This is an opinion column. The thoughts expressed are those of the author.
Placing GEN Milley’s Alleged Actions Into Perspective, by Citizen Writer: David Prugh
American Citizen 9/17/2021 10:01 AM
Gen Milley, Image: Pixabay
By now, almost everybody has heard about the allegation from writers Bob Woodward and Robert Costa in which the writers claim, among other things, that Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff GEN Mark Milley called the top general of the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) army and allegedly offered to provide early warning of any US first strike on that communist regime. If the stories are to be believed, GEN Milley was spurred to make this call immediately after receiving a call from Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D, CA) in which Pelosi convinced him that the then-POTUS – President Donald Trump – intended to launch a nuke strike on the CCP.
I should note up front that I’ve always held the studied opinion that Bob Woodward is a habitual liar. I don’t believe even half of Woodward’s past claims, especially his story about William Casey’s alleged deathbed confession. Even his most credible claims, precious few in number, are generally supported by flimsy references to “anonymous sources”. Still, it is possible that Woodward is telling the truth for once. Maybe that’s due to the influence of Costa – a man about whom I know nothing. So for the remainder of this article, I will give Woodward the benefit of the doubt and pretend that he’s telling the truth this time.
If so, GEN Milley’s alleged conduct has earned some scrutiny. And what better criteria to scrutinize GEN Milley’s conduct than by using an analytical device which is taught within our military services’ senior service colleges?
The US Army’s field grade professional military education courses include the Command & General Staff College and the US Army War College (among a few others). In all of them, the Army’s field grade officers (Majors, Lieutenant Colonels, and Colonels) are required to conduct analysis using the ‘Instruments of National Power’; the simplest model of which is summarized by the acronym DIME – Diplomatic, Informational, Military, and Economic instruments. These instruments essentially provide the levers by which nation-to-nation interactions are controlled. Each of these interactions can run the spectrum from positive (supportive; cooperative) interactions to negative (oppositional; confrontational). Each nation, therefore, applies its instruments in all international interactions.
For example – USA maintains generally positive/supportive/cooperative interactions with Canada and the United Kingdom. That is, our Diplomatic efforts around the globe are generally done in a manner which is mutually supportive; our efforts to shape the Information which emanates from international interactions is mutually supportive as well; we cooperate and mutually support each others’ Military efforts around the globe; and we have decades of history of mutually supportive Economic efforts.
The nations with whom we maintain mutually supportive relationships across all DIME instruments are those we call “allies”.
On the other end of the spectrum, our use of these ‘Instruments of National Power’ – DIME – can be confrontational with other nations. Extreme examples at present include North Korea and Iran; we are adversarial against each in our Diplomatic efforts, our Informational efforts, and our Economic efforts. Furthermore, to the extent that we actually engage with North Korea and Iran Militarily, we are confrontational with this ‘Instrument of National Power’ as well. And when we are not engaging them Militarily, we certainly keep that Military instrument aimed right at them, ready to strike when necessary.
Only a few nations have a status in which we engage them confrontationally with our Diplomatic, Informational, and Economic instruments, and in each case, we are keeping our Military instrument poised to strike when necessary. Any nation in this category – outright confrontational interactions along the D, I, and E instruments with the M standing ready to strike – represents the body of nations we would call “enemies” at worst and “adversaries” or “opponents” at best.
China is one of those nations. We are undeniably in conflict with China along the D, I, and E instruments of national power. We have been for a long time. This fact is undeniable, and it is important when considering GEN Milley’s alleged actions.
Time for a disclaimer – I will neither purchase nor read any book written by a man who I consider to be a habitual liar. Therefore, I am basing all of the following on others’ representations of what Woodward and his accomplice Costa have presented.
We are to believe that GEN Milley somehow reached the conclusion that then-President Trump intended (or perhaps merely contemplated) a nuke strike on China. Perhaps Milley was duped into believing this absurdity by that deft and clever trickster - Nancy Pelosi; but is Pelosi really that convincing a trickster? Irrespective of how he allegedly got there, it is frankly a bat-shit crazy conclusion for Milley or anybody else to make. However, this is Woodward’s and Costa’s story, so I’ll go with it. In that context - Okay, no crime committed yet. GEN Milley starts to come across as a nut-job so far, but not a treasonous actor.
But then he picks up the phone.
Okay, now it is time to go back to the academic world – the professional military education courses taught to field grade officers. We’ll get to GEN Milley’s alleged phone call in a moment, but first let’s explore his professional obligations.
Generally speaking, engagements with other nations must go through Diplomatic channels. That is, any type of government-to-government interaction is carefully controlled by the Diplomatic “Instrument of National Power” – or the US Department of State, headed by the Secretary of State. Want to help agriculture in Mongolia? You’ll have to go through the US Department of Agriculture, but you’ll also have to get a green light from the final arbiter in the cabinet – the Secretary of State. Want to build a dam in Central African Republic? You’ll have to go thru the Department of Energy, but you’ll still need to get permission from the Secretary of State.
In practice, though, where we have an alliance with other nations, we have an implicit green light to conduct instrument-to-instrument cooperation. The Department of State doesn’t exactly relinquish authority, but it delegates authority to act autonomously within the scope of specific guidance. Therefore, our interactions and cooperation with some of our allies (not all, but some) is characterized by a more permissive atmosphere of cooperation. However, even in the most permissive environment of international cooperation, those who interface with allies are controlled by measures which clearly state what can be shared. In other words, the general rule is – don’t share anything unless it comes with an indicator as to whom you can divulge it; assume “NOFORN” unless told otherwise. And that’s with allies.
Wanna take a guess where our interactions with China fall? I’ll give you a hint – it isn’t exactly lazes faire. And that’s now under the Harris/Biden administration.
Can anybody remember WAY back to January when the POTUS was Donald J. Trump? Do you recall the atmosphere of interaction with China? Remember their saber-rattling? Remember that little-noticed virus which came from there and became an excuse to shut down the world’s economy? Care to take a guess where President Trump – GEN Milley’s Commander-in-Chief at the time of this alleged phone call – considered China to be on the spectrum of allies-to-enemies scale?
Therefore, can you guess how many procedural restrictions one would have to negotiate before legally conducting a phone call to the top general in the Chinese army? Asked another way, can you guess how many procedural restrictions one would have to intentionally bypass in order to make this call??
Don’t be fooled by the 4 stars. That’s a high rank in the military, sure. But it isn’t high enough to unilaterally violate those restrictions with impunity.
The acting Secretary of Defense at the time – The Honorable Chris Miller – has already stated that GEN Milley neither sought nor received authorization to conduct this phone call. To my knowledge, then-Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has not commented, but it is safe to assume that he didn’t authorize GEN Milley’s unilateral action either.
The undeniable conclusion so far is that GEN Milley’s alleged action violated the professional norms of the military, and it violated the procedural norms of the US government. It probably violated some laws in there as well.
Latest news reports indicate that the Milley camp is defending these alleged actions, a fact with gives a strong indication that I no longer need to use the word “alleged”.
That’s all pretty bad, but does that make it treason??
I’ll answer that question with another question.
What would YOU call it when a person within the military violates laws, professional norms, and explicit policy from his chain of command – in other words, goes entirely rogue – in order to directly contact the top general of a nation with whom he… bat-shit crazy or not… expected his military brothers and sisters to be, within weeks, engaged in armed conflict, promising pre-strike early warning and continued cooperation during the upcoming war??
Dave Prugh is a retired infantry colonel, a Texan, and a 1985 graduate of the United States Military Academy at West Point. He has served in overseas defense related leadership positions for over 17 cumulative years, most of it at the senior or directorial level.
American Citizen born in 1776 and a proud supporter of the Constitution of the United States.
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