Did Gen. Milley Run a Coup Against Trump? Willy B

Milley and friend

            The Washington Post ran an item yesterday on a new book by Bob Woodward and Post national political reporter Robert Costa which claims, among many other things, that Gen. Milley was so fearful that Trump’s actions might spark a war with China that he moved urgently to avert armed conflict. In a pair of secret phone calls, Gen. Mark A. Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, assured his Chinese counterpart, Gen. Li Zuocheng of the People’s Liberation Army, that the United States would not strike, according to the book. One call took place on Oct. 30, 2020, four days before Election day, and the other on Jan. 8, 2021, two days after the events on Capitol Hill.

            The first call was prompted by Milley’s review of intelligence suggesting the Chinese believed the United States was preparing to attack. That belief, the authors write, was based on tensions over military exercises in the South China Sea, and deepened by Trump’s belligerent rhetoric toward China. “General Li, I want to assure you that the American government is stable and everything is going to be okay,” Milley told him. “We are not going to attack or conduct any kinetic operations against you.”

            In the book’s account, Milley went so far as to pledge he would alert his counterpart in the event of a U.S. attack, stressing the rapport they’d established through a backchannel. “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.” In the second call, placed to address Chinese fears about the events of Jan. 6, Li wasn’t as easily assuaged, even after Milley promised him, “We are 100 percent steady. Everything’s fine. But democracy can be sloppy sometimes.”

            According to the Woodward-Costa account, Milley believed that Trump suffered a “mental decline” after the election, a view he shared with Nancy Pelosi in a phone call to her on Jan. 8 (the fact of the phone call was reported at the time. Pelosi demanded that Milley take control of the nuclear launch codes away from Trump). Milley agreed with her evaluation that Trump was unstable, according to a call transcript obtained by the authors.

            But Milley didn’t limit his conspiring to Pelosi. The same day he spoke to Pelosi, Milley also called the commander of Indo-Pacific Command to recommend postponing the military exercises. He also summoned senior officers at the National Military Command Center to review the procedures for launching nuclear weapons, saying the president alone could give the order — but, crucially, that he, Milley, also had to be involved. Looking each in the eye, Milley asked the officers to affirm that they had understood, the authors write, in what he considered an “oath.”

            The book, entitled “Peril” is said to be based on interviews with 200 people, all of whom spoke on condition that they not be named. The book is set to be released next week. The question remains why did Woodward and the Washington Post come out with this account? How true is it? The Milley-Pelosi phone call was reported on by the Post and other media at the time and confirmed by Milley’s office. But this isn’t a question of moving against the occupant of the White House at the time because he wasn’t liked. It’s a matter of policy.

Col. Richard Black (ret.), a former JAG officer as well as a former Virginia state senator, told me in response to the Washington Post article on the Woodward book that he has long had concerns about the potential of a military coup in the United States, citing as one example, this article in the Australian-British blog The Conversation which he called a “roadmap” for a military coup.

“General Milley’s melodramatic actions described by Woodward were extraconstitutional.  A habitually histrionic caricature of the wacky military officer, Milley is totally unsuited for responsibilities requiring a calm, mature hand on the tiller,” Col. Black said. “The comment that Milley went so far as to pledge he would alert his Chinese counterpart in the event of a U.S. attack is interesting. The president is the commander-in-chief of the armed forces. He alone can authorize a military offensive. Gen. Miley is the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.  As such, Milley has no command authority whatsoever.

            “I do not believe for a minute that Trump ever intended war with China. But had the president ordered such military action, and if Gen. Milley had given advance notice to the Chinese of impending American actions as he reportedly promised, such actions during an unfolding armed conflict would have constituted an unfathomable act of treason, resulting in the death of untold millions of Americans. Benedict Arnold’s betrayal would have seemed trivial by comparison. Can he have actually told his Chinese counterpart, ‘If we’re going to attack, I’m going to call you ahead of time. It’s not going to be a surprise.’

            “If the report of Milley’s intentions is accurate, he should be relieved for cause, for though he did not consummate a criminal act by making that promise, the promise was so fraught with impropriety that an officer who betrayed his government in such fashion should ever be trusted to serve. Indeed, it is likely that had his Chinese counterpart made such a promise to General Milley, he’d have been executed for doing so.”

            Black went on to describe Milley as a “doctrinaire liberal” who was opposed to Trump wanting to pull out of Afghanistan but was fine with Biden doing it. He also charged Milley with resisting Trump’s efforts to use the military to quell riots in American cities and in doing so “leaving citizens terrorized by mobs and our cities in smoldering ruins.”

            “Milley has functioned far beyond his legitimate role as Chairman, acted in an immature fashion, and failed the nation in doing so,” Col. Black concluded.

            The involvement of retired Army Col. Douglas Macgregor is a crucial point in that he served as an advisor to Trump and had advised Trump to get the US military out of Afghanistan.   “According to Woodward and Costa, that memo is one of the reasons Mark Milley decided to organize a coup,” Tucker Carlson said on his show last night.

            On Sept. 3, Carlson argued that Biden was getting the Trump treatment with respect to the Afghanistan withdrawal. In other words, the same military establishment that was resisting Trump’s plans for Afghanistan, and his earlier effort to withdraw US troops from Syria, had now turned on Biden. But the establishment isn’t just the American military and the Democratic Party as Carlson thinks.

            The hysterical reaction of the British establishment, beginning with Tony Blair on Aug. 21, shows otherwise. Blair, in an article originally published on his website, denounced Biden’s decision to withdraw from Afghanistan. “We didn’t need to do it,” he wrote. “We chose to do it. We did it in obedience to an imbecilic political slogan about ending ‘the forever wars’.” Biden used the term when he announced the withdrawal. Blair said: “For Britain, out of Europe and suffering the end of the Afghanistan mission by our greatest ally with little or no consultation … we are at risk of relegation to the second division of global powers.” The British concern wasn’t about Afghanistan per se but rather the implications of the US president acting on his own authority for the “Global Britain” policy announced by Boris Johnson last March.

            “America has just signalled to the world that they are not that keen on playing a global role,” one unnamed minister said . “The implications of that are absolutely huge. We need to get the integrated review out and reread it. We are going to have to do a hard-nosed revisit on all our assumptions and policies,” the minister said. “The US had to be dragged kicking and screaming into the First World War. They turned up late for the Second World War and now they are cutting and running in Afghanistan.”

            So it’s a question of policy, not personalities. The policy of the Anglo-American establishment is one of permanent warfare, and it will resist any efforts to end those wars, regardless of who the occupant of the White House is. Willy B

Comment from Lang: IMO this can end in several different ways; 1. Biden will do nothing. 2. Biden will order Milley relieved and retired. 3. Biden will relieve Milley and order an Article 32 investigation and then a general court-martial for sedition under Article 94 of UCMJ.

If it is true that Milley told Li that he would warn China of an impending kinetic attack by the US, a charge of treason would also be appropriate.

Biden will choose course of action #1. pl

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55 Responses to Did Gen. Milley Run a Coup Against Trump? Willy B

  1. sbin says:

    Going with option 1 Biden’s handlers will do nothing.

    FBI came after Flynn with a vengeance for far less.

    Might throw Milley under a bus as scapegoat for Afghanistan but I doubt it.

  2. Pollyella says:

    Thanks, honored Colonel and Wiily B.: Yes, TREASON.

  3. Condotttiere says:

    Someone need to hire a drum and fife band in full regalia or a uniformed military bugler to follow Gen Milley around and lampoon him in the public at every chance by playing “The Rogue’s March.” Don’t tell him or anyone the meaning of this symbolic gesture, just troll them by thinking it is just music. When he finally realizes it the tune will haunt him in his sleep.



    • Deap says:

      Waiting for updated version of The Charge of the Politically-Enlightened Brigade. Guns on the left, guns on the right ……

  4. Fred says:

    “Biden will choose course of action #1”

    Especially after Newsome won another great victory for the democratic party. Look for him to go after his enemies, and Californians in general, next.

  5. robt willmann says:

    The Biden adminstration, Gen. Milley, et. al. have decided on what their position will be since the allegations in the Bob Woodward — Robert Costa book have not had the effect they thought would result. Woodward, who is not the objective journalist he promotes himself to be, thought that the revelations would dirty up Donald Trump and persuade the public that he should not be in public office again. However, there have been public expressions criticizing what Milley did. Thus, the fallback position is that everything Milley did was in the normal course of things, completely proper, and copacetic. In a public statement on the website of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, written as a description in the third person, it is admitted that the phone calls “with the Chinese and others” (without naming them), and the meeting with “uniformed leaders” about procedures regarding the use of nuclear weapons took place.

    The statement ends in the present tense with: “General Milley continues to act and advise within his authority in the lawful tradition of civilian control of the military and his oath to the Constitution”.


    The book’s publisher, Simon and Schuster, has decided on one-word, scary titles for the trilogy of Woodward’s books about the Trump presidency — “Fear”, “Rage”, and now, “Peril”.

    • JerseyJeffersonian says:

      And we all know what that oath is worth to him, and any deferrence to civilian control is , well, conditional to him as well.

      So, Option #1 it will be. Thus symmetry is preserved; law- breaking, oath-breaking, and self-dealing all around from the pResident, and the head of the military.

  6. fotokemist says:

    Thanks WillyB and Col Lang.

    Personally, I think Milley should enjoy the benefits of Option 3. Insubordination is insubordination and that point needs to remain crystal clear even to our highest ranking officers.

    As a practical matter, I doubt anyone wants to risk what might be reveled in a legal action, courts-martial or otherwise, so Option 3 is unlikely.

    Should the Afghanistan debacle remain a prominent news item, then Milley makes a convenient scapegoat for the disastrous withdrawal. Biden gave orders, Milley failed to execute them, story gains credibility as a story given this additional example of insubordination. Doesn’t this echo the experience Trump have early in his term when he announced his intent to withdraw from Afghanistan and nothing happened?

    Having said all that, if the Afghanistan debacle drops out of the news, then I agree Option 1 is highly likely to occur.

  7. Eric Newhill says:

    So Milley thinks Pelosi is a stable and intelligent personality and Trump is not? Milley’s judgment is terrible.

    Pelosi was in on the treason. Hang her and Milley together.

  8. BillWade says:

    Looks like option 1:

    President Biden also expressed support for Milley in comments to reporters on Wednesday.

    “I have great confidence in General Milley,” Biden said.

    I guess our military culture has changed considerably, in my day I would think that any service member speaking like Gen Milley would expect to be hung if they were caught saying those things.

    • fotokemist says:

      What does it say about the personnel selection skills of Dear Leader that he has great confidence in the officers that bungled the Afghanistan withdrawal? Should I have any concern about their performance should, say, China decide to annex Taiwan etc?

  9. Pat Lang says:

    The whole thing brings to mind this guy. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/James_Wilkinson

    • Willy B says:

      I seem to recall reading some years ago that Winfield Scott, then a young officer, had an encounter with that guy during the war of 1812 which left Scott very unimpressed with his supposed military skills.

    • Bill Roche says:

      Recently read about the career of Anthony Wayne. Like much of humanity “Mad” Anthony was a genuinely flawed yet at the same time gallant soul. He had few nice things to say about Wilkinson. He suspected Wilkinson was b/h a plot to kill him prior to the battle of Fallen Timbers. Wilkinson appears again in 1812, still conniving, calculating. Human nature is not much changed.

  10. Babeltuap says:

    China threaten our allies Japan with nukes.


    If China hits Japan with a nuke Milley calls China to tell them sorry pals, I will be launching a nuke here shortly at you. Nothing personal, Need to go through a few protocols, turns some keys and other rigamarole but I will absolutely tell you when…meh

    This is bafoonery. He committed treason and should be in a Federal prison.

  11. Deap says:

    Two impeachments were not good enough to take down Trump. They had to up their ante. Turn Trump into Dr Stangelove combined with Kali the ancient Hindu destroyer goddess.

    Run that one up the flagpole –sure sounded like Gen Milley saluted and Pelosi rubbed her evil hands, barely healed from the paper cuts she got tearing up Trump’s SUTU address.

    It was quite a year -2020.

    • Bill Roche says:

      Were you referring to my friend the Lord Shiva?

      • Deap says:

        …”Kali, (Sanskrit: “She Who Is Black” or “She Who Is Death”) in Hinduism, goddess of time, doomsday, and death, or the black goddess (the feminine form of Sanskrit kala, “time-doomsday-death” or “black”). …

        • Deap says:

          Shiva is Kali’s partner in crime, but like much ancient wisdom, creation arises from their partnership in destruction:

          …..”She destroys only to recreate, and what she destroys is sin, ignorance and decay. She is equated with the eternal night, is the transcendent power of time, and is the consort of the god Shiva. It is believed that its Shiva who destroys the world, and Kali is the power or energy with which Shiva acts.

          Therefore, Kali is Shiva’s shakti, without which Shiva could not act. Kali receives her name because she devours kala (Time) and then resumes her own dark formlessness. This transformative effect can be metaphorically illustrated in the West as a black hole in space.

          Kali as such is pure and primary reality (the “enfolded order” in modern physics); formless void yet full of potential.

          • Bill Roche says:

            We are (I am) filling Pat’s site w/my own interest in Hinduism. So I’ll stop, except to say there is something (I don’t know what) in the Hindu view of the universe that I find fascinating. I think Zoroastrians provided the crossover b/t eastern and western religion, but Islam made short work of that. Thanks again.

          • Pat Lang says:

            Bill Roche

            I did not ask you to desist.

        • Bill Roche says:

          Thank you. How does she differ from Shiva, god of destruction? Thanks again.

          • Deap says:

            I carried as a souvenir a heavy bronze figurine souvenir of Kali, this 8-armed, fearsome snake haired goddesss in my carryon luggage. You can imagine what she looked like in the metal detectors. SITA, my travel agency in India, also gave me a small statue of Ganesha at the start of my India by Train sojourn – the elephant-headed god is a protector of travelers. The ministrations of both were needed during that fascinating jaunt.

          • Pat Lang says:


            “Kill for the love of killing, kill for the love of Kali, kill, kill, kill!” Quote from the film “Gunga Din.” Sound of pipers in the background playing the troops up the dusty road, with the Highlanders singing the Jacobite anthem, “will ye no come back again?”

  12. Deap says:

    Sweet justice that what was supposed to attack Trump, backfired on Milley instead.

  13. Deap says:

    Democrats really believe the straw dogs they make up out of whole cloth, are real. And thusly, require urgent action. Put that truism into their Rules for Radicals.

  14. scott s. says:

    Colonel, I have a problem with option 3 as “(2) Sedition. Sedition requires a concert of action in resistance to civil authority. This differs from mutiny by creating violence or disturbance. ” per the MCM, so where was the “concert of action”, and “disturbance” or “violence”? Can contacting Pelosi establish “concert of action”? I guess maybe, not a JAG so what do I know.

    • Pat Lang says:


      OK. I will settle for treason.

    • Paola Giovanetti says:

      IMO it is Pelosi who should be put in a trial, as she conspired all the way to depose Trump and has obviously achieved to depose Biden, thus usurping the post to which she has not the mandate if the US citizenry.

      Also, she has achieved not being equal, but being more equal than others by getting without mandatory shot which she on the contrary requests for the US citizenry.

      Why has this woman such influence? Has she any link to the mafia?
      Is it the mafia taking over the US?

  15. Mishkilji says:

    Context is missing here.

    CJCS talks to his counterparts from various countries on a routine basis.

    The call described here is meant to deescalate a Chinese perception that the US might launch an attack. The decision to call was based on intelligence.

    Milley’s “treason” is he has the chops to tell his Chinese counterpart he will be the first to know if/when China crosses a line that risks a conflict with the US.

    Tucker Carlson’s bedwetting about a coup is silly.

    • Paola Giovanetti says:


      Were not CS CENTCOM always in contact with the Russians during all the Syrian War to avoid “problems” and “misunderstandings”?

      Were not them communicating each other on each others´strikes?

      One would say that avoiding a great war would be worth whatever it takes…even risking being acused of treason..

      Anyway, the war goes on, it is off Milley´s reach..attention to the current ( totally provoked ) supply crisis, inflation, deflation…estratosferic escalation of all kinds of energy prices….Plus, highly likely, provoked climatic catastrophes…
      Not to mention the incoming “mandatory health”…Read that people under lockdown in Australia have seen their beer delivery cut to 6 a day per person…
      When they came for the unvaccinated…I said nothing because I was alcoholic and got the shot….Next will be sweet, chocolate and the like, which produce endorphines…

    • Deap says:

      And Micheal Flynn was (1) in just routine contact with his future counterparts. And Trump was (2) in just routine contact about shared interests with the President of Ukraine and (3) Susan Rice, Comey, Obama and Biden et al were just having a routine farewell chat among themselves discussing the next occupant of the Oval Office.

      The dual system of deep state justice and application of consequences, depending on the politics of the players, is the real treason.

  16. Polish Janitor says:

    I’m still stunned by this whole “Milly-Gate” episode! I still can’t wrap my head around Milley’s astonishing serial ‘rogue-ness’ during the last days! People here on this blog might get offended by my assertion that it is undoubtedly Trump’s own FAULT . But I don’t care, I’ll just say it anyways.. Just take a look at all the scumbags that Trump BROUGHT to the administration from the get-go: Mattis, McMaster, Haley, Kelly, Bolton, Pence, Scaramucci, that damn Izzy-lover shitbag homeless-like Bannon who funneled $25m of wall funds into his own pocket instead of facilitating it for the building of the Wall, that loser Flynn who was the Russian-Israeli puppet inside the Trump admin, McGurk and Jeffries who pompously bragged last year how they repeatedly stopped Trump’s military withdrawal pledges, Israeli-firsters Ivanka and Jared and Pompeo. The only goods ones that I recall were Sarah Huckabee, Michael Anton (who got dismissed fast in the first months), Sec Def. Miller, Col. McGregor Robert O’Brian, Pete Berkowitz and Peter Navarro.

    And btw, how convenient it is for this ‘revelation’ to come out just when the military has been taking so much crap because Biden and co. despise it so much for their own ideological reasons and want cut it off from any foreign policy discussion? I mean how can not people see this as another intentional and carefully planned attack against the brass? What’s the score now? 3-0 for IC/State Dep. against the military and apparently counting…more to come, just mark my words. What else could/would one expect from the only major holdover from the Trump admin to the Biden’s who apparently ran his own ‘secret’ agenda with close Democratic Party coordination and ‘allegedly’ ignored his constitutional duties on such massive scale?

    But again it’s all Trump’s fault. He should have picked better people to serve the admin than the scumbags above. Tucker, Gingrich, Victor David Hanson, Rand Paul, Mike Lee, Michael Scheuer, DeSantis (back in ’16) are among people who could have served the Trump admin well, of course only if Senate would have confirmed them if first place.

    • JerseyJeffersonian says:

      I think you got a bit of a clue in your last paragraph. Getting the Senate to approve reasonable people (first getting past the relevant Senate committees!) is much of the battle, and when the Senators are completely globalist/corporatist as they are, good luck with that; the only people who they might actually confirm are people similarly-minded; i.e., Swamp Dwellers.

      Now, President Trump, may have thought by analogy with his prerogatives as the head executive in business, that he could tell these appointees what he wanted done, and they would do it, but that was never going to happen with this crew.

      Trump had functionally no friends in the Senate, and after the Fabian tactics of the House Republican leadership, none in the House. Add to this the entrenched resistance of the bureaucracies in most of the Cabinet Departments, the active subversion issuing from the Intelligence/Law Enforcement community (from before he even won the election), and the functionally wall-to-wall hostility from the MSM, and the initially more covert hostility from social media.

      Absent a free hand to choose his top tier people, what could you expect with all of the above forces arrayed against his ability to formulate and execute his own policy agenda? Any efforts on his part to buy a little space were met with only more aggression. Russia, Russia, Russia, two impeachment attempts, and all of the rest.

      No, he was not my ideal, but he never had a chance in his first term, and they sure as hell were not going to let his re-election happen, so they engineered all manner of election fraud to guarantee that.

      What is at issue here is that the military chose to flout his orders in Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan. Any argument on that score is silly.

      • Polish Janitor says:

        Based on your logic, Trump was fought every second of every day from day one and could not implement his agenda. I agree. It is true no doubt about it. But this also unloads the heavy burden of responsibility from his shoulders, which is exactly my problem with him. If you’re alone in your effort and there are very few people who are willing/capable of helping you among the elites/bureaucrats/intellectuals/Congress then the only option was to turn to people who elected him and to get them IN your agenda as a counter weight to the deep state resistance. No doubt that it would have been a hard task but since the Dems will make damn sure that nobody would ever dare to pull of another Trump 2016 shocker again in the future, it means that tyranny will last for a foreseeable future; it means that Trump was the last one who tried to do something about American Marxism. Instead of doing the right thing, Trump caved time and time again and now he seems more comfortable giving shout out to the crazy cultist Unification Church ‘Moonies’ and playing golf than leading the movement he himself started back in 2015. The house always wins, Trump knows this. He is populist and many understood this, but those who voted for him did so because it was better than any Dem creep. Remember early on when asked by Judy Woodruff on PBS, that sleaze ball Chuck Schumer made it clear to Trump and his supporters that “the IC had six ways from Sunday at getting back at you”.

    • Deap says:

      The deep state Democrats politics of personal destruction going full court press with the media made it surprising Trump was able to hire anyone to serve in his early cabinet.

      I regret he did not get a second term as he had clearly learned the rope in the DC Cesspit and others were more willing to now get on his team. Context is everything in the early days of this Surprise #45 President of the United States.

    • Condottierr says:

      Trump had an unorthodox approach to destroying people and purging them from public office. He appointed them to his circle. He kept his enemies closest. Accepting an appointment from Trump was like being kissed off in a Italian Restaurant. He cleaned up the GOP by appointing the cancer just so he could drum them out. Rense Priebus who? Who was Jeff Sessions again?

  17. TTG says:

    Certainly doesn’t like like a lone general was running a coup. If anything it was almost the entire Executive Branch running a coup against a sitting president and a small handful of his trusted aides. Back in October, Esper directed his policy office to issue a backchannel message to the Chinese to reassure them the US had no intention of seeking a military confrontation. Miley spoke with his counterpart after that. The videoconference wasn’t so much secret as classified. “There were 15 people on the video teleconference calls, including a representative of the State Dept and the read out and notes from Milley’s two calls with his Chinese counterpart were shared with the IC and the Interagency.” In addition to this call and the one after 6 January, Milley had more than a dozen calls with NATO allies to reassure them the USG was stable.

    Trump actually did issue a signed memo to his new SecDef Miller on 11 November directing the DoD to remove all US military forces from Somalia by 31 December 2020 and all forces from Afghanistan by 15 January 2021. No one in the White House including NSA O’Brien, WH Counsel Cipollone or anyone in the office e of the Staff Secretary, who normally vets all presidential correspondence knew anything about it. Miller, Milley and O’Brien immediately met with Trump and convinced him to rescind the memo. If Trump wasn’t such an ineffective and wishy-washy leader, the DoD would have had no choice but to pull out of Somalia and Afghanistan in January. To do otherwise would have been an honest to goodness coup. Unlike Trump, Biden said 31 August and no one swayed him to alter that date. Lord knows they tried.

    • Pat Lang says:

      “If Trump wasn’t such an ineffective and wishy-washy leader,” Yes he took their advice, something that Biden did not do with regard to Afghanistan.

  18. J says:


    OSD Miller is calling Milley a liar, and calls for Milley’s resignation.


  19. Herb Ely says:

    Could Milley have been thinking of Able Archer 83 when the Soviet’s expecting a pre-emptive US attack took this exercise as a final indicator.? https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Able_Archer_83

    • Pat Lang says:

      Herb Ely

      So he took it upon himself to run a separate foreign policy. When you do that the result is what Milley is experiencing.

    • David Habakkuk says:

      Herb Ely,

      Although I very much doubt whether General Milley was thinking of ‘Able Archer’ in the sense you suggest, the question you raise as to whether it may have been of relevance to his thinking is important.

      That affair was actually a rather vivid illustration of the ‘escalatory dynamics’ which are liable to be inherent in radical mutual misinterpretation. In relation to the Cold War, a classic description of these was given in the long dispatch entitled ‘The Soviet Union and the Atlantic Pact’ which George Kennan sent back to Washington from Moscow in on 8 September 1952, when he was briefly ambassador there during the last days of Stalin’s rule.

      (See https://nsarchive2.gwu.edu/NSAEBB/NSAEBB14/doc1.htm .)

      As the ‘Wikipedia’ piece to which you link brings out, the evidence about ‘Able Archer’ remains contradictory and confused – quite how seriously the top civilian and military leadership in the Soviet Union took the possibility that the exercise could herald a ‘bolt from the blue’ strike remains unclear.

      And it does not help here that the article’s authors seem to share a common problem in failing to make distinctions between developing capabilities, and plans, which would enable one to do something, and actually having a definite intention to do it.

      The counterpart of that, obviously, is the distinction between the being alarmed about an adversary’s contingency planning because one anticipates that a deliberate attack may be attempted, and being concerned because of a whole host of other reasons why an adversary’s capabilities may be used to one’s disadvantage, short of deliberate attack.

      That said, a key point Kennan had stressed more than thirty years earlier, when he talked about a ‘cosmic misunderstanding’ which he suggested had grown up between the Cold War antagonists about the military dimensions of each other’s strategies, was extremely relevant to ‘Able Archer.’

      If military preparations that you yourself may quite genuinely see as defensive are presented and justified in terms of the attribution to an adversary of intentions that he does not actually have, that adversary will be liable to ask himself whether defensive protestations are a disingenuous cover for offensive intent. At that point, a kind of ‘blind man’s buff’ element may add to the ‘escalatory’ potentials.

      Also – and here I am going beyond Kennan – one comes back to a problem which had confounded Stalin in 1941. It can be genuinely difficult to judge whether an adversary’s preparations for war reflect a settled intention to attack one, an attempt at intimidation, or simply just prudent contingency planning, but the appropriate response may be diametrically opposed, depending on which conclusion one reaches.

      At that time (in common with ‘mainstream’ British opinion, until very late in the day) Stalin discounted the possibility that the German military build-up in the East reflected a settled intention to attack on Hitler’s part. In an effort to minimise the dangers of ‘escalatory’ processes running out of control, he ended up leaving the Red Army totally exposed to a ‘bolt from the blue’ attack.

      The attitudes and views of the ‘gerontocracy’ which was still in charge of the Soviet Union in 1983 still very much reflected the catastrophes which resulted from this failure.

      That Western intelligence was largely unaware of their perceptions is actually a devastating indictment. It is the job of intelligence to obtain as clear an idea as possible of what people actually do think – not what they would think, if they were perfectly ‘rational’, still less how they could be expected to interpret one’s actions, if they shared one’s exalted view of oneself.

      It is of course possible that recent American policy has reduced General Liu Zuocheng to the same state of uncertainty to which that of the Reagan Administration clearly reduced many in the Soviet Union in 1983. However, for a whole range of reasons, this does not seem very likely.

      For one thing, the claims by General Milley, recycled through Woodward and Acosta, rest on a view of Donald Trump which looks like a clear attempt to inflate some genuine concerns about that figure utterly out of proportion, to generate an impression of an almost ‘Hitlerian’ willingness to risk apocalyptic conflict.

      We know that quite rational people had been afraid – and I think with good reason – that Trump might do something rash in Syria, disregarding some of the ‘escalatory’ possibilities involved. It might also have been reasonable to fear he might to something similar in relation to Iran – in the case of both countries, he was under very serious pressure.

      Moreover, in the ‘bear with a sore head’ mood in which he clearly was following the election, there were grounds for thinking that Trump’s judgement might not have been at its best.

      The notion that there was any risk whatsoever of Trump unleashing a kind of nuclear ‘Operation Barbarossa’ on China, off the cuff, during the closing weeks of his Presidency is such obvious BS that, frankly, nobody with ‘half a brain’ is going to believe it. The question with Woodward and Acosta, accordingly, is whether they haven’t even got ‘half a brain’, or whether they are deliberately lying. (Possible answer: both.)

      As to the suggestion that the intelligence available to Milley suggested that many in the Chinese government were in a state of mind similar to that of many in the Soviet one back in 1983, and that this was in substantial measure a result of military exercises in the South China Sea, there are a number of obvious differences between 2020 and 1983.

      A key point about ‘Able Archer’ is that it involved an attempt at a realistic rehearsal of both the military and political levels of preparation for nuclear war. I have not heard any suggestions that anything was involved in the military exercises in the South China which could have caused General Zuocheng the kind of alarm about the near-term future which events in 1983 clearly caused in the Soviet leadership.

      However, if they did, it would appear that a far greater share of responsibility for recklessly risking a new ‘Able Archer’ situation would rest with General Milley than President Trump.

      That the Chinese are preparing very seriously for a possible military confrontation with the United States is amply clear. A quick Google search for ‘Lyle J. Goldstein’, founder of the China Maritime Studies Institute at the Naval War College, will bring out how carefully their strategists have been studying not simply Soviet experience with planning for possible conflict with the U.S. Navy, but also actual Japanese experience in the Second World War.

      (See for example, https://nationalinterest.org/blog/reboot/china-keeps-studying-one-world-war-ii-battle-sinister-reason-185481 )

      Clearly, a lot of thought will be going into contingency planning for ‘escalatory scenarios’, which will indeed involve some problems parallel to those both sides faced in the original Cold War. Indeed, a particularly interesting point of the discussions on which Goldstein has been reporting, regularly, has to do with questions which Chinese analysts are asking about how the Japanese might have fought the United States more effectively.

      A short answer appears to be that, had they avoided enraging Americans, as the Pearl Harbor attack was bound to do, and also been less imprisoned in the ‘cult of the offensive’ than they were, and more prepared to use ‘attritional’ strategies, the vast imbalance of military-industrial potential in favour of the United States might have been far less of a problem.

      That how to ‘finesse’ the tension between, on the one hand, avoiding acceptance of the loss of positions they regard as crucial, and also minimising the risks of escalation, is critical to Chinese thinking as much as Russian, and the two are ‘cross-fertilising’ seems clear. In the case of China, a key ‘red line’ is clearly a permanent consolidation of Taiwan as an independent state aligned with the West, just as the incorporation of the whole of Ukraine, including Crimea and Sevastopol, has been for Russia.

      Such a situation obviously reinforces the priority of having intelligence capabilities in place that, should conflicts escalate, would make it easier to make a rational decision as to whether the adversary might or might not resort to a ‘surprise attack.’ It is equally natural that they should attempt to develop contingency plans for what to do should ‘escalation’ produce extreme scenarios and impossible choices – as happened in 1914.

      In this situation, the Chinese have been doing precisely what I – as an old-style ‘Perfidious Albionian’ – would do in their place., They have been exploiting the obsessive ‘Russophobia’ of most in contemporary American, and British ‘élites’ – step forward, ‘TTG’ – to secure a ‘breathing space.’ And they have also used this to maximise their opportunities for ‘HUMINT’ and ‘SIGINT’, as well as ‘buying influence’ in the United States.

      At the same time, Chinese ‘military intellectuals’ have clearly been engaged in intellectually serious ‘OSINT’ research, trying to compensate for their lack of combat experience, of which they are clearly very conscious, by careful and rigorous study both of their potential adversary, the United States. and the most effective ways of combating it.

      All this makes the notion that General Zuocheng ever seriously contemplated the possibility that extreme scenarios might emerge, as a result of a ‘bolt from the blue’ initiated by Trump, seem even more implausible to me than it might otherwise be.

      As to the intelligence Milley was supposedly provided, one would very much like to know more about what the Defense Intelligence Agency have been producing. It obviously relevant that, in recent years, its record has been rather materially better than that of the CIA. However, as the experience of Lieutenant-General Flynn demonstrates, pressures can be brought to bear – and also, analyses can be tendentiously represented.

      A likely explanation, I fear, is that again we are dealing with ‘escalatory dynamics’, which are common not only in conflicts between nations but in ones inside them.

      The ‘Plot Against the President’, to use Lee Smith’s phrase, clearly goes back a long time, and has resulted in situations running out of control. I think it is fair to say that there is – ample – evidence that General Milley, like so many others, has preferred the subversion of the Constitution to the election of a candidate who they regarded as ‘anathema’, for all kinds of reasons.

      Accordingly, the only realistic strategy for such people has come to be to produce disinformation designed to demonstrate that Trump was such a dangerous figure that, on this occasion, there was no moral alternative to such subversion.

      The ‘escalatory potentials’ involved in portraying the United States in 2020 as though it was Germany in 1938 seem to me rather obvious.

      • Deap says:

        I was worried Obama would do something rash after drawing his macho-man red line in Syria, with John Kerry was threatening “tiny strategic nuclear strikes” if Obama’s redline was crossed.

        Thank goodness, Putin intervened and saved Obama’s bacon from his threatened global nuclear winter over some ratty desert land.

        Who was verifiably more dangerous with his finger on the red button? Obama or Trump.

  20. Mishkilji says:

    More Nothing Burger follows:

    “He also summoned senior officers at the National Military Command Center to review the procedures for launching nuclear weapons, saying the president alone could give the order — but, crucially, that he, Milley, also had to be involved.”

    CJCS is by law the chief military advisor to the President and SECDEF.

    Milley had to be “involved”.

    Following the law is now a coup?

    • Pat Lang says:

      That is not following the law. Following the law is giving SECDEF and POTUS advice not permission.

      • Mishkilji says:

        The paragragh you cited in the origanal post indicated Milley said he must be “involved”. I do not see the word Permission mentioned. Milley reminded the 4-stars of his legal obligations, which was appropriate given the unstaffed directives coming out of the White House.

        • Pat Lang says:


          You know very well that the implication of this action on his part was to intimidate these people into not accepting Trump’s orders without Milley’s agreement.

          • Mishkilji says:

            Why would these Combattant Commanders be intimidated by Milley?

            Their chain of command runs to SECDEF and then POTUS. Milley can’t fire them.

            Milley is first among equals. His power is derivitive and comes from being advisor to POTUS (by law). Given the POTUS-CJCS relationship at the time that power was diminished.

            If anything, the 4-stars looked at Milley and wondered “how much longer will he be Chairman?”

          • Pat Lang says:


            Spent much time in the tank?

        • Deap says:

          Does this give Milley a de facto veto power, if he chooses not to show up and offer advice to POTUS.

          If he is required under law simply to show up, why did he need to remind his senior staff about his own legal obligations. It is not their obligation. Their only obligation is to also honor the chain of command, not introduce their own veto power on it too.

          Or maybe now have a Gaia consensus operation in the US military – lets all hold hands in a circle, turn the lights down and divine our next step after mutual chanting?

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