The top military man faced a grilling — and survived
Points on the board for Mark Milley.
Flanked by Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and U.S. Central Command Commander Frank McKenzie, Milley participated in a long-awaited Senate hearing on the Afghanistan collapse and the general’s slapdash communications with Beijing in the smouldering final hours of the Trump administration.
Going into the hearing, Milley had built himself quite the reputation. From offending Black Lives Matter protesters and Donald Trump, to dubious consultations with China and assailing “white rage” as a top American threat, the current U.S. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff — Washington’s top military man aside from the president — finally had a good day on Tuesday. Add to that heavy criticisms of the general and military brass more generally from top American conservatives, it looked like it was going to be a tough day for Milley.
The general will not resign, as swashbuckling populist Sen. Josh Hawley and others have called for. President Biden has tangled with the “E-Ring” (where American war is made) before, most notably as vice president. If he was going to take Milley down, it likely would have been before he was allowed to represent his new administration in Congress.
So, Milley is not going anywhere soon.
He survived accusations of incompetence over American withdrawal from Afghanistan and paid no price for speaking to Washington Post scribe Bob Woodward. If speaking to Bob Woodward is a career-killer in Washington, someone’s changed the whole game.
Less successful was the appearance of the least famous official of the trio: Gen. McKenzie, head of “CENTCOM”, which has been the nerve centre of the U.S. crusade in the Middle East and Central Asia these last twenty years. From moments of apparent triumph (the deposition of Saddam Hussein and slaying of Osama bin Laden) to the greatest failures (Bin Laden’s initial escapes, and the Taliban comeback last August), CENTCOM played a crucial role in all these military operations.
Of the three, McKenzie showed himself to be the most “made man,” as is said in Mafia, just by the U.S. defence establishment.
The war on terror is not over, said the good general, and neither is the war in Afghanistan. That’s news to the supermajorities of Americans — Democrat, Republican and independent — who say neither Afghanistan, nor Iraq, was worth it. And that’s news to the Afghans who now live under Taliban rule, as they did to two decades ago back. McKenzie was a Trump appointee to the post, as was Milley, and both now firmly reject the mantra of their old boss.
For now, it is Biden who has inherited Trump’s war with the “deep state”.