Gen. Mark Milley Concludes Controversial Tenure As Chairman of Joint Chiefs


Every morning, the staff of Gen. Mark Milley curate transcripts from Fox News’ prime-time shows as part of a vigilant routine looking for mentions of their boss. These snippets often enter the plethora of media information that Milley navigates daily, from leading newspapers to tweets from obscure accounts.

This practice can be seen as a pragmatic response to certain Fox anchors such as Sean Hannity who routinely criticize Milley, something he became accustomed to during the Trump administration. Yet, it also offers an insight into Milley’s role as the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the president’s top military adviser, one that has often been tied to politics.

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Since his appointment by then-President Donald Trump in 2018, Milley has been constantly aware of the political implications surrounding the military, including the criticism alleging the pursuit of personal legacy. This week as he readies to leave his office, opinions remain divided on whether Milley was one of the most politically agile chairmen in recent history or among the most controversial.

Notwithstanding the debate, one thing remains clear, Milley has demonstrated exceptional skill at navigating the complex web of bureaucratic politics in Washington, DC, rejective of any affiliations that categorized him as a political operator. Through the Trump era and into the current Biden administration, Milley helped guide the nation through the domestic political storm of 2020, the disordered exit from Afghanistan, and the intricate dance around the Ukrain war.

A few in the defense sector described him as a “muddy-boots general,” skillfully maintaining a disguise of apolitical conduct while effectually managing the political beast of Washington. His engagement with politics has been stressed by the unrelenting turbulence in recent times, enveloping significant developments like the controversies of the Trump years, sustaining a close working association with Biden, individually dealing with Ukraine, and a keen insight into war as an Ivy League war scholar.

Regardless of these challenges, Milley has found himself in the spotlight for his attention to detailed aspects of military conflict, understanding elements as specific as the number of artillery tubes Ukraine maintains at various locations. It’s this mastery over details that has sparked discussions inside the Pentagon about if this in-depth involvement has taken him away from the strategic thinking that the chairman’s role requires.

Further discussions surround Milley’s manner of handling the unparalleled calamities of the Trump era—the question is whether they were crucial one-offs needed to conserve democracy, or did he shatter norms and irreversibly meddle with the apolitical role of the chairman of joint chiefs.

Moving into the Biden administration, Milley faces continued accusations of promoting a “woke” military incapable of fighting wars, a charge he vehemently rejects. “This military is a lot of things, but woke, it’s not,” he responded to the allegations with zest.

Despite parting ways with the Biden administration on critical occasions, such as the chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan and negotiations over Ukraine, he remains a professional who respects the chain of command. Through all this, Gen. Mark Milley has remained a compelling figure, whether as the political general managing Washington’s chaos or the muddy-boots soldier ensconced in the gritty realism of war.

As Milley wraps up his era, he may be considering penning his experiences and insights into a book. But that’s a story for another day. For now, a different kind of tactical maneuvering awaits – one that invites a calculated dance between luck and strategy instead of political intrigue and military engagement.

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