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Looking back on Gen. Mark Milley's Joint Chiefs tenure

As the outgoing chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Mark Milley leaves a complicated legacy.
Looking back on Gen. Mark Milley's Joint Chiefs tenure
Posted at 5:56 PM, Sep 28, 2023

Gen. Mark Milley became Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in 2019, after then-President Donald Trump appointed him. So began a dance between military and civilian affairs in a career spanning more than four decades.

The nation's highest ranking military officer leaves behind a complicated legacy.  In 2020, after being photographed by then President Donald Trump's side at a chaotic George Floyd protest in the nation's capital, Gen. Mark Milley apologized to Americans: 

"That sparked a national debate about the role of the military in civil society," he said in a televised address. "I should not have been there. My presence in that moment and in that environment created a perception of the military involved in domestic politics."

In the waning days of Trump's presidency, Milley worked around him, according to Bob Woodward's book "Peril." According to the book, Milley called the general of the People's Liberation Army to avert potential conflict with China, and instructed US military officers not to take orders without him, to prevent Trump from potentially launching a nuclear weapon.

Those revelations spurred praise from supporters. "I think General Milley did exactly what he was supposed to do and should do in that situation," Sen. Angus King told CNN at the time.

The revelations also spurred calls for his firing from critics. "We're questioning in your official capacity going and undermining the chain of command, which is obviously what you did," said Rep. Matt Gaetz in a House Armed Services Committee hearing.

SEE MORE: Senate confirms chairman of Joint Chiefs, evading GOP senator's block

After the 2020 election, Milley spoke about what the oath of office meant to him. "We are unique among armies, we are unique among militaries. We do not take an oath to a king or queen, a tyrant or a dictator. We do not oath to an individual. No, we do not take an oath to a country, a tribe, or religion. We take an oath to the Constitution."

Following the U.S. capitol riot, Milley supported a requirement that service members learn about domestic extremism. He told lawmakers, "I want to understand White rage, and I'm White and I want to understand it. So, what is it that caused thousands of people to assault this building, and try to overturn the Constitution of the United States of America, what caused that?"

After the chaotic U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, Milley broke with the Biden administration over whether the chaos was avoidable, testifying that he had recommended leaving 2,500 U.S. troops behind. 

"It is clear, it is obvious the war in Afghanistan did not end on the terms we wanted with the Taliban now in power in Kabul," he said.

In 2022, when Russia launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine, Milley became one of the U.S.'s strongest advocates for Kyiv's defense, standing side by side with Volodymyr Zelenskyy — one of the most important missions he is handing off to his successor.

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