Well maybe but no one in authority ever seems to have asked Bob Woodward about that or to question the ethics of transforming national secrets into highly profitable book sales. Looking over his 50-year track record, Washington insiders know that it pays to stay on Woodward’s good side. If you give him the juicy gossip and inside-the-Beltway psycho-babble he craves, you can be assured of favorable treatment, either in his books or maybe in the pages of the Washington Post (possibly one and the same). An essential part of the gamesmanship includes the pre-publication leaking of lurid headlines. Specifically:
- Shortly before the 2020 election, GEN Milley called his Chinese counter-part to re-assure him that the US would not attack China. “If we’re going to attack, I’m going to call you ahead of time. It’s not going to be a surprise,” Milley reportedly said.
- Similar reassurances were repeated shortly after the January 6 riot on Capitol Hill; “We are 100 percent steady. Everything’s fine. But democracy can be sloppy sometimes.” (Lolita C. Baldor, AP, “Milley: Calls were perfectly within scope of the job,” Sept. 17)
- Also according to the AP, “Milley believed the president suffered a mental decline after the November election, agreeing with a view shared by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in a phone call they had on Jan. 8, according to officials. Milley also asked senior officers to swear an “oath” that Milley had to be involved if Trump gave an order to launch nuclear weapons, according to the book.” (Mary C. Jalonick, AP, “Jan 6 Committee seeking records on Milley’s China calls,” Sep 17)
As you would expect, outraged Republicans called for General Milley to be fired while Democrats from President Biden to Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin expressed continued confidence in his judgment. Since Milley and Austin will testify before the House Armed Services Committee on September 28, the controversy will likely simmer for at least another week: Exactly as Bob Woodward and his media colleagues would have anticipated. Not only is this kind of publicity essential in fueling sales, but it also helps to move the Afghanistan and Southern Border fiascos off the front pages.
As it happens, my Harvard dissertation and first book was a history of the American command and control system. Shortly thereafter, I had the privilege of working for Congressman Bill Nichols as Congress reformed that system in 1986, including the powers exercised by every subsequent JCS Chairman, including General Milley. If he was indeed free-lancing with his Chinese counter-part, those particulars will certainly become known in our immediate future.
But in that last AP story refenced above, there is a question most observers have missed. Did General Milley actually require senior officers to swear an oath promising to short-circuit the nuclear command and control exercised by President Trump? And if so, what was his authority for making such an extraordinary (and possibly illegal) demand? You see, in their sweeping 1986 reforms, Congress firmly chose to place the JCS Chairman outside the chain of command extending from the National Command Authorities (i.e. the President and SECDEF) directly to the Commanders of our combatant forces in the field. The principle: Civilians make the decision to go to war while commanders on the ground employ forces and direct missions. The JCS Chairman is expected to give military advice while administering our global command and control systems.
But he is only a Washington staffer, like so many others. That is a distinction General Milley should know well: Bob Woodward not so much!
LEAVE KEN A COMMENT BELOW, WE KNOW HE WILL APPRECIATE IT!
NOTE: Colonel Allard is the author of Command, Control and the Common Defense, winner of the 1991 National Security Book Award. After leaving active duty, he became an on-air military analyst for the networks of NBC News.