“No” is rarely the correct response to an order. During my eight years in the Air Force there were only two times when I flat out said “no” to an order. The first time I believed following the order could cause grave harm to people and undermine our national security. The second time I felt that the order was unlawful and obeying would disrupt an ongoing investigation.

Craig Wiesner

Craig Wiesner

In both cases, I relied on my faith in my training, the chain of command, the Uniform Code of Military Justice and my own judgement. In both cases that faith was eventually rewarded, though not without some negative consequences. 

I’ve been thinking about those two occasions as stories have emerged about the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Mark Milley, and decisions he made and actions he took during the last months of the Trump administration and early months of Biden’s.

I’ve gone from having been terribly disappointed with General Milley to having great respect and admiration. My disappointment was highest when Milley walked from the White House through the park where peaceful demonstrators had been violently dispersed in June of last year, so that President Trump could pose with a bible outside St. John’s Church. Milley quickly apologized for that walk, saying “I should not have been there. My presence in that moment and in that environment created a perception of the military involved in domestic politics.”

That was the start of Milley moving up the ranks, in my esteem. 

In a new book, “Peril,” many details have emerged about General Milley’s actions in the waning days of the Trump presidency, including calls he made to his counterpart in China, to assure him that there were no imminent plans for the United States to attack them. We now also know that General Milley received a written order from President Trump to remove all U.S. troops from Afghanistan by Jan. 15, just days before Biden would be inaugurated. With strong pushback from Milley and other advisers, Trump changed his mind. Biden, however, could not be dissuaded by Milley or other advisors from removing all troops in August.

As we like to say in the military, Milley “saluted smartly” and carried out the president’s orders.

Asked by a member of Congress why he didn’t resign when Biden didn’t take his advice, Milley gave an answer that I hope will be included in future training for all branches of the military. “As a senior military officer, resigning is a really serious thing. It’s a political act if I’m resigning in protest,” Milley began.

“My statutory responsibility is to provide legal advice, or at best military advice to the president, and that’s my legal requirement. That’s what the law is. The president doesn’t have to agree with that advice, he doesn’t have to make those decisions just because we’re generals, and it would be an incredible act of political defiance for a commissioned officer to just resign because my advice is not taken. This country doesn’t want generals figuring out what orders we’re going to accept and do or not. That’s not our job. The principle of civilian control of the military is absolute, it’s critical to this republic. In addition to that, just from a personal standpoint, my dad didn’t get a choice to resign at Iwo Jima. And those kids there at Abbey Gate, they don’t get a choice to resign, and I’m not going to turn my back on them,” Milley said, referring to the 13 U.S. service members killed at the Kabul airport.

“I’m not gonna resign — they can’t resign, so I’m not going to resign, there’s no way. If the orders are illegal, we’re in a different place, but if the orders are legal, from civilian authority, I intend to carry them out.” 

Over eight years of my life, I obeyed orders every single day, including baring my arm for mandatory vaccines, and millions of members of our military, active duty and reserve, do the same, no matter who sits in the White House. The founders came up with a pretty good balance of powers and this experiment in democracy continues to survive thanks in part to the likes of General Milley.

Duty, honor, country! 

Craig Wiesner is the co-owner of Reach And Teach, a book, toy and cultural gift shop on 25th Avenue in San Mateo.

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(14) comments

Ray Fowler

Craig

Your op-ed piece about General Milley entitled, “The very model of a modern American general,” is spot on… but not in the way you intended.

To all the vets on these pages, thanks for your service. Vets know that war is the most damaging and extreme measure… and no one wants to unnecessarily risk the country’s blood and treasure. There is an old saw that goes something like… the purpose of an army is to kill people and break things. Yes, that’s harsh, but it was true in the 1700s, 1800s and half of the 1900s. Then things changed. Our army starts being used in police actions and nation building… that is not the army’s purpose. President Eisenhower… someone who knew a lot about being a general… warned against the military-industrial complex. That creature has produced politicians in uniform; senior officers ready to swap a tunic for a three-piece upon retirement.

What is General Milley’s job? According to the JCS website, “The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff is the principal military adviser to the President, Secretary of Defense, and the National Security Council (NSC)” with “no executive authority to command combatant forces… “ General Milley said he is obligated to give legal advice to the president. No, he’s not. He is a military adviser. Although he went to school at Princeton and Columbia, he is not a lawyer.

Despite his protests that he cannot resign because resigning in protest would be a political act… he is a politician. He is the modern American general.

General Milley, as the president’s principal military adviser, advised President Trump against withdrawing from Afghanistan earlier this year. Trump listened. General Milley said he advised President Biden that the US should maintain a presence in Afghanistan. Apparently, Biden did not heed General Milley’s advice. At that point, General Milley has two choices: back the president or resign. But the modern general found a third option… even though the commander-in-chief said no military advisers told him to keep troops in Afghanistan, the modern general insists that he told the president that the US should maintain a presence in Afghanistan. However, General Milley would not give specifics about his conversation with the president. Back the president or resign… those are the choices. Painting the president into a corner should not be one of General Milley’s choices.

Of course, we cannot close a discussion about the modern American general without reminding him that he is warrior but not social justice warrior. It’s almost as if the joint chiefs are competing with each other to see who can be the most woke. That’s what politicians do. My advice to the adviser? Focus on readiness and combat effectiveness not CRT. The mission of our military is too important to the safety of all Americans to take valuable time and resources away from keeping our troops at the readiness levels we need to protect our nation. Let’s hope and pray we don’t have to send our country’s finest out to kill people and break things, but if we do… we only want one outcome.

craigwiesner

As is often the case when I read your comments there is much I agree with, much that gives me pause, and a recognition that though we may see things in different ways there's legitimacy in the viewpoints. Yes, the changes to our military missions do make things much less clear for our troops and leaders, especially in a "war zone" where you're also trying to do "nation building." And yes, senior officers like Gen. Milley are political. I disagree that the only two options were to follow Biden's direction on withdrawing all troops or resigning, but, I also think you're putting yourself in Milley's shoes and considering what you would have done which is totally appropriate. I'm totally with you on praying that we don't have to send our troops into harm's way to kill people and break things. If it looks like some future politician (or Biden) is trying to do that, and you and I can get on the same page in believing that such action is inappropriate, we the people can hopefully make it stop.

Ray Fowler

Craig

Thanks for your complimentary response. It's refreshing. Yes, there is a lot we can agree on re: today's military. My perspective is ground in personal experience. My assignment before assuming command of a Navy Reserve Tactical Support Center was delivering the Navy's leadership continuum curriculum to reserve naval officers in the Bay Area. The Navy expects its senior officers to give their best advice to their commanding officers. However, when that commanding officer chooses a different course of action, those senior officers are expected "salute smartly" and carry on. You support your boss... or leave. Leaving may take the form of going to a different command or leaving the service. Again, I'm no fan of Joe Biden, but he deserves unswerving loyalty from his advisers.

Thanks for ending your post on a positive note. Let's hope whoever is in the WH, we won't have to send our young men and women in harm's way.

craigwiesner

Gosh, now I'll have to start my comment threads with you with "Sir!" Were you at the Naval Postgraduate School? I was at DLI for four years.

Ray Fowler

"Sir" not required, but thanks anyway...

10 years active duty and 16 more as a reservist. I did complete the Aviation Safety Officer course at NPS, but picked up a master's elsewhere. Retired O-6.

When I commanded a tactical support center, my operators and techs were trained to mobilize with their gear to set up mission planning and briefing, real time tactical communications, post event debriefing and situation reporting... rinse and repeat... anywhere in the world. It was my greatest honor as a naval officer to lead them... it was also extremely humbling. They taught me the lesson... if you take care of the team, the team will take care of you.

Comment deleted.
Wilfred Fernandez Jr

Hey there Terence,

I see Gen. Milley as being used by the media in the same way they did Avenatti and Gov. Cuomo. For the sake of our Armed Forces, let's hope Gen. Milley does not have skeletons in his closet.

wlydecker

wrong about Trump bible photo op. Check this AP report: Media has a lot to answer for sloppy reporting.

Federal probe: Protest not broken up due to Trump photo op

https://apnews.com › article

Jun 9, 2021 — WASHINGTON (AP) — An internal government investigation has determined that the decision to forcibly clear racial justice protesters from an ...

Tafhdyd

wlydecker,

I couldn't check "this AP report" because your link and your one line from the AP report are incomplete but I know what you mean. According to the investigation, the Park Police were clearing the the area for the installation of fencing before the curfew in response to damage the two nights previous and there was no coordination between the two events. What is not wrong is the fact that Gen. Milley walked with Trump for the photo op when he shouldn't have, as he himself said, because it looks like the military being political.

Wilfred Fernandez Jr

Good day Tafhdyd,

Life has shown me there are few opportunities for ambitious people to get ahead based on job performance. I do not know about Gen. Milley's career achievements, but he is definitely a politician. I think he must have known how things would look before he made the walk with Trump.

COVID-19 and the Delta variant are nailing our hospitals and extra medical staff are now in Alaska. My hope is that deaths will remain low and we will develop herd immunity more quickly than otherwise. So far my family and friends are fine. I hope your wife is well and you are finding ways to get some respite.

craigwiesner

Fair point about the reason the crowd was dispersed. I will be more careful about where I place my commas so that there is no confusion about the facts. General Milley did, in fact, walk from the White House to the church with President Trump so that Trump could have that photo taken (fact). Milley wasn't aware that Trump planned that photo (fact). The mostly peaceful protesters (fact) were violently dispersed shortly before that walk (fact).

Tafhdyd

Mr. Wiesner,

Thank you for your perspective on General Milley, and thank you for your service in the Air Force. I also had similar feelings about him when he walked with Trump during his church photo op. My guess is that a couple of right wing Trump supporters will have their knickers in a knot and offer one of their usual negative replies to your comments.

Ray Fowler

Whoa, Tafhdyd! Why does someone who disagrees with someone on the left necessarily have to have "their knickers in a knot"? Can't they just disagree?

Oops... forgive my manners. Good morning... it's always good to see you weighing in on the topic du jour.

Tafhdyd

Ray,

Good morning also, (don't worry about the oops). No problem with disagreeing with the left or right. As you can see I only mentioned that "a couple" of them would have their knickers in a knot. As you know I don't like to use absolutes or total generalities. I was thinking of one in particular.

On to other news. How about that baseball season? Down to the last game of 162. The Dodger's won from 6 to 18 more games than the 5 other division winners and came in second.

Ray Fowler

What a great season... down to the last day... just one more thing that makes baseball great. I posted a week or so ago... Giants win division, Dodgers with the series. We'll see.

I know you're not always a fan of William Barr, but following the Donald promising governors where the "peaceful" protests got out of hand that the military was ready... the AG said (paraphrasing) that the military can be used in times of unrest, however, what was going on in the summer of 2020 was not one of those occasions.

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