Army Gen. Mark Milley stepped down Friday from his position as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, but not before taking a final swipe at former President Donald Trump in keeping with his string of political statements while in uniform.
At a grandiose retirement ceremony on Friday, which featured remarks from President Joe Biden, Milley delivered a long-winded speech where he alluded to his former boss, Trump, as a “wannabe dictator.”:
You say we in uniform are unique. We are unique among the world’s armies. We are unique among the world’s militaries. We don’t take an oath to a country. We don’t take an oath to a tribe. We don’t take an oath to a religion. We don’t take an oath to a king, or queen, or a tyrant or a dictator. And we don’t take an oath to a wannabe dictator.
While Milley during his tenure touted upholding democracy and morals, he leaves behind a military that is less trusted than when he first became the chairman and facing a historic recruitment crisis.
According to polls by the Ronald Reagan Institute, five years ago, 70 percent of Americans said they had a great deal of trust and confidence in the military, but that plummeted to 48 percent in 2022. Respondents said the top reason was “military leadership becoming overly politicized.”
He was appointed to the position by Trump, over the objection of then-Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, who allegedly could not stand him. Trump, however, liked Milley’s bravado.
Yet, Milley turned on his boss after he was criticized by the media for walking with Trump in a show of strength after Black Lives Matters rioters set fire to a historic church at Lafayette Park and almost stormed the White House.
Milley publicly apologized for appearing with Trump, and sat for a number of interviews with book authors, who revealed that Milley had acted to undermine Trump’s authority after the 2020 election, as the government prepared for the incoming Biden administration.
According to one book, Peril by Bob Woodward and Robert Costa, Milley was worried that Trump could “go rogue,” and he called a secret meeting on January 8, 2021, with senior military leaders, during which he instructed senior military officials in charge of the National Military Command Center not to take orders from anyone unless he was involved.
The book also revealed that Milley had two back-channel phone calls with China’s top general to reassure him that the U.S. would not attack, even promising to give him a heads-up if it did. According to a writeup by the Washington Post, Milley — four days before the 2020 presidential election — assured his Chinese counterpart, Gen. Li Zuocheng of the People’s Liberation Army, that the U.S. would not strike.
“General Li, I want to assure you that the American government is stable and everything is going to be okay,” Milley allegedly said. “We are not going to attack or conduct any kinetic operations against you.” Milley even pledged to alert Li in the event of a U.S. attack. “General Li, you and I have known each other for now five years. If we’re going to attack, I’m going to call you ahead of time. It’s not going to be a surprise,” he said, according to the book.
Also according to the book, after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi called him and pressed him to secure the country’s nuclear weapons and called Trump “crazy,” Milley told her, “I agree with you on everything.” Woodward and Costa wrote that after the call with Pelosi, Milley “decided he had to act” and told the military service chiefs and then-CIA director to watch everything “all the time.”
Another report claimed that Milley tried to stop Trump from striking Iran in his final days of his administration — an allegation that prompted fury from Trump. Trump then kept allegedly classified documents that showed it was actually Milley who advocated striking Iran, not him, according to another report.
Milley also infamously dragged the military directly into politics when he endorsed learning Critical Race Theory to learn about “white rage.” He said during a June 2021 hearing:
I’ll obviously have to get much smarter on whatever the theory is. But, I do think it’s important actually for those of us in uniform to be open minded and be widely read and the United States Military Academy is a university and it is important that we train and we understand– and 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? I want to find that out.
Milley also oversaw the disastrous withdrawal from Afghanistan, which saw the deaths of 13 American service members and more wounded. He then called a retaliatory drone strike against a supposed ISIS terrorist a “righteous strike,” only for it to be revealed that it actually killed an Afghan aid worker and his family, including multiple children.
Milley’s penchant for injecting himself into politics drew ire from Republican lawmakers, including Rep. Mike Waltz (R-FL), a retired Army Green Beret and colonel.
Waltz blasted Milley in a lengthy thread posted on X:
Just read the Atlantic puff piece on Mark Milley’s exit interview polishing his legacy with the DC media while criticizing elected officials in uniform.
His retirement couldn’t come soon enough.
— Rep. Mike Waltz (@michaelgwaltz) September 21, 2023
Last week, Trump excoriated Milley in a Truth Social post, writing:
Mark Milley, who led perhaps the most embarrassing moment in American history with his grossly incompetent implementation of the withdrawal from Afghanistan, costing many lives, leaving behind hundreds of American citizens, and handing over BILLIONS of dollars of the finest military equipment ever made, will be leaving the military next week. This will be a time for all citizens of the USA to celebrate! This guy turned out to be a Woke train wreck who, if the Fake News reporting is correct, was actually dealing with China to give them a heads up on the thinking of the President of the United States. This is an act so egregious that, in times gone by, the punishment would have been DEATH! A war between China and the United States could have been the result of this treasonous act. To be continued!!!
Milley then, in a 60 Minutes interview, said Trump’s comments were not only directed at him, but “directed at the institution of the military.” He also argued there was nothing inappropriate about his outreach to China behind Trump’s back. “Absolutely not. Zero. None,” he said.
Biden during the ceremony called Milley “my friend,” and thanked him for upholding “his oath.”
“You know how strongly I feel about him given remarkable service to our country. You’ve done honor to the uniform of our nation. You upheld your oath. Thank you. Thank you my friend. Thanks for being my friend,” he said.
U.S. Army Maj. (Retired) Chase Spears, a former public affairs officer and doctoral candidate at Kansas State University, said historians would surely judge Milley in a “far less favorable light than he and his fans celebrate in this moment.”
“It is hard to imagine the level of self-deception it must take for one to hide behind the flag, while in essence burning it. Milley’s self-aggrandizing performance proves the validity of former Defense Secretary Mattis’ concerns about the man’s fitness for duty at the highest levels,” he said.
He added, “Milley’s retirement remarks are easily imaginable as reflecting the frame of mind that Benedict Arnold must have had in the season of his fateful decision. Both men were determined to survive, and adjusted their loyalties based on the politics of the moment. Historians will surely judge Milley in a far less favorable light than he and his fans celebrate in this moment.”