launch a surprise attack on China, Milley would have a handful of options. He could, of course, obey orders and help execute the mission. If he believed the attack to be illegal under US or international law, he could certainly go to Congress and express his concerns. He could resign and take his concerns public. But it would be an act of literal treason for the Chairman to call his Chinese counterpart to warn him.

Nor is the Chairman a decider on the use of nuclear weapons. That call, again, is that of the President. By law, the Secretary of Defense has to verify the order of the President and, as a Senate-confirmed policymaker, his refusal to carry out the President’s order would carry a lot of weight. But, ultimately, the President makes the call. Telling other officers to defy the orders of the Commander-in-Chief until the Chairman could be consulted is a huge, huge red flag.

Further, while it’s perfectly reasonable for the Chairman to assure the Speaker of the House that there are protocols in place to prevent the rash use of nuclear weapons, expressing his opinion that the President is crazy is at best unprofessional and quite arguably a violation of the Uniform Code of Military Justice’s Article 88 prohibition of “contemptuous words” against certain officials.

Look, I get that Trump is an unusual case and that desperate times call for desperate measures. Vice President Pence and most of the cabinet consistently displayed spinelessness. But I agree with my PME colleague Carrie Lee (who I’m 99 percent sure is considerably to my left politically) that Milley’s actions will further damage civil-military relations.

Despite public disagreement about whether Milley’s alleged actions were appropriate, the reporting on these events will have long-term effects on civil-military relations in three ways.

First, it decreases trust between the president and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. As the nation’s elected leader, the president must be able to enact his agenda, and do so without concern that he is being actively undermined by subordinate military leaders. For good strategic assessment, the president must be confident that the chairman’s military advice is impartial, honest and comprehensive.

Indeed, concerns about military agendas have led to significant dysfunction in decision-making processes in the recent past, and experts have long identified trust as a critical component of the civil-military relationship. Milley’s alleged actions would likely damage not only his relationship with the president but also the relationships between future chairmen and presidents.

[…]

Further, in today’s negative and polarized political environment, Milley’s alleged actions reinforce concerns that military leaders may ignore the president’s ultimate authority over nuclear weapons at their own discretion.

Finally, Milley’s reported actions will likely further politicize a military that is already under significant stress. Despite a professed commitment to being apolitical, military leaders already increasingly identify with a political party, openly express partisan sentiments on social media, and adhere less frequently to established norms.

Political leaders have also increasingly used the military to further their partisan political agendas, breaking civil-military norms. Milley found himself at the center of partisan controversy during Congressional hearings on the defense budget where the subject of critical race theory was raised. New allegations that Milley sought to undermine presidential authority, coupled with partisan beliefs about civilian control, will likely only accelerate the politicization of the armed forces, which can be damaging to democratic health.

Again, I’m sure most OTB readers will cheer Milley’s actions as that of a patriot. And I have no doubt that he was motivated by patriotism and believed his duty to the Constitution was higher than his duty to the law or professional norms. But granting an exception on the basis that Trump was a one-time phenomenon drastically changes the terms of our governance.

FILED UNDER: Military Affairs, National Security, U.S. Constitution, US Politics
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. I agree with your basic assessment.

    And all of this underscores how little in terms of real guardrails we have against an erratic president.

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  2. Jen says:

    As I indicated in yesterday’s thread about Quayle, if all of this was correctly reported Milley’s actions are jaw-dropping.

    We need to take a long, hard, cold look at what transpired.

    Milley’s actions were, in my opinion, bold, necessary, and borderline treasonous.

    And saying “oh it was just Trump” isn’t enough–from what I’ve read, Nixon presented similar concerns.

    Presidents are going to be people with egos, and people with egos don’t appear to channel their inner Elsa and “let it go” very well.

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  3. SC_Birdflyte says:

    Milley may have been wrong, but Dr. Taylor is correct: we need stronger guardrails in place against a President who was in looney bin territory. IIRC, we’ve averted nuclear war a couple of times during the Cold War largely by luck or because a responsible person decided not to act precipitously. We need a sweeping look at the President’s war powers before an avoidable disaster occurs.

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  4. James Joyner says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: @SC_Birdflyte: Yup. I wrote quite about this when people suddenly realized that Trump was now in charge of the nukes. My conclusion remains the same:

    The problem, alas, is that there’s simply nothing the Senate, or the Congress as a whole, can do to stop the President from acting as he sees fit. The House could certainly impeach him after the fact for overstepping his legal authority and, subsequent to that, the Senate could punish him by removing him from office. But the strike itself would be a fait accompli—as would the almost certain international war that would follow.

    […]

    The bottom line is that absent radical disarmament on a scale that no serious analyst is calling for, the major restraint on a President’s war powers rests with his or her character and good judgment. The public ought to seriously weigh whether they trust a candidate to make life-and-death decisions before entrusting them with such awesome responsibilities. Failing that, the Constitution provides the extreme options of removal via the aforementioned impeachment process and the provisions of the 25th Amendment. Both of those are extreme options, however, that would undermine faith in our democracy if undertaken in other than the most exigent circumstances. Otherwise, we must wait until the next election and hope the public chooses more wisely—and that the commander-in-chief does not start World War III in the meantime.

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  5. Stormy Dragon says:

    General Milley is guilty of the most heinous of all crimes: disrupting Dr. Joyner’s illusion of normalcy

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  6. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    The system of government in the US is what it has been because of 2 factors: First, even Lyndon LaRouche Donald J Trump can run for President, and second, Lyndon LaRouche Donald J Trump can’t win. The second of these factors is broken. For better or worse, we’re going to need to have General Milleys who are willing to step into the breach because we can no longer count on our voters and political parties to keep the system stable.

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  7. Cheryl Rofer says:

    Well, if this is true, it undercuts your case something fierce, James. The tweet from Jennifer Griffin of Fox News says

    I am told this is not true. There were 15 people on the video teleconference calls, including a representative of the State Dept and the read out and notes from Milley’s two calls with his Chinese counterpart were shared with the IC and the Interagency.

    People at Milley’s level do talk to their counterparts regularly. If Trump was indeed as bad as described, and if there was intelligence that the Chinese were concerned about an attack, this makes a lot of sense.

    At the time, the reports sounded like Milley had spun out on his own. But as more information comes in, it looks like he was doing his best to head off the ultimate Trumpian disaster.

    The bottom line is don’t elect emotionally unstable people to the presidency. And reform the “one man” rule for starting a nuclear war.

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  8. CSK says:

    You might find this comment on Milley from one of the sparkling intellects at Lucianne.com entertaining:

    “It is now established that the US military is a treasonous cabal that threatens to become an army of occupation in support of Global Totalitarian Socialism.”

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  9. Chris says:

    I agree with Milley’s assessment of the president’s state of mind and the need to make sure their was no irrational action taken to launch a nuclear strike. That being said, there is often a price to be paid in order to do the right thing in suffocating circumstances. In this case, Milley should be held accountable, pay the price as provided under law, and forever be remembered as a sane man who gave up his career, standing, and reputation to insure the safety of his fellow Americans and other innocent beings on the planet. As a footnote to this tragic story, Congress needs to establish a tighter protocol for nuclear strikes, especially during the lame duck portion of any president’s tenure.

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  10. James Joyner says:

    @Cheryl Rofer:

    Well, if this is true, it undercuts your case something fierce, James.

    My “case,” as it were, is based on the presumption that Bob Woodward and Robert Costa, are reporting true facts. Given that other reporters have reported similar but less problematic actions on the part of Milley, I tend to think they’re telling the truth. If they have made it all up then, obviously, any analysis that follows is OBE.

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  11. MarkedMan says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    And all of this underscores how little in terms of real guardrails we have against an erratic president.

    It’s early days and we may learn additional facts that paint things in a different light. But if the current picture holds, the bottom line is that Milley had a difficult decision about a literally catastrophic event. He was truly concerned that Trump would start a war an he had very good reasons to think that it could happen. He may have well averted a shooting war with China or much, much worse.

    Yes, what he did was very dangerous. But anything he did, including and perhaps especially doing nothing, would have put America in very grave danger.

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  12. Cheryl Rofer says:

    @James Joyner:
    I’m seeing the phrase “soft coup” mostly from people attached to the military in some way, whether it’s teaching at a military institution or retired from the military. I even did it when this was first reported back in January, and I’m neither. That’s good! We want military people to recognize that they operate under civilian control.

    The downside is adhering to normal behaviors when a President unable to control his emotions orders a nuclear war. Nuclear war is an outlier. Trump was an outlier. It now looks like what Milley saw was even worse than what the rest of us saw. And, if what Griffin reports is true, Milley stuck to procedure even in that highly outlying situation.

    One might even make the argument that no order for a nuclear strike from a clearly deranged president would be a legal order. Thank goodness we didn’t get to that point.

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  13. Kathy says:

    You may want to look up Cassius Chaerea, the man who killed Caligula. He was executed soon after for his troubles, although a large majority of the Romans, and the Senate, appreciated the removal of the mad, cruel emperor.

    The early Principate period of the Roman Empire was a different time. For one thing, Caligula would not be the last emperor to be assassinated (nor even the last to be assassinated by his own guards), and for another there were multiple other plots to kill Caligula.

    This makes Milley’s actions the more remarkable, as there were not multiple plots by insiders, either int he so-called trump administration or the GOP, to bring down the clown emperor.

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  14. Andy says:

    Personally I’m skeptical of much of this reporting.

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  15. Scott says:

    The Secretary of Defense is second in command of the armed forces, appointed by the President, confirmed by the Senate, and empowered by statute to make policy.

    By law, the Secretary of Defense has to verify the order of the President and, as a Senate-confirmed policymaker, his refusal to carry out the President’s order would carry a lot of weight.

    Twice you mentioned Senate-confirmed SECDEF. Chris Miller was made Acting SECDEF on 9 Nov 2020 after Esper was fired. He was never confirmed.

    This episode, if it holds up, has lot of troublesome aspects to it. From many different angles. And we are all discussing them. However, I do not have confidence in our political system to rise to the occasion and really assess what needs to be done to shore up the guardrails. There are not enough sober, thoughtful legislators to carry that out at this time.

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  16. JohnMcC says:

    Analogies are all bound to fail but Gen Milley’s actions seem to me to resemble someone who breaks into a house…. to save the residents from the fire. But that’s how I WOULD think.

    Would an impartial jury convict him? I see by following the link to Jennifer Griffin (thank you Ms Rofer) a tweet from Jack Posobiec that apparently some persons who were on the call to Gen Li are prepared to ‘testify against him’.

    Actually a trial would be a great idea. Lets have TFG’s mental state put on the stand. Lots of spotlights. Piles of experts on pathological narcissism. Pages and pages of quotes from national security guys. And put it up to the judgement of 12 men good and true.

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  17. Cheryl Rofer says:

    In regard to your retweet, James: It’s Josh Rogin, who seems to have gone on a mental journey of his own lately. I have never understood why the Washington Post gives him a platform, and now he’s gone over into multiple conspiracy theories.

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  18. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:

    It seems to me that the erection of guardrails hardly constitutes a coup; Trump wasn’t prevented from anything, Milley simply inserted himself into the process as a safeguard.
    And 15 people on a tele-conference hardly seems like a secret call.
    Anyway…it’s being actively memory-holed…but let’s not forget, Trump did wage war in his final days…AGAINST THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA.

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  19. Michael Reynolds says:

    Was Claus Von Stauffenberg, the German colonel who attempted to assassinate Hitler, a hero? Or not?

    It sounds as if, had Drs. Joyner and Taylor been German officers on a court martial panel, they’d have voted to hang poor old one-eyed Claus.

    General Milley is a hero. It’s unfortunate that he had to be a hero, but that’s how the hero business works. Heroes aren’t needed under normal circumstances, they become heroes by how they react in a crisis. The job of us non-heroes is to conduct our business in such a way that heroes are not required. The American people failed in that.

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  20. CSK says:

    The point about Trump is that he had absolutely no idea of what a president could do, and refused to learn. (He was also probably incapable of learning.) He thought being president was exactly the same as running his ramshackle, corrupt real estate “empire.”

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  21. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:

    @Daryl and his brother Darryl:
    If the Woodward/Costa book gives us anything, it is proof of Trump’s state of mind and the criminal intent to overturn a free and fair election. Trump, literally, tried to overthrow the Government, FFS.
    I sure as fuq am not interested in any sort of discipline for Milley, while the leader of an actual deadly coup attempt is still waddling free and still fomenting animus against the US.

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  22. Modulo Myself says:

    He could, of course, obey orders and help execute the mission. If he believed the attack to be illegal under US or international law, he could certainly go to Congress and express his concerns. He could resign and take his concerns public. But it would be an act of literal treason for the Chairman to call his Chinese counterpart to warn him.

    Who cares about treason in this case? We’re talking about a surprise attack for no reason whatsoever, and we’re supposed to trust the American process? The only objective anybody in power should have is keeping a war from starting and possibly nukes from going. That’s it. Treason is meaningless.

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  23. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:

    Jonathan Swan, one of the few journalists I trust these days, fleshes out the phone call story.

    In mid-October 2020, top Pentagon officials grew concerned about intelligence they’d seen. It showed the Chinese were consuming their own intelligence that had made them concerned about the possibility of a surprise U.S. strike against China.

    So it seems the secret calls, with 15 people on the line and which were reported out to the IC, were prompted by the realities of world politics.
    Context matters.

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  24. drj says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    What’s pretty funny is that when Trump directly instructed the DOJ to take steps to overturn a free and fair election, it was “just letting off steam,” according to James Joyner.

    Similarly, when on 1/6 Trump egged on a mob to attack the Capitol in order to prevent the counting of the electoral votes, it was just a “riot” rather than a coup attempt.

    But when some official tries to make sure that a mentally unstable, departing president can’t pull some illegal shit before his already elected, legitinate successor is sworn in, the c-word gets trotted out like it’s nothing.

    That’s neither fair nor serious.

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  25. Sleeping Dog says:

    @James Joyner:

    The problem, alas, is that there’s simply nothing the Senate, or the Congress as a whole, can do to stop the President from acting as he sees fit.

    This is being exacerbated by the current fascination with the concept of the ‘unitary executive,’ even in the unlikely scenario that the legislative branch could agree on guard rails, they would very likley not survive a court challenge in tact. The sad fact that both you and Dr T have pointed out is that our Constitutional system is broken and likely beyond repair. Rather than 3, co-equal branches of government, we have an powerful executive, along with surrendered legislative and a fickle court system that decides disputes in the favor of its preferred political philosophy and interprets the Constitution in whatever manner it sees fit.

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  26. Mister Bluster says:

    …real guardrails…stronger guardrails… is that there’s simply nothing the Senate, or the Congress as a whole, can do to stop the President from acting as he sees fit.

    Silly me I thought that all these actors took an Oath to uphold and defend
    The Constitution for the United States of America
    Article I, Section 8, Par. 11
    The Congress shall have Power…To declare War,..

    What was I thinking?

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  27. Joe says:

    @Cheryl Rofer: I have seen Milley’s promise to forewarn his Chinese counterpart before launching a strike as if it were an open-ended and contextless commitment. Within context, I take Milley to mean we have no current plan to attack you and I can back up that current commitment by committing to tell you if my plans change. It was a reasonable commitment to deescalate any mistaken Chinese anticipatory attack. No matter how crazy TFG was, he could not have launched any conventional attack without months of planning. I suppose a nuclear attack would be a different thing, but see Milley’s other activities.

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  28. inhumans99 says:

    Without reading the comments yet, I agree with you James, but at the same time wasn’t part of Milley’s dilemma that the “Civilian” folks he would normally turn too to ask them to act as a check (guardrail) on Trump’s actions pure loyalists to Trumpism?

    That is almost as disturbing as Milley’s actions themselves.

    I knew we had a problem when the military brass at the top of the pyramid felt it necessary to publicly declare not long before the election that they would not back Trump if he tried to pull of a coup (which is indeed what Trump tried to pull off).

    How to smooth out the relations between the Military chain of command and civilians like myself is definitely something that has to be thought about, but I have no particular insights into how to make things better at this hour of the morning.

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  29. @Stormy Dragon:

    General Milley is guilty of the most heinous of all crimes: disrupting Dr. Joyner’s illusion of normalcy

    This is an utterly unfair assessment (and ignores what is said in the OP).

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  30. @MarkedMan: You know, he could have done what he did and then resigned when Biden took office. He could have also then gone to the press to let us all know what happened.

    Instead, he would appear to have acted in a way that is highly problematic and yet retained his high position.

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  31. @Daryl and his brother Darryl:

    It seems to me that the erection of guardrails hardly constitutes a coup

    How guardrails are erected matters.

    And if extralegal guardrails are needed, then there still need to be consequences for extralegal activity, yes?

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  32. @Michael Reynolds:

    It sounds as if, had Drs. Joyner and Taylor been German officers on a court martial panel, they’d have voted to hang poor old one-eyed Claus.

    Why must you go there? How is that fair or helpful?

    You degrade any seriousness by constantly going this route.

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  33. Lounsbury says:

    Coup seems a quite peculiarly exagerated word for what seems to be rather largely posturing and not real action.

    I mean I have lived in countries where actual proper coup d’etats were occuring, and it all rather involves something more than what is described, which is more …. obstructionism perhaps.

    @Michael Reynolds: the dear blogger has a strong tendencies to prissy formalism, and form over substance thinking although he will deny it. And while the referencing of the Nazi case is rather loaded, it does come to mind when reading such posts, as there is certainly a strong argument that the excessive deference to formalism among the German bureaucracy while the substance of their formal state was being emptied and perverted was something of a real contributor to the failure of the republic and transformation into the reich.

    Norms and behaviour are rather serious challenges and I think brushing off what is described is a wee bit blind however.

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  34. James Joyner says:

    @Cheryl Rofer: I know Rogin from his Foreign Policy days, when he was a damn fine reporter. I honestly don’t know anything about conspiracy-mongering.

    @Michael Reynolds: Attempting to murder Hitler was, of course, treason. But Nazi Germany was an inherently illegitimate system. I don’t put the US Constitution, despite its real problems, in the same category.

    @drj: Like it or not, Trump was the duly elected President and is entitled to issue legal orders unless removed from office under either impeachment, the provisions of the 25th Amendment, the expiration of his term of office, or death. The CJCS is not a Constitutional officer, is not elected, and has no authority to countermand the President.

    I thought Trump should have been convicted after his impeachment for the 6 January incident. But, no, it didn’t meet any definition of a coup. The military circumventing the duly elected President is the very definition of a “soft coup.”

    @Mister Bluster: The problem is that standing military. Because the President no longer has to go to Congress to raise an army, he, in his capacity as commander-in-chief, has way more power than anyone intended. But Presidents of both parties have used the war power in this fashion the entirety of the post-WWII era.

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  35. wr says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: ” He could have also then gone to the press to let us all know what happened.”

    Yes, but that might have cut into Bob Woodward’s book sales, which seems to be the one unforgivable sin in Washington.

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  36. No doubt a more complex analysis, and more information is needed before full assessments can be made. But everyone needs to stop, pause, and think about the consequences of coming to the conclusion that good outcomes absolve how those outcomes came to pass. (As well as assuming that since the outcome was good, this was the only way to get there).

    It is the type of logic that most commenters here abhor when it is deployed by Trump voters/supporters.

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  37. @wr: I was referring to Milley, but your point about Woodward is taken.

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  38. dmichael says:

    The crux of Dr. Joyner’s concern about the actions of Milley is his comment he reposted: “The public ought to seriously weigh whether they trust a candidate to make life-and-death decisions before entrusting them with such awesome responsibilities.” After the public failed to do this, his fallback position is that after an unsuccessful impeachment, we should simply hope for the best: “Otherwise, we must wait until the next election and hope the public chooses more wisely—and that the commander-in-chief does not start World War III in the meantime.” Or, hope that the insurrection the loser encourages post-election fails. Or, that a subsequent insurrection also fails. Not good enough.

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  39. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:
    I’m not convinced it was extralegal. As I understand it he did not instruct anyone to ignore or disobey the C-in-C’ orders…only that he be included in the process.
    As for the phone calls…Swans reporting explains the context and the reason for the calls, and they were done with 15 people on the line and reported out as is policy.
    I would enjoy the discovery portion of his trial though…

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  40. Scott says:

    Well, I guess Milley is off the hook now since Trump denies everything.

    The good news is that the story is Fake News concocted by a weak and ineffective General together with two authors who I refused to give an interview to because they write fiction, not fact.

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  41. Gustopher says:

    I question the truthfulness of Woodward’s account — the source is presumably Milley, and he may be puffing himself up.

    But, if true, we have the military seeing a civilian coup being planned, and taking steps to plan a counter-coup, and hinting about this to the Speaker of the House. And then being quiet about it for 8 months.

    Meanwhile, the Republicans are openly laying the groundwork for the de-democratization of America. Flash forward to January 6th, 2025 — Republican state governments have replaced state electors, and I don’t know what happens, but if we’re going to lose democracy one way or the other, I hope my team comes out on top.

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  42. Erik says:

    what constitutes a “hero” is entirely in the eye of the beholder, and if we begin judging the actions of individuals, especially senior military officers, based on whether they can achieve “hero” status within a specific camp we have thrown the rule of law out the window. Functional democracy is predicated on rule of law; autocracy on the presence of a “heroic” leader. It would not be good for our democracy if future (current?) military leaders took it upon themselves to choose which lawful presidential orders they should follow and which they can ignore, even if we personally agree with the outcome. If Miley’s goal was to be a hero to some he has chosen the correct action. If his goal was to be an officer in the United States Army he has not.

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  43. wr says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: ” I was referring to Milley, but your point about Woodward is taken”

    Alas my snark was insufficiently clear! I, too, meant Milley, who joins the ranks of so many of Woodward’s sources with information necessary to the country who choose to keep silent before the release of the book they’re featured in…

    I get why Woodward keeps his mouth shut. I have no idea why the Milleys of the world do.

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  44. Michael Reynolds says:

    @James Joyner:

    Attempting to murder Hitler was, of course, treason. But Nazi Germany was an inherently illegitimate system. I don’t put the US Constitution, despite its real problems, in the same category.

    The constitution is not a suicide pact.

    What would your reaction have been if Trump sparked a war? ‘Well, at least the chain of command held!’ Perspective, dude. General Milley may well have saved your life, along with the constitution.

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  45. al Ameda says:

    On his way to planning to stay for another 4 years regardless of what the voters wanted, Trump did what Trump does, he bulldozed all in his path. The entire Republican Party acquiesced, high level officials resigned, no one could stop him, no Republican wanted to stop him. He was relentless.

    Biden should fire him and award him the Medal of Freedom.

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  46. Modulo Myself says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    Assuming this story is correct, what did Milley do? He didn’t torture a suspect to get information on a bomb. He didn’t violate a law to fulfill a campaign promise. He merely tried to prevent an unnecessary war, all because a very unstable person was president. Should he resign? Sure. But there’s no moral dilemma here. All you can really say is that maybe he should have trusted the process more despite the obvious problems with this process.

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  47. JKB says:

    It showed the Chinese were consuming their own intelligence that had made them concerned about the possibility of a surprise U.S. strike against China.

    Now that raises some interesting issues given the documented assets Chinese intelligence has among congressional Democrats, even on the House Intel committee. Not to mention assets they have among the Silicon Valley, and others in business, who have close access to DC Democrats. The paranoia was/is high among those Democrats and other non-Democrat DC denizens. Did their broad paranoia over Trump get feed into Chinese intel reinforcing each other?

    Right now, I’m going with Rick Grennell’s doubts about the veracity since he was in a position to have heard rumors in the intel community. And if it is true, but kept quiet, it implicates a lot of people who were, or should have been, aware of the call, a much more serious “soft” coup. What would it say if the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs could openly promise treason and no one elsewhere in the government knew anything about it?

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  48. Jon says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    You know, he could have done what he did and then resigned when Biden took office. He could have also then gone to the press to let us all know what happened.

    Agreed. It seems to be that Milley did the morally correct thing but the legally incorrect thing. Sometimes all your options suck, and you just have to take your lumps and do the least wrong thing. So he was right to do it (assuming it happened mostly as described) but should also have accepted the consequences and stepped down once things were less precarious.

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  49. Michael Reynolds says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:
    Oh, bullshit, Dr. Taylor. The Stauffenberg analogy is on-point, and I think I accurately characterized your and Joyner’s likely response. Rules first, decency later.

    Jim Crow was the law when I grew up. Good men fought that law. Weak men shrugged and said, ‘Well, as long as the proper legal forms have been observed. . .’ Consequences matter. Good and evil matter. The survival of the human race matters. There is no opt-out of morality, you do not get to say, ‘gee, sorry about the end of civilization, but at least we observed all the proper forms,’ and imagine that you’re on the side of the angels.

    A senior American general believed we might be on the verge of global war with China, did what he could to forestall that, and you and James are complaining that he didn’t fill out the right forms. You would have this man sit on his hands or make impotent, too-damn-late objections while the ICBM’s flew. Can you put yourself in his place for a minute? Can you balance the threat of annihilation against the tiny threat to a non-existent order posed by one decent man doing what had to be done? You think maybe he was contemplating the fiery death of his grandchildren and doing what he could as a man to stop that happening?

    Thank God he was not entirely imprisoned by the shackles of conservative thinking. The failure of imagination from you and James is not surprising, lack of imagination being a defining hallmark of the conservative mind, but it is disappointing. On the one hand 100 million dead. On the other hand, chain of command violation. Gosh, how to balance those priorities?

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  50. Michael Reynolds says:

    @al Ameda:

    Biden should fire him and award him the Medal of Freedom.

    Excellent compromise.

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  51. Neil J Hudelson says:

    @JKB:

    Dear, dear, dear JKB. The adults are having a conversation right now. Please shush.

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  52. inhumans99 says:

    Okay Michael, Steven and James wish a fiery death on all of us liberals, got it. Good to know (you learn something new every day). And on that note I think I will stay away from this thread for a bit, but am aware that Steven and James usually have their flame suits on when replying to your posts, being big boys who are all grown up and I know they can handle what you throw at them.

    I do like to think to myself that if I had an editor looking over my shoulder as I was getting ready to hit post after writing such a comment that said editor might tap me on the shoulder and go ahem, are you sure you want to hit Post?

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  53. Stormy Dragon says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    This is an utterly unfair assessment (and ignores what is said in the OP).

    When, on one hand he’s writing article handwringing about whether we’re being to hard on people who physically assaulted the Capitol and tried to overthrow the government:

    Shaman Formerly Known as QAnon Pleads Guilty

    And Chansley not only broke into private Congressional office spaces, he left a threatening note for then-Vice President Pence. Still, he has already served eight months; another 41 months, the low end of the plea deal, seems excessive.

    And then on the other hand starts throwing around “treason” for someone warning people that if they get any weird orders, make sure they came through the appropriate process before acting on them, it sure leaves the perception that he sees the people who refuse to pretend what the Republicans are doing isn’t happening as a bigger problem than what the Republicans are doing.

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  54. Mu Yixiao says:

    General Milley is an active member of the United States military. He has sworn an oath to:

    support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; […] bear true faith and allegiance to the same; […] obey the orders of the president of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice.

    Constitution first, President after.

    Had Trump ordered the military to fire on China–even with “just” conventional weapons, it would have destroyed the United States and started a new World War–making Trump a “domestic enemy”, extremely dangerous to the national security and real security of the United States.

    As the past year has shown, even with continuing good trade between the US and China, we’re struggling to keep our manufacturing base running. With all trade cut off and a hostile China, manufacturing would come to a stand-still.

    The US hasn’t fought a “real” war since 1945–not the type of war that would be required to take on China, with an active fighting force twice the size of ours (and one that isn’t spread out all over the world).

    From what I’m reading, Milley did not disobey any commands. He did not tell anyone else to disobey commands. He said “Follow procedures, follow your oath, not the dictates of a temperamental child”.

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  55. Andy says:

    Well, after a bit of research and thought I think these claims are either highly exaggerated or bullshit. Let’s review the two most serious allegations:

    1. Miley, in a phone call to his Chinese counterpart, essentially declares he would commit treason if the US were to attack China by warning China that an attack was coming.

    2. Miley unilaterally broke (or tried to break) the most important command-and-control function in our government – the use of nuclear weapons – and inserting himself into that chain-of-command.

    If either or both of these are true, then Miley deserves to be court-martialed. But I don’t believe they are true. But these are serious enough charges that have far-reaching impacts regarding civil-military relations and the surety and reliability of America’s nuclear command-and-control.

    Since Woodward is unlikely to reveal sources, this is what should happen now:

    1. President Biden should immediately declassify and release the transcripts of Miley’s conversations with the Chinese that are referenced in the book.

    2. Congress should hold hearings and force Miley and the leadership of the NMCC to testify under oath about the “secret” meeting and the allegation that Miley attempted to insert himself into the nuclear command-and-control chain.

    That will determine if Woodward is talking out of his ass, which is my suspicion.

    Finally, it never ceases to amaze me the extent to which people believe that Trump is capable of literally anything. These wild theories that Trump might wake up one day and decide to nuke China or some other country have never had any evidentiary basis, are contrary to Trump’s actual, quite consistent, pattern of behavior, yet the suspension of disbelief at virtual any anti-Trump theory is seemingly endless.

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  56. Michael Reynolds says:

    @inhumans99:
    Do you have a substantive rebuttal?

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  57. Modulo Myself says:

    A more sensible critique is that a reasonable guy who spends his life rising up through his country’s military-industrial complex has a lot in common with the same reasonable guy in another country’s military-industrial complex. Imagine being a normal Chinese general and having to analyze the American military, an institution which once held a true loon like Michael Flynn. Of course, they’re going to be pointing the rational ones in America and using their existences as justification to their loons as proof that Americans aren’t planning some outlandish surprise attack.

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  58. Michael reynolds says:

    @Andy:

    Finally, it never ceases to amaze me the extent to which people believe that Trump is capable of literally anything. These wild theories that Trump might wake up one day and decide to nuke China or some other country have never had any evidentiary basis, are contrary to Trump’s actual, quite consistent, pattern of behavior, yet the suspension of disbelief at virtual any anti-Trump theory is seemingly endless.

    What in the hell are you talking about? If I’d told you a year ago that Trump would try to steal the election and overthrow the US government, you’d have said, and I quote, it never ceases to amaze me the extent to which people believe that Trump is capable of literally anything. These wild theories that Trump might wake up one day and decide to nuke China or some other country have never had any evidentiary basis, are contrary to Trump’s actual, quite consistent, pattern of behavior, yet the suspension of disbelief at virtual any anti-Trump theory is seemingly endless.

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  59. Scott says:

    @Mu Yixiao: Small correction: The Oath for Commissioned Officers is:

    I ___, do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter. So help me God.

    President is not mentioned.

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  60. EddieInCA says:

    Dr. Joyner and Dr. Taylor –

    This is not a hard call for me. An accidental global war or someone breaking the chain of command doesn’t seem like a hard call at all.

    “Oh, there are nukes coming towards us? Well, make sure TPS reports are filled out properly.”

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  61. Chris says:

    Execution of the SIOP for a nuclear strike requires the President to communicate the decision to initiate the strike to the Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff (i.e. General Mark Milley), and through him to the National Military Command Center. The CJCS is responsible for verifying the Presidents identity and ensuring that the order actually comes from the proper source. He did not “insert himself” into the process, rather he ensured that the process and procedures would be followed and that his role in the process would not be bypassed. This seems to be more about checking rogue elements within Trumps staff who might try to create a crisis on his behalf rather than stopping a nuclear strike. As stated, Milley would not be able to stop an attack as the President has sole authority, but he would in theory be able to stall it long enough for the Cabinet to invoke the 25th or Congress and the public to be alerted, etc.

    Further, in 2017 the former CJCS, General Joseph Dunford, established the Joint Strategic Dialogue Mechanism with China, which allows the CJCS and JCS direct communication with their counterparts in the Chinese General Staff as a means of defusing tensions, managing and negotiating crises, and de-escalating hostilities before they lead to war. Communications between Milley and his counterparts in Beijing are routine and commonplace (hence why there were apparently 15 other people from the call). The first of the two calls in particular came at a time when SECDEF Mark Esper (remember him) was concerned about the Chinese launching a pre-emptive strike due to apparent intelligence reports they were receiving indicating the US was preparing to attack. Not only was Milley calling his counterparts in China to try to calm them down, but so was Espers office. All of this is above board and part of the Presidency’s delegated authorities that allow the DoD and Department of State, etc. to conduct and execute foreign policy.

    As for the promise to communicate advanced warning of a strike, that one becomes a bit less clear. Per the Laws of Armed Conflict, Geneva Conventions, International Humanitarian Law, etc. Rule 20 – “Each party to the conflict must give effective advance warning of attacks which may affect the civilian population, unless circumstances do not permit.” As a signatory, the US – and by extension Americas military personnel, to include General Mark Milley/the CJCS, are bound to follow this. Indeed, American military doctrine and policies bind military personnel to this exact law, for example US Army Field Manual 27-10 states “The officer in command of an attacking force must, before commencing a bombardment, except in cases of assault, do all in his power to warn the authorities.” One interpretation of Milleys statement is therefore him offering his assurances that any conflict between China and America would be in keeping with international law and LOAC and that we would see to it personally if he had to that we would not initiate hostilities in an illegal and underhanded manner in violation of the law. Arguably, his duty is not to ensure compliance with the law by providing the necessary warning, but rather to disobey an unlawful order in its entirety and not initiate the attack.

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  62. drj says:

    @James Joyner: @James Joyner:

    Trump was the duly elected President and is entitled to issue legal orders

    Of course, there is zero indication that Milley wanted to prevent Trump from issuing legal orders. He was rather more concerned about the other kind.

    But in your book still worse (or at least more deserving of the c-word) than actively trying to overturn a free and fair election, no?

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  63. Scott says:

    Can anyone verify whether a President, any President, can just order up a nuclear strike? We are not at war with China, not even in conflict. I don’t know the War Powers Act but I would imagine there would have to be a National Security Finding, a emergency justification written, notifications made, etc. In other words, a process prior to anyone acting. Just having Trump tell Mark Meadows or the acting SECDEF Chris Miller (actual chain of command) to do something does not result in the immediate doing.

    The handwringing about this seems to be misplaced.

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  64. Scott says:

    @Scott: Found this quote from a December Congressional Research Service Report (quoted in an article)

    – Strike must be ‘legal’ – The only restriction on the US leader in this case is the legality of the strike. The laws of war would allow a military official to refuse to execute an order to do something illegal.

    “But questions about the legality of the order — whether it is consistent with the requirements, under the laws of armed conflict for necessity, proportionality, and distinction — are more likely to lead to consultations and changes in the president’s order than to a refusal by the military to execute the order,” according to the Congressional Research Service report.

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  65. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @JKB:

    Now that raises some interesting issues given the documented assets Chinese intelligence has among congressional Democrats, even on the House Intel committee.

    You learn something new every day. For example, I never realized that “McCarthy” had a “B” in it–let alone as the first letter.

    (And while I’m here anyway…)

    The problem, alas, is that there’s simply nothing the Senate, or the Congress as a whole, can do to stop the President from acting as he sees fit.

    I really should stop listening to the voice that lives in my abyss. When he read that, he merely replied “that’s why the soldiers and officers have guns and the Commander in Chief doesn’t–to act as a fourth and final check and balance in case things go sideways.”

    Of course, now that we’re rid of the stain that was FG, things will never go sideways ever again. I’m so relieved. /s

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  66. drj says:

    @Scott:

    Can anyone verify whether a President, any President, can just order up a nuclear strike?

    After WW2, the US hanged a bunch of Nazi’s for committing “crimes against peace” under international law.

    So no, a (nuclear) first strike wouldn’t be legal at all.

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  67. Mu Yixiao says:

    @Scott:

    Small correction: The Oath for Commissioned Officers is:

    I grabbed the one for gropos. 🙂 Didn’t know they were different.

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  68. gVOR08 says:

    You quote Carrie Lee

    First, it decreases trust between the president and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

    Why don’t we ask Joe Biden if this causes him to distrust Milley? I suspect the answer would significantly undercut Ms. Lee’s thesis.

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  69. Raoul says:

    I don’t know maybe I’m not reading the script in fine detail but it sounds like Milley simply said to keep him posted which doesn’t sound like a big deal.

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  70. dazedandconfused says:

    On the Chinese issue, it would only be treason if we actually had an attack planned and he tipped it off. Lacking that condition, by the benefit of the doubt, which he deserves, Milley is only guilty of BSing his counterpart, and for a very justifiable reason.

    The issue of where the CoJCoS sits in the chain of command for nuclear weapons, a lot of people may be assuming that position is not in the SOP of a questionable order to use nukes.

    Naturally, shortly after Trump took office, Congress held a hearing to be briefed on the checks within the military’s procedures concerning nuclear arms. It appears at that time Congress was informed by a commander of SAC, Gen. Robert Kehler, that the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs is in there. Here’s a snip of his written opening statement:

    Military members are bound by the Uniform Code of Military Justice
    (UCMJ) to follow orders provided they are legal and come from
    appropriate command authority. They are equally bound to question (and
    ultimately refuse) illegal orders or those that do not come from
    appropriate authority. As the commander of U.S. Strategic Command, I
    shared the responsibility with the Secretary of Defense, Chairman of
    the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and other senior military and civilian
    leaders to address and resolve any concerns and potential legal issues
    on behalf of the men and women in the nuclear operating forces during
    the decision process. It was our duty to pose the hard questions, if
    any, before proceeding with our military advice. Nuclear crew members
    must have complete confidence that the highest legal standards have
    been enforced from target selection to an employment command by the
    President.

    https://www.govinfo.gov/content/pkg/CHRG-115shrg34311/html/CHRG-115shrg34311.htm

    It appears the current SOP regarding nuclear weapons has the Chairman within the loop for a commander in charge of issuing the launch order if there is some question about legality or appropriateness.

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  71. CSK says:

    Milley appears to have confirmed the Woodward-Costa account.

    Biden says Milley is a man of honor.

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  72. Barry says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: “Instead, he would appear to have acted in a way that is highly problematic and yet retained his high position.”

    Which seems to be a commonly done thing these days.

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  73. Barry says:

    @JKB: You are confused about the meaning of the word ‘documented’.

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  74. Just Another Ex-Republican says:

    The actions as reported in press releases designed to increase book sales are likely treasonous. I, like others, tend to doubt we have anything close to the full story just yet.

    As for the legality of launching a nuclear strike…the main problem is the very nature of nuclear weapons themselves. In the even of a nuclear attack being launched on the US the President has roughly 10-15 minutes to make a decision about a counterstrike. To delay longer risks the enemy strike destroying our ability to respond at all. Because of that compressed timeline, the system is set up such that the President can in fact order a nuclear strike of his own without any significant impediments. A nuclear first strike would certainly be illegal, but nothing really stops the President from launching one except his own inclinations and the SecDef (which, as noted, in this case, was an unapproved political temp appointment and Presidential yes-man). No Congressional involvement, no intelligence findings, no real bureaucracy, even the Pentagon and chain of command between the President and the guy pushing a launch button is mostly (though not completely) sidelined because the built in **assumption** in our whole nuclear launch process is that it’s an emergency and the President has to issue orders and have them followed NOW. Not in an hour, not the next day, but literally in the next few minutes. The idea that a lunatic might become President and launch a nuclear first strike for any reason at all simply isn’t part of the setup.

    Sleep well.

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  75. Andy says:

    @Michael reynolds:

    What in the hell are you talking about? If I’d told you a year ago that Trump would try to steal the election and overthrow the US government, you’d have said, and I quote

    On the contrary, Trump delegitimizing elections is a consistent and observable pattern of his, including the election he actually won. It was long pretty clear that Trump would at least rhetorically dispute the election, particularly if he lost. The only question was how far would he run with that.

    By contrast, there is no pattern of behavior or any actual evidence that would suggest that Trump would randomly nuke another country. The preponderance of the evidence is actually the opposite. But that gets ignored and instead, there’s just a bunch of handwaving about how “unstable” Trump is which, conveniently, opens the rhetorical door to suggesting he might do anything.

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  76. Erik says:

    @CSK: the issue here isn’t if Miley is a man of honor or if we like what the outcome would be if he stopped TFG from a nuclear strike or attacking China or whatever.* The issue is the breach of discipline. The circumvention of the rule of law.

    What if Miley had, as a man of honor and having just been given such an order and knowing that he could not stop it any other way elected to instead kill TFG? I would have been as happy as a lot of people that TFG was no longer President and that nukes hadn’t been deployed, but it still would have been legally wrong and Miley would need to face the consequences of his action. People might have called him a hero, even a martyr, and I would have joined them in that, but if you don’t uphold the rule of law all the time then you can’t get upset when other people also pick and choose in ways that you *don’t* like. “Rules are rules unless I don’t want them to be” is the way autocracies function

    *note that I’m far from convinced that the Woodward account is entirely credible, but I am accepting the premise that it is for the sake of argument

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  77. R. Dave says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: You know, he could have done what he did and then resigned when Biden took office. He could have also then gone to the press to let us all know what happened.

    Instead, he would appear to have acted in a way that is highly problematic and yet retained his high position.

    Apart from generally disbelieving / being highly skeptical of Woodward’s sensationalist spin on things, this is my view of Milley’s purported actions and the same position I take when it comes to things like the hypothetical ticking time bomb torture scenario. If you honestly believe that the situation is so dire that it justifies committing a serious crime, which itself would set a dangerous precedent, to prevent it, then you must also publicly admit your crime and accept the full consequences in order to minimize the damage of that precedent. If the situation isn’t bad enough to warrant taking the personal hit, then it’s not bad enough to warrant committing the crime in the first place.

    That said, just because a person doesn’t have sufficient honor to follow all the way through and take the personal hit doesn’t mean their crime wasn’t justified. It just means the rest of us have to make sure we hold them accountable for their crime in addition to being grateful they at least had the courage to do what had to be done.

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  78. gVOR08 says:

    Along with the gerrymandering post, two episodes this morning of how the destruction of the Republic is OK as long as it’s done in proper form.

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  79. dazedandconfused says:

    @Andy:

    IMO the possibility Trump might do anything to stay in office had to be anticipated and there should’ve been a plan of action for those who would be in a position to stop something catastrophic. Not doing so would’ve been negligence.

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  80. CSK says:

    @Erik:
    Sure. I’m just reporting the latest news. And…it’s Milley, not Miley.

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  81. Andy says:

    @gVOR08:

    Along with the gerrymandering post, two episodes this morning of how the destruction of the Republic is OK as long as it’s done in proper form.

    I think it’s the opposite – that principles and “proper form” are sacrificed for expediency – usually partisan expediency, which erodes the legitimacy of government and institutions.

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  82. Erik says:

    @CSK: My beef is with Biden, not you, then, and I made that mistake a bunch of times so thanks for the correction. My apologies to the General for misspelling his name.

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  83. MarkedMan says:

    @Andy:

    These wild theories that Trump might wake up one day and decide to nuke China or some other country have never had any evidentiary basis

    You may deem the evidence insufficient but there is most definitely evidence. There was legitimate reporting that Trump, during his initial briefings, made several disturbing comments about using the US nuclear arsenal. This was given further credence by how much his administration moved to 1) invest in upgrading our nuclear arsenal, 2) start up the first new nuclear warhead development in decades, 3) refuse to renew an existing arms control agreement.

    Like I said you, personally, may think this is insufficient to raise concerns about his motivations but I, for one, disagree.

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  84. Andy says:

    @dazedandconfused:

    IMO the possibility Trump might do anything to stay in office had to be anticipated and there should’ve been a plan of action for those who would be in a position to stop something catastrophic. Not doing so would’ve been negligence.

    The “plan of action” should be to follow the established law and procedures or, failing that, fall on your sword and go public or to Congress. Unilateral secret back-door dealings are bad. Real-life is not an episode of “24”.

    And possibilities should at least be based on some kind of reality. Note that the claims about what Trump might do in terms of attacking other countries are never based on evidence but on speculative fears. We don’t even have reports of Trump threatening to nuke countries in private, much less public statements.

    And one should consider the bigger picture. If one really believes that our nuclear command-and-control is so weak that an “unstable” President can wake up and order a strike and that Milley is justified for trying to stop that in a duplicitous manner, then one ought to be calling for Congress to amend and restrain Executive authority. After all, Trump could conceivably run and win again. Biden is an old man who isn’t nearly as sharp as he once was. A warmongering person could win office in the future. Those who truly believe that Trump might nuke random countries and that he has the authority to do that as President ought to be demanding action by Congress to fix this flaw in nuclear command-and-control. But of course no one is doing that and Congress has never expressed any interest in addressing it, which, I think, indicates that this is more about rhetoric and posturing than anything else.

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  85. Christine says:
  86. JohnMcC says:

    @Andy: Reading lots of comments regarding TFG ordering a nuke fired at PRC. Just wanted to say that isn’t the only interpretation of the story. My first impression from the excepts is that Gen Milley was concern that FG’s unbalanced behavior would make the PRCs think they had to fire first.

    It seems reasonable to me that would be a reasonable way for them to deal with an anticipated attack on their country from ours.

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  87. CSK says:

    @Christine:
    Well, Trump proposed dropping a nuke on a hurricane to dispel it.

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  88. Jay L Gischer says:

    I am somebody who thinks rule of law is really important, and something I will sacrifice other goals for.

    However, the more I read about this, the more I think Milley was very proactive, but didn’t do anything that was illegal. The call was witnessed and documented and well within procedure. The request that he not be bypassed was perhaps a bit unusual, but then, bypassing him would be really unusual, wouldn’t it, in spite of him not officially being in the chain of command.

    In some sense what Milley is saying to these guys is, “I will jump on that grenade for you, if it gets thrown. Call me in to jump on it.”

    As to whether that was necessary, I’d say Milley was in a much better position to evaluate that than any of us are or will ever be.

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  89. MarkedMan says:

    @Scott: Radiolab did an intensive investigation on this very question after Trump became the nominee. The bottom line is that if the President gives the order, the missles fly. There is no other approval required. The people actually executing the order are isolated, low level, and chosen specifically because their psych evaluations show they will not question the order.

    It has been widely reported that just before Nixon’s resignation, when he was wandering drunk through the halls of the White House and talking to portraits, a general (?) did virtually the same thing, spreading the word not to accept a launch order. As far as I remember it was never verified, but given how widely reported it was I’m surprised it hasn’t come up in this case.

    Link for Radiolab story
    https://www.wnycstudios.org/podcasts/radiolab/articles/nukes

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  90. Jay L Gischer says:

    This seems relevant today:

    On 26 September 1983, three weeks after the Soviet military had shot down Korean Air Lines Flight 007, [Lt. Col. Stanislav] Petrov was the duty officer at the command center for the Oko nuclear early-warning system when the system reported that a missile had been launched from the United States, followed by up to five more. Petrov judged the reports to be a false alarm,[2] and his decision to disobey orders, against Soviet military protocol,[3] is credited with having prevented an erroneous retaliatory nuclear attack on the United States and its NATO allies that could have resulted in a large-scale nuclear war. An investigation later confirmed that the Soviet satellite warning system had indeed malfunctioned.

    Petrov was acting against orders. He was neither rewarded or reprimanded. Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stanislav_Petrov

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  91. Modulo Myself says:

    We don’t even have reports of Trump threatening to nuke countries in private, much less public statements.

    Wow, it’s almost like we have way less direct exposure to Trump’s state of the mind at the time than the highest-ranked military figure in the country. The ‘we’ here is meaningless. The person who did, apparently, warn China was a guy who was with Trump a lot. Not some commentator on the internet. Right or wrong, he wasn’t doing it to score rhetorical points or virtue signal or whatever cliche you want to fall back on.

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  92. CSK says:

    @Erik:
    No problem. Biden also said that Milley’s actions were acceptable “in the context of this period and time in history.”

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  93. Andy says:

    @JohnMcC:

    It seems reasonable to me that would be a reasonable way for them to deal with an anticipated attack on their country from ours.

    Sure, mil-to-mil communications to reassure China (and other countries) are entirely appropriate. That’s happened countless times in our history. Pledging to warn China if Trump decides to attack is not. But then, I don’t believe Milley actually did that.

    But again, there’s one way to find out – declassify and release the transcripts and then haul Milley and the NMCC staff in front of Congress for on-the-record questioning.

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  94. JohnMcC says:

    Just ran across this in the WaPo story of Biden endorsing Milley: Former LC Alexander Vindman says if the story is reported truly, ‘Milley must resign’. “He usurped civilian authority, broke chain of command and violated the sacrosanct principle of civilian control….”

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  95. R. Dave says:

    @Andy: Those who truly believe that Trump might nuke random countries and that he has the authority to do that as President ought to be demanding action by Congress to fix this flaw in nuclear command-and-control. But of course no one is doing that and Congress has never expressed any interest in addressing it, which, I think, indicates that this is more about rhetoric and posturing than anything else.

    You’re mistaken on that, Andy. Nuclear command and control has been an issue of concern since the early days of the Cold War, and the danger of an unstable President having sole launch authority was raised particularly in connection with Nixon, Reagan, and Trump.

    See this 2017 article for an example I found with a quick Google.

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  96. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:

    @JKB:

    …the documented assets Chinese intelligence has among congressional Democrats, even on the House Intel committee.

    Oh…please enlighten us with this documentation you claim, and from credible sources.

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  97. @Michael Reynolds:

    Oh, bullshit, Dr. Taylor.

    Ever so compelling, Michael.

    I love how you turn me saying “I agree with your basic assessment” into some sort of complicity with Nazis. It is unbecoming and tiresome. You always carry on about your obedience to rationality, but you are coming across rather emotionally on this.

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  98. Andy says:

    @Christine:

    I think Andy may have forgotten this one:

    https://nymag.com/intelligencer/2016/08/trump-asked-advisor-why-cant-we-use-nuclear-weapons.html

    Trump is dumb! Asking an ignorant child-like question about why we can’t use nukes generally isn’t the same thing as waking up one morning and deciding to obliterate a billion people.

    @Modulo Myself:

    Wow, it’s almost like we have way less direct exposure to Trump’s state of the mind at the time than the highest-ranked military figure in the country. The ‘we’ here is meaningless. The person who did, apparently, warn China was a guy who was with Trump a lot. Not some commentator on the internet. Right or wrong, he wasn’t doing it to score rhetorical points or virtue signal or whatever cliche you want to fall back on.

    Except we are getting all this third-and-fourth hand via Bob Woodward generating buzz to sell his book. I am not assuming, unlike you, that Woodward’s information is accurate. I concede that it may be accurate, but on an evidentiary basis, the case is very weak.

    And I’ve stated twice now that the resolution to this issue is to declassify the relevant transcripts and get Milley and other principals in front of Congress to find the actual truth, whatever it is.

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  99. Andy says:

    @R. Dave:

    You’re mistaken on that, Andy. Nuclear command and control has been an issue of concern since the early days of the Cold War, and the danger of an unstable President having sole launch authority was raised particularly in connection with Nixon, Reagan, and Trump.

    See this 2017 article for an example I found with a quick Google.

    First of all, that is an op-ed, not an article. Secondly, I have no problem with critically examining nuclear command-and-control and potentially making adjustments. I think, actually, we’re long overdue for a fundamental reassessment of our nuclear posture.

    Outside of isolated op-eds like the one you found, command-and-control reform isn’t even being discussed, much less acted upon, which shows that it’s not actually considered a serious concern.

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  100. @Steven L. Taylor: Let me repeat myself, because clearly a couple of stories about a book is not enough to draw hard conclusions:

    No doubt a more complex analysis, and more information is needed before full assessments can be made. But everyone needs to stop, pause, and think about the consequences of coming to the conclusion that good outcomes absolve how those outcomes came to pass. (As well as assuming that since the outcome was good, this was the only way to get there).

    It is the type of logic that most commenters here abhor when it is deployed by Trump voters/supporters.

    With that in mind, it is more than reasonable to be concerned about how a general may have behaved to attempt to circumvent the president, any president, as that had broad implications about our government and our system. I have seen what happens when factions of populations in other countries decide that the “good generals” can act independently of civilian control and it doesn’t end well.

    Are there times people may have to act to prevent catastrophe? Of course, but there still needs to be consequences if warranted. As a general principle, breaking the law to prevent harm is still breaking the law.

    And, again, the more we, as a country, fall into ends justifying the means and defending “our side” because we like the outcome, the more we erode our institutions and the closer to authoritarian government we come.

    None of this is unreasonable (and back to MR, it hardly calls for comparisons to those complicity with Nazis).

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  101. Mu Yixiao says:

    @Andy:

    Sure, mil-to-mil communications to reassure China (and other countries) are entirely appropriate. That’s happened countless times in our history. Pledging to warn China if Trump decides to attack is not.

    Honest question: Why is it inappropriate?

    Have we ever entered into an armed conflict with another country and not warned them it was going to happen?

    And wouldn’t it be appropriate for some high-level official (and who better than the CJCS) to contact the appropriate person on the other side and say “Things are taking a turn, let’s keep calm and find a way past this”?

    That seems far more appropriate than doing a Slim Pickens impersonation.

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  102. CSK says:

    @Andy:
    I would think that Trump being dumb, and asking “ignorant child-like questions” about the use of nuclear arms would be sufficient to cause most reasonable people concern that he might choose to employ those arms.

    Never, ever underestimate the size and density of Trump’s could of unknowing.

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  103. Mu Yixiao says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    I have seen what happens when factions of populations in other countries decide that the “good generals” can act independently of civilian control and it doesn’t end well.

    I understand what you’re getting at, but… those are pretty much exclusive to the “The generals must bring the army to action and take over the government”. This situation seems to be “Okay boys. Relax and don’t do anything rash.”–i.e., a call to not take action. And I doubt we have any clue how many times that’s happened, because there was no coup. Just peaceful continuation of daily life.

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  104. Mister Bluster says:

    @R. Dave:..Nuclear command and control has been an issue of concern since the early days of the Cold War, and the danger of an unstable President having sole launch authority was raised particularly in connection with Nixon, Reagan, and Trump.

    My fellow Americans, I’m pleased to tell you today that I’ve signed legislation that will outlaw Russia forever. We begin bombing in five minutes.
    President USA Ronald Reagan August 11, 1984

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  105. wr says:

    @Andy: “We don’t even have reports of Trump threatening to nuke countries in private,”

    Nope, just hurricanes.

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  106. grumpy realist says:

    I suggest that all of you screaming “treason!” go read a) the Constitution, and then b) the relevant sections of the Corpus Iuris Civilis. There’s a reason why we insist that there be two witnesses or more to the supposedly treasonous activity.

    Also, if the “giving aid to our enemies” is to be interpreted along the lines that some of our commentators here wish, it looks like the act of declaring war on another country rather than striking first without notice could be considered “a treasonous act.” No. I don’t think so.

    (A lot of this argumentation reminds me of the reams and reams of discussion that was generated in the 10th and 11th centuries about what the Church could do if the Pope was a heretic.)

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  107. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Andy:

    The preponderance of the evidence is actually the opposite.

    On the other hand, the argument “most people will never get infected with Covid-19” is also valid, but in the same manner as for FG doing the opposite it’s wiser to work from “what if “I do/he does” rather than “it probably won’t happen.” The cost is too high in both cases. As always YMMV.

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  108. wr says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: If what is being reported is accurate, then what Milley did was an act of civil disobedience. And the core tenet of civil disobedience is that you break the law and then you accept the consequences for it. It’s that latter part that’s missing here…

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  109. Kingdaddy says:

    I don’t think we have to go outside the system to imagine an argument for Milley’s actions. The military has rules about the obligation of people in uniform to defy unlawful orders, or ones clearly issued from mentally compromised sources. There is not an unshakeable obligation to follow every order, no matter how corrupt or ridiculous.

    Still, we do have a system in which the President can order a nuclear strike without Congress declaring war. The reason for that lies in Cold War fears about the shortness of the decision cycle, measured in the minutes after the detection of a nuclear launch against the United States. There is no such time pressure in this case. The rules defined to handle the unspeakable urgency of one scenario clearly do not fit another in which there is no urgency, let alone justification, or the approval of the co-equal branch of government that’s supposed to declare war (though we don’t do that these days, much to our detriment).

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  110. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Erik: It may be possible to make the same case here as for gerrymandering–the system is already broken, so we might as well follow practice rather than principle.

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  111. Andy says:

    @Mu Yixiao:

    Honest question: Why is it inappropriate?

    Have we ever entered into an armed conflict with another country and not warned them it was going to happen?

    Because process matters. There’s a massive difference between the US government warning another government that it’s going to attack vs a single individual, acting on his own authority, warning another government of our impending attack.

    But again, I don’t think that’s what happened. And the new reporting coming out this afternoon suggests that Woodward’s account is bullshit, and that Milley wasn’t freelancing.

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  112. drj says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    it hardly calls for comparisons to those complicity with Nazis

    Nazi analogies (not comparisons) are IMO an excellent tool to test the absoluteness of one’s convictions, such as: “The military should always obey civil authority.” (Quod non – as the complicity of the Wehrmacht in Hitler’s crimes quite clearly illustrates.)

    The proper response to an improperly deployed Nazi analogy is to argue that the circumstances aren’t as dire as when the brownshirts were calling the shots.

    Specifically, one could argue that back in January 2021 US institutions were sufficiently strong to contain a rogue president and that, therefore, the Nazi analogy is misplaced.

    But could you actually make a credible case for the strength of US institutions on 1/6 and during its aftermath?

    Perhaps. But considering what actually happened, it is a case that needs to be made before Nazi analogies are to be dismissed out of hand.

    And I haven’t seen anyone actually make it.

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  113. Andy says:

    @CSK: and @Just nutha ignint cracker:

    There is a price for catastrophizing everything, namely that it distracts from real issues. That’s the problem with ignoring evidence assuming that Trump is capable of anything based on nothing more than assumptions.

    And I’d also point out the mismatch between claims and actions. If people really believed that Trump would wake up one day and nuke China, then they’d be doing more than posting about it on blogs and Twitter.

    And again, I think these accusations are serious enough to warrant declassifying the relevant information and a Congressional inquiry. But I doubt either of those will happen because Woodward’s claims are probably bullshit, and in a week everyone will move on to the next outrage the news cycle digs up, and Congress is full of political cowards.

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  114. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @JohnMcC: And Vindman would be right in a world where civil disobedience, rather than quasi or pseudo anarchy was more the standard practice. I’m not particularly persuaded that we aren’t a quasi/pseudo anarchistic society now. This is another situation where I would be overjoyed to be wrong.

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  115. Erik says:

    @Just nutha ignint cracker:
    Perhaps. In the case of gerrymandering the law is varied, however, so the analogy isn’t quite so simple. Where do you see parallels between the cases?

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  116. @drj:

    “The military should always obey civil authority.”

    Did I say that? (The answer to that question kind of undercuts the need to go straight to Nazis as part of the conversation).

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  117. @wr: This is really the crux of position at the moment (but also think that none of us really know enough to make a full assessment).

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  118. CSK says:

    @Andy:
    I don’t believe that they were mere “assumptions” that Trump might do something disastrous. As you yourself said, the man was “dumb” and possessed by a “child-like ignorance.” This is not a small matter. Those qualities–added to his vengefulness, spitefulness, complete inability to learn or listen, manipulability, and monumental if fragile ego–made him dangerous.

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  119. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Erik: I don’t have the language to explain my comment beyond what I already said and am perfectly cromulent with you deciding to reject it. In most arguments of best course of action going forward, I start from a position of the systems being broken for at least a decade or two. I can understand why people don’t want to use that model, but I’m old and the outcomes are unlikely to impact me. (In much the same way that relative to my own life without consideration for others it doesn’t matter to me which party wins. And even in consideration of others, I’m not sanguine about how much any party can accomplish with regard to restoring things to better-/former conditions. The system’s just too broken.)

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  120. dazedandconfused says:

    @Andy:

    All contingency planning can be characterized as based on speculative fears.

    There is strong evidence Trump may not be playing with a full deck. He constantly avows things which are patently untrue. He even denies he lost the election after the election has been certified by Congress, as per the Constitution. Refusing to obey his oath of office, inciting insurrection…what more do you need to suspect something odd could be afoot? Does he have to go full Daffy Duck bouncing off the walls mad before contingency planning could be considered?

    I posted earlier in this thread a link to a congressional hearing about congress considering being in the loop of nuclear CoC. They were talked out of it. Not practical and they were convinced by the ex head of SAC that there are checks within the system to disobey an illegal order, and to drag the Chairman of the JoS into the decision loop if there is a question.

    There may be no “there there” to the outrage over Milley’s actions. The nuclear chain of command has special features outside normal protocol.

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  121. Andy says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    We have our occasional disagreements, but you and I seem to be relatively alone regarding the importance of process, which is not the same thing as being a slave to process.

    @CSK:

    I don’t believe that they were mere “assumptions” that Trump might do something disastrous.

    Then present your evidence. If all the evidence you have is one news report where Trump reportedly said something stupid about nuclear weapons (plus the idiocy of nuking hurricanes) along with some subjective personality traits then – for me at least – that is not convincing and certainly not sufficient for taking drastic actions based on worst-case assumptions based on a selective interpretation that Trump’s ignorance on nukes means he could wake up the next morning and randomly decide to nuke a billion people. The logical leaps to get from A to Z make it the thinnest of reeds.

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  122. Erik says:

    @Just nutha ignint cracker: I’m not sure I would reject it. Do you mean that since the system is already broken we should make it work as best we can, even if the way we use it breaks it more? Since gerrymandering has already broken the system it has, in a sense, become a part of the system, justifying further gerrymandering to counteract the existing gerrymandering? I think I would agree with that (and also want to get gerrymandering back out of the system across the board). I would argue, however, that the best outcome would have been for gerrymandering to have been nipped in the bud so it never broke the system in the first place.

    That’s where I see the Milley situation. It’s an example of the budding breakdown of civilian control and rule of law within the President-DOD relationship. Nipping that in the bud now is better than allowing it to become entrenched, like gerrymandering has, and putting us in a situation where ever more creative/extreme violations of the principle make more sense than adherence to the principle.

    Sorry if I’ve mischaracterized or misunderstood your point.

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  123. EddieInCA says:

    @Andy:

    Because process matters. There’s a massive difference between the US government warning another government that it’s going to attack vs a single individual, acting on his own authority, warning another government of our impending attack.

    “Your TPS report wasn’t filed the right way. Never mind those nukes headed our way. Get this fixed and get them into the system properly, ASAP.”

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  124. Andy says:

    And how many times did he wake up and decide to drone people? None that I know of. The strikes in Syria and the hit on Soleimani were planned.

    What evidence is there that his well-reported tantrums manifested in any way toward a desire for military action? I haven’t seen any evidence of that at all. Rather, he got angry when he thought Bolton and others were trying to manipulate him into attacking Iran! And he got angry when the military pushed back on his desire to withdraw and reduce troop levels.

    There is simply zero evidence – that I’ve seen – that Trump displayed any desire to randomly attack other countries out of anger or frustration, much less with nukes.

    But again, if you’ve got evidence, let’s see it.

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  125. CSK says:

    @Andy:
    Oh, FFS, Andy. Trump was in office for four years. There are countless examples of his instability. Further, his own cabinet members were open in their contempt for him. James Mattes said he had the understanding of a sixth grader. John Kelly said he was an idiot. Rex Tillerson said he was a fucking moron.

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  126. EddieInCA says:

    @Andy:

    “When during the campaign I would say, ‘Mexico’ is going to pay for the wall, obviously I never said this and I never meant they’re going to write out a check.”

    “We have it totally under control. It’s one person coming in from China. It’s going to be just fine.”

    DONALD TRUMP’S presidency is over, and whether the day is one of celebration for you or one of grief, we can all agree that we’re unlikely to find a US president ever again who’ll produce so many gems.

    Whether you love him or you hate him, Trump has made more headlines than any other world leader during the four years he’s spent in the White House.

    He’s been spectacularly brash, unprecedentedly cocksure and continuously controversial.

    In many ways, he’s a journalist’s dream, and the landscape of political reporting will, in all likelihood, never be the same again.

    To mark the end of his … memorable run as leader of the free world, we’ve compiled a list of some of the maddest things Trump has said since he first took office.
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    It’s been one wild ride.

    Enjoy:

    Donald Trump has said some utterly mad things over the past four years.
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    “Why would Kim Jong-un insult me by calling me old, when I would never call him short and fat? Oh well, I try so hard to be his friend and maybe someday that will happen.” – In a tweet about North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.

    “When during the campaign I would say, ‘Mexico’ is going to pay for the wall, obviously I never said this and I never meant they’re going to write out a cheque.” – Clarifying his stance on his planned US-Mexico border wall.

    “I tested positively toward negative, right? So no. I tested perfectly this morning, meaning I tested negative. But that’s a way of saying it. Positively toward the negative.” – Confusingly telling the world he had tested negative for Covid-19.

    “I’m an environmentalist. A lot of people don’t understand that. I think I know more about the environment than most people.” – Despite his public stance against the existence of global warming.
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    “We have it totally under control. It’s one person coming in from China. It’s going to be just fine.” – On coronavirus, January 22, 2020.

    “I think Pocahontas, she’s finished, she’s out. She’s gone. No, when it was found that I had more Indian blood in me than she did.” – He nicknamed Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren ‘Pocahontas’ after she claimed to have Indian heritage.

    “STOP THE COUNT” – When defeat in the presidential election looked imminent, he posted this now infamous tweet.

    “Can you believe I’m a politician? I can’t even.” – No comment.
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    “Is there a way we can do something like that by injection inside or almost a cleaning? It sounds interesting to me, so we’ll see. But the whole concept of the light, the way it kills it in one minute. That’s pretty powerful.”

    “I have a great relationship with the blacks.”

    “It’s freezing and snowing in New York – we need global warming!”

    “Why can’t we use nuclear weapons?”

    “Nobody’s ever been treated badly like me… Although they do say Abraham Lincoln was treated really badly.”

    “For the 1/100th time, the reason we show so many cases, compared to other countries that haven’t done nearly as well as we have, is that our TESTING is much bigger and better.”

    “NEVER, EVER THREATEN THE UNITED STATES AGAIN OR YOU WILL SUFFER CONSEQUENCES THE LIKES OF WHICH FEW THROUGHOUT HISTORY HAVE EVER SUFFERED BEFORE. WE ARE NO LONGER A COUNTRY THAT WILL STAND FOR YOUR DEMENTED WORDS OF VIOLENCE & DEATH. BE CAUTIOUS!”

    Andy, you have a whole lot more faith in TFG than most of us do.

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  127. EddieInCA says:
  128. drj says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    Did I say that?

    RE the OP you said:

    I agree with your basic assessment.

    Of course, the OP contains gems like this:

    Were the President to decide, against the advice of the Chairman, to launch a surprise attack on China, Milley would have a handful of options. He could, of course, obey orders and help execute the mission. If he believed the attack to be illegal under US or international law, he could certainly go to Congress and express his concerns. He could resign and take his concerns public.

    So when a deranged Trump starts screaming to launch the nukes, Milley should have gone to Congress? The January 2021 Congress, which would then have acted in time?

    If you would have come out of the gates with something along the lines of “Maybe it was necessary for Milley to do what he did, but he should then have immediately resigned after Biden was sworn in,” I would understand your dismissal of the Nazi analogy a whole lot better.

    But endorsing a suggestion (perhaps only apparantly so) that Milley should “take his concerns public” in case an unprovoked nuclear first strike on China is imminent – just so that your precious chain of command isn’t violated – rightly deserves scorn and a comparison to merciless, Nazi-like discipline.

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  129. gVOR08 says:

    IIRC during the 1993 Russian constitutional crisis, to forestall any potential deadly misunderstanding, the commander of their Strategic Rocket Forces ordered his force to stand down and informed the U. S. government he’d done so. We thought he was a hero. I don’t know what his government thought.

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  130. dazedandconfused says:

    @Andy:

    I see zero evidence any of Milley’s actions can be characterized as drastic.

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  131. Andy says:

    @CSK:

    So you don’t have any evidence. The fact that Trump is dumb and ignorant isn’t evidence of any desire or predilection to commit mass murder via nuclear weapons, unless you think that stupid people are naturally inclined to genocidal mass murder.

    @EddieInCA:

    I’m not the one here relying on faith. The idea that Trump would randomly nuke some country is what is entirely faith-based.

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  132. Andy says:

    @dazedandconfused:

    Everyone is entitled to their opinion.

    But at this point it’s looking like Milley did no such thing and Woodward is making shit up.

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  133. CSK says:

    @Andy:
    As I and someone else have reminded you, Trump wanted to nuke a hurricane. Does that strike you as a sane and reasonable use of such a weapon?

    As for evidence, I think that Trump demonstrated his incapacity to govern (to put it mildly) sufficiently so that I would be unhappy to see him in continued possession of the nuclear codes. Sure, maybe he wouldn’t do anything stupid. But there’s too much at stake for “maybe.”

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  134. Barry says:

    @Andy: “Then present your evidence. ”

    Jan 6.

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  135. Barry says:

    @Andy: “So you don’t have any evidence. ”

    Hand WAVE
    Hand WAVE

    Doesn’t count

    I’ve heard this before.

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  136. @Chris: @Chris:
    Maybe Milley remembers exercise Able Archer 83 which the Soviets took as an indicator of a surprise nuclear attack. Their suspicion was partly fueled by President Reagan’s rhetoric. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Able_Archer_83

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  137. al Ameda says:

    @Andy:

    Finally, it never ceases to amaze me the extent to which people believe that Trump is capable of literally anything.

    You do realize just how close Trump came to actually stealing the 2020 election, right? How close?

    So close that Republican state legislatures are passing laws that will (should we come this way again) enable Republican governing officials to invalidate unfavorable results by claiming that there are ‘irregularities’, and appoint electors that will vote for the Republican candidate regardless of the results of the vote.

    So, forgive me if I tend to lend credence to, or believe, many anti-Trump ‘conspiracies.’ Everything we’re now finding out about Trump is showing us that he was for more corrrupt and venal than we thought he was in real time.

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  138. Mu Yixiao says:

    @Andy:

    There’s a massive difference between the US government warning another government that it’s going to attack vs a single individual, acting on his own authority, warning another government of our impending attack.

    Isn’t that what ambassadors do all the time?

    Again, I ask: When has the US ever engaged in hostilities with another nation without that country knowing it? Isn’t that exactly why the attack on Pearl Harbor is “a day that will live in infamy”?

    And… I find it hard to see the distinction between “the US government” and “the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff”. How are the Joint Chiefs “not government”? The CJCS is a position appointed by the President–just like an ambassador or a Secretary of State.

    If Blinken or Meale told Beijing that the US military was transitioning to a state of open military hostilities with China… do you think they should be prosecuted?

    You and I are usually on the same page, but I really don’t understand where you’re coming from on this one.

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  139. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Erik: I wouldn’t say you misrepresented my position at all. And I would have to agree with both–it would have been better to not have gerrymandering (and the need for Milley to do the work around he is claimed to have done, too) but that we’ll also have to use the system as it is now, warts and all. But my basic sense of the lay of the land is that what people would like to have and what we’re working with are significantly different.

    Beyond that, “the rule of law” is simply an accusation that the various players in the system say is broken when what’s happening is contrary to what they wish would happen. Overall, I’m pretty cynical about the future. My generation has done a pretty good job of wrecking the society. 🙁

    And I would also say that “nipping [the Milley situation] in the bud” is a horse that has already jumped the fence. If we can round that horse up and get it back in the corral, that would be good, but it will take voters and Congress turning away from the direction they both are going. I don’t see it. Sorry.

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  140. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Erik: comment added to the previous post. Got an edit.

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  141. Modulo Myself says:

    @Andy:

    The NY Times reported in November after the election was ‘over’ that Trump had to be talked out of striking Iran’s nuclear facilities. Who knows what he’s capable of 2 days after the riots? I don’t think anyone is thinking mass nuclear strike. More like another in a long line of blunders which could go anywhere.

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    And, again, the more we, as a country, fall into ends justifying the means and defending “our side” because we like the outcome, the more we erode our institutions and the closer to authoritarian government we come

    The problem is that after the riots Trump is the enemy. It doesn’t even seem like Milley did anything overtly treasonous. I suspect it’s the subtext of reassuring the other end of the China call that no surprise attack is coming and by that they mean even if the lunatic President orders an attack. That’s all anybody would be looking for. Two days after the riots, all anybody wants to know is that Trump is cut off.

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  142. Erik says:

    @Just nutha ignint cracker: I agree with you. I am often torn between wanting to move a system toward a goal that is aspirational vs accepting the unpleasant reality and making it work as best as I can to achieve practical goals. I suppose I am in a more aspirational frame of mind today

    “Rule of law” was a poor choice of words by me since it is so ill defined. I agree with you here too, that if I just look at it as legal processes those are frequently used as weapons and very much depend on who can hire the better lawyer. What I meant by the phrase, though, was a more theoretical concept as a basis of government. I’m thinking of it as the foundational concept of democracy. As the source of authority for democracy in the same way that god(s) is that foundation in a theocracy, or bloodline in a monarchy.

    I’m not quite ready to say that the Milley situation is a horse out of the corral, but I see how that argument could be made. I’m sure that he is not the first one to slow walk or “misunderstand” an order (hell, I’ve done that myself). What I think is different about this specific situation is that it is widely known and is being normalized, including by Biden. That very much opens the door to the next guy saying “I’m just doing what Milley did” and leaving anyone who wanted to be consistent, which generally speaking is the left, with little room to object. Certainly the Republicans will not hesitate to turn this into a weapon. That’s what I’m trying to prevent by pushing back so hard.

    Like I said, I seem to be in an aspirational frame of mind today. I’m sure I’ll be recovered by tomorrow.

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  143. David S. says:

    So,
    1. I agree that a unilateral promise on the part of the Chairman to a foreign national that they would be informed before an attack absolutely undermines trust and is definitely grounds for dismissal. If Milley did provide such a promise, he should be fired.

    2. I don’t think it rises to the level of treason until he actually follows through on the promise, though.

    3. If he had any qualifications about that promise, I’d consider them to be mitigating factors, even if they weren’t spoken aloud. When you’re reassuring someone, especially someone in charge of a military, there isn’t a whole lot of reason to spell out specifics.

    Similarly, regarding the order on nuclear weapons,
    4. The phrasing from Woodward, as quoted in the OP, is “No matter what you are told, you do the procedure. You do the process. And I’m part of that procedure.” I do not know the procedure. I presume that Milley is correct that he’s part of that procedure.

    4a. After I finished writing this, I went and read Carrie Lee’s link to the AFDB (pdf) where she claims that Milley is not part of the chain of command. Quoting from page 19,

    POSITIVE CONTROL
    The President may direct the use of nuclear weapons through an execute order via the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to the combatant commanders and, ultimately, to the forces in the field exercising direct control of the weapons.

    Execution of these orders through emergency action procedures allow for a timely response to an emergency action message and ensure the directive is valid and authentic. Air Force personnel involved in the actual employment of nuclear weapons are intensively and continuously trained and certified in these procedures so they can quickly and accurately respond to the order.

    There are exactly two positions named: Trump’s and Milley’s. I fail to see how he’s outside the chain of command when the doctrine explicitly includes him. Maybe there’s a military way to read this that defies my basic grasp of English? Is there something else that’s more legal than this bit of supposed proof?

    5. It is not clear to me whether or not circumventing that procedure (again presuming Milley is part of it) would make the President’s order illegal. If it would, then they could defy it and Milley’s insistence would be fine. If it wouldn’t, then they couldn’t and Milley would be effectively demanding insubordination in the specific event that the President’s orders included a circumvention of the procedure, in the specific way in which Milley is included in that procedure. I find that to be a pretty fine line.

    In both cases, I think Milley went well into a gray area, but I don’t think he actually violated his oath in any way, nor do I think he actually undermined civ-mil relations to any significance. He acted indecently enough that I’d support his dismissal, but not so much that I’d demand it. There was an eye of the needle to pass through and I think that he threaded it.

    And frankly, after reading the AFDB, I am less confident that bit was even all that gray.

    P.S. “lol this author is politically left of me” is not the vote of confidence you think it is, James.

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  144. Andy says:

    @Mu Yixiao:

    Isn’t that what ambassadors do all the time?

    Again, I ask: When has the US ever engaged in hostilities with another nation without that country knowing it? Isn’t that exactly why the attack on Pearl Harbor is “a day that will live in infamy”?

    Yes, because ambassadors are officials that are specifically and publically designated to represent the United States and its interests, and are authorized to represent the US in discussions with foreign governments.

    Honestly, I don’t know how else to explain the difference between official and unofficial communication with foreign governments. Think of it like an Apple employee leaking details of the new iPhone without authorization compared to an official Apple announcement. Two different things.

    Government officials aren’t supposed to unilaterally “freelance” when it comes to foreign policy without authorization. Even ambassadors are expected to implement and promote the foreign policy of the sitting President and not make side deals. “Secret” unauthorized and unilateral talks with foreign governments are not the same thing as official government policy and communication. Again, I don’t think that’s what Milley did despite Woodward’s allegations.

    @Modulo Myself:

    The NY Times reported in November after the election was ‘over’ that Trump had to be talked out of striking Iran’s nuclear facilities. Who knows what he’s capable of 2 days after the riots? I don’t think anyone is thinking mass nuclear strike. More like another in a long line of blunders which could go anywhere.

    You don’t think that anyone is thinking “mass nuclear strike?” Have you been reading comments in this thread or news articles? Here’s the opening paragraph of the first result on Google (emphasis added):

    Before and after the assault on the US Capitol on 6 January, the most senior US general took steps to prevent Donald Trump from “going rogue” and launching a nuclear war or an attack on China, according to excerpts of an eagerly awaited new book by the Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward.

    A mass nuclear strike is exactly what people are talking about.

    Who knows what he’s capable of 2 days after the riots?

    Yeah, who knows? Could be anything!!!! Maybe he wanted to have sex with babies. Or maybe he wanted to shave off that stupid hair. Or maybe he wanted to call Obama and apologize for being such a douche about the birth certificate. Who knows!?

    There’s about the same amount of evidence for those theories as the notion he’s gonna wake up one morning and nuke China.

    Or maybe we can look at actual evidence and Trump’s observed and known patterns of behavior. Trump is actually very predictable, he’s not that complicated.

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  145. EddieInCA says:

    @Andy:

    https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-fix/wp/2017/10/11/trumps-loose-rhetoric-on-nuclear-weapons-has-become-a-very-real-concern/

    You’re being intetionally, oobtuse. But it’s not uncommon, nor surprising. You’re ignoring his own words, repeatedly.

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  146. Ken_L says:

    Were the President to decide, against the advice of the Chairman, to launch a surprise attack on China

    But he didn’t, so why blow smoke about it? It’s depressing beyond description to see the welter of hysteria triggered by some gossip in a book by notorious fiction writer Bob fucking Woodward.

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  147. James Joyner says:

    @Chris: SIOP hasn’t been a thing in almost two decades now. Regardless, while there are procedures in place for the President to convene the NSC for consultation, there is and can be no legal requirement for him to do so. CJCS is a statutory advisor but not in the chain of command. The commander of Strategic Command is the first relevant four-star in the chain. In the case of an out-of-the-blue order to launch nukes, I would expect him to push back and get verification. And to disobey the order if he, in consultation with his legal advisor, concluded that it was illegal. That, too, would be a Constitutional crisis but it’s at least one within the strictures of the legal process.

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  148. Mikey says:

    Meanwhile.

    @joshrogin
    Senior Defense Official confirms to me @axios
    reporting on Esper’s role in China calls.
    “Milley was absolutely not going rogue. Esper took the initiative on this in October, Esper asked his own policy folks to backchannel the message. Milley’s message followed Esper’s.”

    To be clear, Esper’s message to other countries — conveyed by OSD staff — was one of general reassurance and keeping lines of communication open. It did not include specifics reported in Woodward’s book about a purported Milley promise to warn China before any attack.

    Add this to the other reporting there were 15 people on the call and the readout was properly conveyed to the IC and this starts to look a whole lot less like Milley did anything wrong.

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  149. @EddieInCA: You are trivializing a broader issue of constitutional power and especially of civil-military relations. This is not about forms or petty bureaucratic rules.

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  150. @drj: Look, this is straw man argumentation–wherein I say that I agree with the basic assessment and then you create a scenario in which nukes are already in the air.

    You are ignoring a lot of what I have said in these comments and filling in gaps to suit your position. It is not a legitimate way to argue and it certainly doesn’t justify your conclusions.

    Do you really need to throw me/James under the Nazi bus to make yourself feel better about your position/help you to criticize?

    That’s not fair and you know it (or so I would hope).

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  151. @Modulo Myself:

    The problem is that after the riots Trump is the enemy.

    If the sitting president was literally “the enemy” then we were in a civil war, and I hate to tell you who was in charge of the US military at that point in time.

    Look, I have been extremely critical of Trump and I don’t need to recount my pro-democracy bona fides now (or, at least, I shouldn’t have to to anyone who has read the site for any amount of time). But using terms like “the enemy” in a literal sense has profound implications and, further, the notion that the judgment of whether a sitting president is an enemy can be made by any general who just happens to come to that conclusion is a pretty dangerous one.

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  152. Let me be clear:

    1. We really don’t have enough information to come to a real conclusion about any of this.

    2. The notion that a singular general might start acting against the sitting president is a problem, no matter who the president is.

    3. There are circumstances, however, wherein clearly, illegal orders must be disobeyed.

    4. There are circumstances in which extralegal/civil disobedience is warranted. But there still needs to be consequences for such actions.

    5. If you have to go straight to Nazi comparisons/analogies/whatever, you argument needs some work.

    6. Yes, I know Trump was a terrible president and a threat to US democracy and to global stability.

    7. If we really only care about violations of norms and laws when it is the other side doing it, then we are just as complicit in the deterioration of democracy.

    8. Having said that: clearly, as any reader knows, I am not a blind worshiper of the current system, and believe there ought to be substantial reform.

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  153. JohnMcC says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: Gosh, still going on at this forum. I’m sure I’ll repeat this soon but todays Balloon Juice has very thorough treatment of this by Adam Silverman. Really ought to be read.

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  154. Modulo Myself says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    I don’t think it was just one general. I suspect everyone was on the same page. Trump crossed the line with the riots, and all sides were against him. Luckily, he’s dumb and lazy, so they were able to ease him out.

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  155. drj says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    then you create a scenario in which nukes are already in the air.

    Come on, man, did you even read the reporting (regardless of whether it’s true)? The implication is clearly that Milley was concerned that Trump would give the order to launch on impulse:

    serious mental decline in the aftermath of the election, with Trump now all but manic, screaming at officials and constructing his own alternate reality […]

    “You never know what a president’s trigger point is,” Milley told his senior staff

    You get the point, I assume. So where’s the straw man?

    Do you really need to throw me/James under the Nazi bus to make yourself feel better about your position/help you to criticize?

    Yeah, I really wanted to make myself feel better. That’s exactly why I did it.

    But seriously: this accusation is quite unfair. I made an argument and you may disagree with it. (Perhaps rightly so.) But still, there was an argument to engage with, and you chose differently.

    I think I’m going to step away from this for a while.

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  156. @drj: I don’t mind an argument or disagreement.

    What I find off-putting is 1) the placing of words and arguments into my mouth that I manifestly did not make, and 2) the jumping to Nazi comparisons/analogies.

    Surely you can understand that position?

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  157. Andy says:

    @EddieInCA:

    You’re being intetionally, oobtuse. But it’s not uncommon, nor surprising. You’re ignoring his own words, repeatedly.

    Well, I know when people turn to insults that they don’t have any arguments on the merits.

    And linking to stuff that doesn’t really support your argument isn’t helping your case either.

    You argument to this point is to try to cherry-pick out a few crazy Trump statements, catastrophize them in your interpretation of their meaning and significance, ignore everything else, and then claim your interpretation is dispositive.

    That’s the only path you have to conclude that Trump was so Krazy that he could literally randomly nuke a country. There’s no explanation, for example, for all the reporting about Trump wanting to avoid a war with Iran, and being angry at Bolton and others for trying to manipulate him into one. There’s no explanation for Trump’s actual actions, which are different from what he says and actions are more important than words. There’s no explanation or consideration of Trump’s consistent view that America should not be engaging in stupid interventions and wars and that we should get out of the ones we are in. Or the reporting that’s Trumps advisors repeatedly talking him out of simply abandoning Afghanistan. Etc. etc. etc. You just hand-wave all that away and lazily link to a couple of articles which don’t actually make the case you’re trying to make.

    Well, you are free to your opinion, and, unlike you, I won’t accuse you of being intentionally obtuse or otherwise acting in bad faith. But I will point out the defects of your assertions and googled-up articles which, in my view, don’t prove your point.

    But the WAPO piece you linked does have an interesting and relevant tidbit that I will cherry-pick:

    “I’ve written before about how Trump is fond of the “madman strategy” in which you make your foes believe you are capable of pretty much anything. The White House even seemed to agree with that characterization on Friday”

    This is part of Trump’s predictable behavior that I talked about before. Trump has been playing this game all along. It’s exactly why focusing on Trump’s incoherent and contradictory statements and vomitous stream-of-consciousness no-filter process leads to bad analysis.

    Others can decide who makes the better case on the merits, so this will be my final word in this thread – feel free to have the last word, but it would be nice if you could at least lay off the insults.

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  158. Andy says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    Yeah, I agree with all of that completely. If that makes me a Nazi sympathizer or a Trump apologist in the eyes of some, so be it.

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  159. Tom Arctus says:

    “Don’t elect unstable people to the Presidency.” We didn’t elect an unstable person to the Presidency; the Electoral College abandoned the one job it had and installed an unstable person to the Presidency. The solution is simple: direct election of the President and the end of the Electoral College.

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  160. Kristiecsu says:

    @Jen:
    I am a fairly moderate liberal, and the daughter of two army majors, the sister of a marine major, and the wife of a USAF colonel, so while I have no direct military experience, I’ve certainly been submerged in patriotism and military perspective since I was in the womb. With that said, I struggle with this one. I was genuinely afraid our country was going to go down in flames under Trump’s “leadership,” we very nearly did, and I’m still not at all sure we won’t in the near future, just based on the smoldering fires that have been left behind. He was truly an unprecedented threat to our country, and I think many of us knew he would be from day one. I remember sobbing intermittently for at least 2 weeks after the election, and I’ve been since told I was avoided at the school drop off line for almost as long because I was radiating “storm cloud of rage and grief and fear” energy. They said they figured I’d come around when I realized it wasn’t going to be as bad as it sounded. Unfortunately, it was FAR worse, and continues to be.

    I thank God for people I never thought I’d be thanking God for: McCain, GW Bush, Dan Quayle, Mitt Romney, Dan Rather, Liz friggin Cheney(!!?), and, of course, Gen. Milley. Most are people I’ve historically disagreed with (some vehemently so), but every one of them, at some point over the last 4-5 years, came through in a pinch to help mitigate the utter disaster that was the Trump presidency.

    What sucks about the Milley revelation is that I know what he did was *technically* not within allowable parameters of his position, but I am profoundly grateful that he did it anyway. The cognitive dissonance messes with my head, and I hate it.

    Are we to punish someone for breaking protocol, even if we desperately needed someone on the inside to stand up against what truly amounted to someone with an amalgam of dangerous fascist/tyrannical/irresponsible/lunatic/megalomaniacal/manipulative/moronic traits, frantically trying to hold onto the power and adulation he’d become addicted to, commanding an army of 7 million armed, angry Americans (who had been told to take up arms, as patriots, and defend their country lest it *literally* cease to exist), becoming increasingly desperate in exponential leaps, and who had over and over again confirmed that there would be zero consequences for any illegal actions he took, as long as he managed to hold on to that power? There were so many people who could have stood up to Trump, but who either converted, appeased, ignored, resigned, or were fired. Most of the people who would have been able to stand up to him had already been replaced with loyalists who were chosen solely on their willingness to aid and abet Trump’s power-grab, many of whom were in the Pentagon. There were very few, if any, who were in a position powerful enough to command the respect of military leadership, and nearly all of the others had discussed and committed to resigning instead of following Trump’s orders (leaving the position open to a loyalist).

    So who the hell could and would have prevented the worst from happening if not Milley? Like, I get that Trump didn’t actually nuke anyone, but he definitely tried to use the military against American citizens, and he had already given fealty to Russia, saluted North Korea, attacked Iran for personal optics, and spent months priming Americans to view the Chinese as enemies of the state. So I don’t blame him for thinking it was a possibility, nor do I blame China for getting a twitchy trigger finger.

    Ultimately, it’s more important to me that he stepped in, and less important to me that he pushed the bounds of protocol.

    What helps is that all he did was *say* he’d tell China ahead of time. He didn’t actually follow through, nor would he likely have if push came to shove. Military and political leaders make false assurances all the time, and it was in our best interest that China wasn’t ready to counter attack, lest a rogue drone or something set off a retaliatory strike by mistake. It’s not treason.

    And Pelosi said he was crazy (correct), so milley just said “I agree,” which is technically less damning.

    And he didn’t tell the military leaders to only attack if he says s0–all he said was “keep me in the loop.” This one is the most worrisome, I admit. But it makes me feel less like we have to punish a heroic man for protecting our country when I remember that he is supposed to be part of that conversation regardless, as the facilitator of communication, and advisor to the president on such matters. Trump had already proven he was totally okay with bypassing the traditional chain of command, and bypassing protocol himself, to sneak militarily terrible plans past those who would temper his stupidity, and who had EARNED military respect, rather than bitching about bone Spurs to avoid any discomfort.

    I don’t know. I guess my final position is: Screw Trump, all hail Milley, let’s just look the other way and deal with future trust issues as the price of protecting the US from a (please God) fluke of an internal threat to the US from the highest office in the world.

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