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General Mark Milley is leaving the U.S. Army, and it’s about time. Way past time, in fact. The departing chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff embodied and exemplified the worst of the so-called deep state. He was a careerist who rationalized his service to the interests of an out-of-touch and unaccountable establishment as a principled commitment to the Constitution and the traditional American way of life.
Yet that fiction — that self-serving supposed commitment to principle — is precisely the tale the media wishes to tell. So Milley is getting the hero’s treatment from a fawning press that lauds his valorous service in the late Trump wars.
Milley, the story goes, helped save America from a “Hitler-like” authoritarian who threatened every “democratic norm” and who would have literally shredded the U.S. Constitution if not for the heroic “resistance” of our permanent and utterly unnacountable administrative state.
For Jeffrey Goldberg at the milquetoast left-ish Atlantic Monthly, Milley is “The Patriot” who “protected the Constitution from Donald Trump.”
Oh? Is that what Milley did?
Goldberg premised his 6,000-odd-word hagiographic profile on the idea of Milley as a safe, sturdy, and sober bulwark of institutional norms set against the antagonist Donald Trump’s erratic, wrecking-ball style of disruptive leadership that beckoned death and destruction practically every minute of every day.
Yet Milley found himself in an odd spot. He couldn’t overtly reject or countermand the president’s orders, as obviously horrible as Trump’s judgment was to anyone with degrees from Princeton and Columbia University. Milley had to use every bureaucratic tool at his disposal to thwart the duly elected president’s plainly insane schemes.
For the good of the country, of course.
At one point, Goldberg reminded Milley that, as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, he was not part of the formal chain of command. “The chairman is an adviser to the president, not a field commander.”
“True,” Milley replied. “The chain of command runs from the president to the secretary of defense to that guy,” he said, pointing to Admiral Charles Richard, who at the time led the U.S. Strategic Command, which is the steward of America’s nuclear arsenal. “We’ve got excellent professionals throughout the system.”
Which is another way of saying presidents may come and go, but the military-industrial complex is forever. And sometimes, they might not actually want to go to war, even if the nation’s security demands and depends on it. Because the president and his voters are, sometimes, deplorable people.
Now, it’s true that Trump spoke occasionally of having a “big,” “powerful” nuclear button on his desk. He was exaggerating, as usual. But Milley assured anyone and everyone who would listen that the president would not unleash a nuclear holocaust on his watch. Which assumed, of course, that Trump’s goal was to do just that, rather than to coax North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un to the negotiating table and de-escalate decades of tensions.
So much of the Atlantic story is in that vein. Goldberg and Milley are obsessed with what didn’t happen during Trump’s tenure, rather than what did.
Trump didn’t start a nuclear war with North Korea, and, apart from some provocative tweets, there is no evidence to suggest that he wanted to. In fact, Trump was the first U.S. president ever to set foot on North Korean soil, in 2019, following a historic summit in Singapore the year before.
Trump opposed sending more U.S. troops to Syria. It was his generals, including former Defense Secretary James Mattis, who deceived and went around him to escalate the conflict there.
Trump didn’t “trigger a war — an ‘October surprise’ — to create chaotic conditions in the lead-up to the election” in 2020, as Goldberg wrote. The thought of Trump starting a war ahead of his re-election campaign during COVID times was a deep state fever dream, an MSNBC-generated phantasm, and nothing more.
Even the idea that Trump could have overturned the 2020 election and somehow “overthrown” the government on January 6, 2021, is shown in Goldberg’s story to be a preposterous exaggeration fueled by a hysterical media. What exactly could Trump have done without the support of the very generals who undermined and double-crossed him at every turn? It’s the stuff of wild conspiracy theories, spread, as they say, without evidence. It simply doesn’t make any sense.
Goldberg gives Milley credit for Trump’s own oft-repeated goal to "keep the U.S. out of reckless, unnecessary wars overseas.” Did nobody listen to Trump during the 2016 election? For all of his bluster and braggadocio, the man was the farthest thing from a warmonger. Or did they only get the narrative peddled by the Atlantic and the Washington Post?
Speaking of, David Ignatius could not have been more fawning to Milley in his Washington Post column last Wednesday. Comparing Milley to General George Patton (of all people), Ignatius recounted how the “most enduring moment” of the general’s tenure was his “opposition to what he saw as President Donald Trump’s effort to politicize the military.”
Wait, wait, wait ... Trump’s effort to politicize the military? The military that has been politicized for decades, going back to Bill Clinton’s administration? The military “fundamentally transformed” during Barack Obama’s eight years in office? That military?
Under Milley’s supposedly apolitical four-year watch, the Pentagon fully embraced the divisive doctrines of “diversity, equity, and inclusion.” Under Milley’s watch, U.S. armed services succumbed to gender ideology — up to and including employing drag queens for recruitment videos. And under Milley’s watch, “critical race theory” steadily became critical race practice. “I want to understand white rage,” Milley told a congressional oversight committee in 2021. “And I’m white.”
Trump tried with little or limited success to reverse the worst of those initiatives, which, in fairness, predated Milley’s tenure. But it’s worth asking if this is what “politicizing” means now. Undoing the mischief and damage of past and future Democratic Party presidents? Is that it?
Ignatius went on to say in his column that Milley "battled to defend the military from what he saw as Trump’s assault on its independence and professionalism.”
Hold on a minute. Where exactly in the U.S. Constitution does it say the military is “independent” from the president? All I can find is “The President shall be Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States, and of the Militia of the several States, when called into the actual Service of the United States.”
This mistaken and noxious idea of an “independent” military — much like the myth of an “independent” Justice Department — is born of the same mentality that led to Trump’s first impeachment in 2019. That was when a lowly lieutenant colonel attached to the National Security Council took it upon himself to object to the president’s phone call with Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy because some of what Trump said ran afoul of “the interagency consensus.”
Kindly show me where the Constitution says anything about “interagency consensus” trumping the duly elected president’s prerogatives, and I’ll buy you a box of Cracker Jack. Maybe it’s hidden in one of those “penumbras, formed by emanations” that only liberal jurists can discern.
Or maybe — maybe! — we need to stop giving credence to generals and other government lifers who assume massive responsibilities without any real accountability.
Fact is, the president, under what’s left of our Constitution, is elected by the whole people. Generals and colonels are elected by no one. The president heads the executive branch. The Department of Defense is one department of many that answers to the chief executive. The president issues orders. His subordinates are supposed to follow those orders. If a subordinate believes he cannot obey an illegal order from his superior, he’s obliged to object. If he cannot obey a lawful order, then he’s obliged to step aside.
In a telling moment late in Goldberg’s profile, Milley admitted, “President Trump never ordered me to tell the military to do something illegal. He never did that. I think that’s an important point.” It’s such an important point, in fact, that it utterly demolishes the picture Milley and Goldberg want to paint of Trump as a rogue actor and an existential threat to the Constitution and “Our Democracy.”
It makes Milley the rogue, not Trump. And in the face of Trump’s lawful if unconventional leadership, Milley did not step aside. He used his position instead to sabotage Trump’s policy agenda and, infamously, assuage America’s enemies. It was Milley, remember, who twice contacted his counterpart in China’s People’s Liberation Army to assure Beijing, “If we’re going to attack, I’m going to call you ahead of time. It’s not going to be a surprise.”
This is the problem. The generals have convinced themselves that they know more than the constitutionally elected president of the United States does. And maybe sometimes they do. Maybe they’re privy to details that the president may not possess or fully understand. And maybe, in certain cases, they’re wiser than the man occupying the Oval Office. But in the end, that doesn’t matter. That does not give them the right to circumvent or undermine the president’s lawful authority under the Constitution.
The late, great political scientist Angelo Codevilla often liked to ask, “Who the hell do they think they are?” “They,” in Codevilla’s world, referred to the bipartisan ruling class that “attempts to subordinate the will of the people, expressed in elections” to its own will, “expressed through its control of social and political institutions.”
Codevilla had special contempt for officers of the armed services — both active and retired — who presumed to speak on behalf of the entire U.S. military and of which Milley now belongs to the very upper echelons.
“It is time for the American people to realize that these, like their counterparts in the intelligence agencies, are no heroes,” Codevilla wrote in 2019. Clearly, Mark Milley is no hero.
Milley didn’t “protect” the Constitution from Donald Trump. He subverted it. In the process, he probably set back civilian-military relations for a generation — assuming the republic lasts that long.
So, we should ask — we should demand to know — who the hell does Mark Milley think he is? What gives him the right to second-guess a duly elected president? For that matter, who the hell does he think he is to second-guess tens of millions of American voters who chose Trump to be his commander-in-chief?
Our great, big, beautiful English language has many words for what Mark Milley really is. “Patriot” is not one of them.Ben Boychuk is Blaze Media’s opinion and analysis editor.
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Editor, Opinion & Analysis
Ben Boychuk is the opinion and analysis editor for Blaze News.