Gen. Mark A. Milley was never meant to be President Donald Trump’s top military adviser.
Defense Secretary Jim Mattis had sent him to the White House in late 2018 to interview for the top U.S. military post across the Atlantic, with its grand title: supreme allied commander Europe. Mattis wanted someone else, the quiet and cerebral Gen. David L. Goldfein of the Air Force, to be Trump’s next chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
With the president souring on Mattis, his recommendation quashed Goldfein’s chances. During the meeting, the president — who already liked Milley’s brash demeanor as Army chief of staff — asked which job was better. And Milley went for the top prize: by law, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff is the nation’s top officer and the senior military adviser to the president.
But in the last several days, after accompanying the president from the White House to a church in his camouflage uniform as National Guard troops in helmets and riot gear deployed across the country, Milley has quickly become the face of what could amount to the U.S. military’s fall from public grace, to levels not seen since the Vietnam War.
“Milley (he’s a general !?!?) should not have walked over to the church with Trump,” Michael Hayden, the retired Air Force general who has directed both the National Security Agency and the CIA, said on Twitter, noting that he “was appalled to see him in his battle dress.”
Milley’s decision to join Trump “was an egregious display of bad judgment, at best,” said Paul D. Eaton, a retired major general and veteran of the Iraq War, who now serves as a senior adviser at VoteVets.org. “At worst, Milley appears confused about the oath he took to support and defend the Constitution — not a president. I suggest the general get quickly unconfused or resign.”
Milley, his friends say, has agonized over the events of the past week. But he has also managed to persuade Trump not to invoke the 1807 Insurrection Act to deploy active-duty troops across the country to quell protests, a line that a number of American military officials say they will not cross, even if the president orders it.
It is largely because of Milley, administration officials say, that Trump has not ordered it yet despite his threat to do so.