Chair of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen Mark Milley has forcefully defended his own patriotism and actions regarding calls with a top Chinese general that have become the centre of controversy among Republicans and supporters of former president Donald Trump.
Speaking before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday, the general used his opening statement to address reports of his communications with his counterpart in China regarding the Chinese military’s concerns that an increasingly erratic Mr Trump would order a military strike in the waning days of his presidency.
“I know, I am certain, President Trump did not intend on attacking the Chinese and it is my directed responsibility – to convey presidential orders and intent. My job at that time was to de-escalate. My message again was consistent: calm, steady, deescalate. We are not going to attack you,” he said, adding that the then defense secretary Mark Esper and other civilian personnel were involved with the call before, during and after it occurred.
Gen Milley faced criticism from Republicans following reports that he twice contacted Gen Li Zuocheng, of the People’s Liberation Army, to reassure him that then President Trump was not planning to direct a military strike against China and later to assure him that the country was stable following the insurrection.
“We are 100 per cent steady. Everything’s fine. But democracy can be sloppy sometimes,” Gen Milley reportedly said on the call, made after the Capitol riot.
As he began to address the now infamous call with his Chinese counterpart, which was detailed in the book Peril by Bob Woodward and Robert Costa, Gen Milley said: “I have served this nation for 42 years.
“I’ve spent years in combat and buried a lot of my troops who died while defending this country. My loyalty to this nation, its people, and the constitution hasn’t changed and will never change as long as I have a breath to give. My loyalty is absolute.”
He had previously commented that the calls, made on 30 October 2020 and 8 January 2021, had taken place with the knowledge of the Department of Defense.
The calls were first reported in Peril, the new book on the final days of the Trump administration authored by Bob Woodward and Robert Costa. It was reported in The Washington Post that Mr Milley was “so fearful Trump might spark war that he made secret calls to his Chinese counterpart”.
“General Li, I want to assure you that the American government is stable and everything is going to be okay,” Gen Milley told Gen Li, according to the two reporters. “We are not going to attack or conduct any kinetic operations against you.”
“If we’re going to attack, I’m going to call you ahead of time. It’s not going to be a surprise,” he also reportedly said.
In the days following, including on Tuesday, Mr Milley has contested whether the calls were “secret” as well as whether he was “fearful” about the likelihood of Mr Trump ordering a military strike against China.
Mr Trump has suggested that Gen Milley’s calls amounted to “treason”, but Gen Milley’s actions have been defended by top US officials, including Mr Trump’s own former national security adviser, John Bolton.
“Mark Milley is a staunch supporter of the Constitution and the rule of law,” Mr Bolton said in a released statement. “His patriotism is unquestioned.”
“I have no doubt Gen Milley consulted widely with his colleagues on the National Security Council and others during this period,” Mr Bolton added. “I would also be surprised if many of them were not fully aware of Gen Milley’s actions, and that they fully concurred in them.”
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