Gen. Mark Milley (C) with Donald Trump in the White House (Alex Brandon/AP)
The head of the US military feared that Donald Trump, desperately trying to retain office in the final months of his Presidency, might start a war with China.
On two occasions Gen. Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, assured Chinese counterpart Gen. Li Zuocheng that the US would not attack.
The first call was made on October 30, four days before the US elections. The second on January 8, two days after the attack on the US Capitol, incited by Trump’s false claims of a fraudulent vote and call to block the Congressional confirmation of President-elect Joe Biden.
Milley made the first contact after reviewing intelligence that Beijing believed the US was preparing to attack. The perception was fed by American military exercises in the South China Sea and Trump’s aggressive rhetoric.
The JCS chief said, “General Li, I want to assure you that the American government is stable and everything is going to be okay. We are not going to attack or conduct any kinetic operations against you.”
He pledged he would alert Li if there was an order to strike:
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.
In the second call, Milley assured, “We are 100% steady. Everything’s fine. But democracy can be sloppy sometimes.”
Li was still unsettled, and Milley did not tell Trump of the conversation. On the same day, the general agreed with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, “[Trump] is crazy. You know he’s crazy….He’s crazy and what he did yesterday is further evidence of his craziness.”
So Milley called Adm. Phil Davidson, the head of US Indo-Pacific Command, and suggested a postponement of military exercises. Davidson followed the recommendation.
The general also followed up on Pelosi’s question, “What precautions are available to prevent an unstable president from initiating military hostilities or from accessing the launch codes and ordering a nuclear strike?”
Having assured the Speaker that there are “a lot of checks in the system” and that he would “prevent anything like that in the United States military”, he summoned senior officers to review procedures for launching nuclear weapons. Milley said Trump alone could give the order, but that he would have to be involved.
The general asked each of the officers to confirm understanding of the import of his comments — effectively checking the commander-in-chief from any nuclear strike on Beijing.
“A Right-Wing Coup”
Milley’s disquiet over Trump’s attempts to hold office was revealed in July. The general feared Trjmp was pursuing a “Reichstag moment” — a reference to Adolf Hitler’s use of a 1933 fire at the German Parliament to implement rule by decree — to justify a coup.
Milley asked Gen. H.R. McMaster, National Security Advisor from February 2917 to April 2018, “Who the fuck am I dealing with?”
CIA Director Gina Haspel reportedly shared the general’s concern. She had pondered in November, “This is a highly dangerous situation. We are going to lash out for his ego?….[Trump] is acting out like a six-year-old with a tantrum.” In January, she went farther, “We are on the way to a right-wing coup.”
Trump railed on Newsmax on Tuesday evening that Milley had committed “treason”, denying that he ever considered an attack on China.
Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida backed up Trump, with a letter to President Joe Biden urging dismissal of the JCS chair. He proclaimed that Milley “contemplated a treasonous leak of classified information to the Chinese Communist Party in advance of a potential armed conflict”.
Right-wing attack outlets such as Breitbart and Town Hall — long-time assailants of Milley as “woke” — amplified Trump’s rhetoric about treason.