I respected Mark Milley — but he has damaged our democracy
September 17, 2021
Commenting on the recent events by the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff is not easy for me. For much of his career, Mark Milley served with distinction and honor. I worked hand-in-hand with him during my four years in the White House and I’d like to think we built a rapport based on mutual respect. It is hard to separate that man from the one who has emerged these last months, alongside the alleged actions he has not denied.
Civilian control of the military is enshrined in our Constitution. Article 2, Section 2 is extraordinarily clear — a civilian leader, the elected president, is commander in chief. His senior advisers provide input toward decisions involving use of force and the role of the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff is to provide his best military advice. He is an advisor who executes the commander in chief’s commands, not the other way around.
Any action on the part of the chairman of the Joint Chiefs that gives the impression that he has traveled outside his lane, however slight, should be met with swift and severe recourse. This is not political; this is about the preservation of our democracy.
Unfortunately, recent comments by many in the media, including retired military officials, appear to undermine that hard truth. They are trying to give Gen. Milley a pass, not because they believe this departure from norms is a good thing for our republic, but because they will support anything that portrays former President Donald Trump in a poor light. Such politicization of the responsibilities of the chairman and his critical role does this nation a disservice.
In my lifetime, I have seen military officials removed for overstepping their responsibilities. In fact, I’ve seen officers removed for things that bordered on the silly. The allegations against Milley are anything but.
Unauthorized military discussions with a growing adversary about potential action sends a negative signal to an enemy. It conveys confusion, weakness, and calls into question our ability to control our military forces. It also implies that the military, in fact, calls the shots — not the commander in chief. Any undermining of the civilian control of the military is problematic; this was dangerous.
Moreover, this call was made in the aftermath of a contentious election in the midst of a debilitating pandemic caused and perpetuated by the same country on the other end of the phone. In diplomatic relations, what’s not said often carries as much weight as what is. Milley’s alleged call communicated disarray.
Nothing was further from the truth. I was the longest serving senior national security official in the Trump White House. I was confident then, and confident now, that Trump was a commander in chief that we needed and served us well in multiple crises. You need only look at the fall of Kabul, the disastrous withdrawal from Afghanistan and our failure to coordinate with our allies, the tragic drone strikes that killed seven children rather than an ISIS-K member, and the French withdrawing their ambassador to see how far we’ve fallen. Peace through strength is more than just a catchphrase.
The Biden administration needs to hit the reset button in more ways than one. President Biden may have confidence in his chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, but the American public no longer does.
Keith Kellogg is a retired Army lieutenant general who was an assistant to the president and national security adviser to President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence. He is currently co-chairman for American Security at the America First Policy Institute.