Gen. Mark Milley has just been confirmed as the next chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the nation’s highest-ranking military official and the president’s most senior military adviser.
The deeply divided Senate approved his nomination with bipartisan support, 89-1. That means Milley will officially replace outgoing Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford, who will retire this fall.
There’s no denying that Milley has the credentials for the job. He’s a graduate of both Princeton and Columbia and for two decades was involved in some of the most intense fighting against terrorists and insurgents around the world. He served as a Green Beret — one of the Army’s most elite teams — deployed to Iraq and led US troops in Afghanistan.
Milley’s job will be immense. He will oversee America’s troops as they fight in Central Asia, the Middle East, Africa, and everywhere else across the globe. He will also have to provide clear military advice to a president who has never served in the armed forces and whose off-the-cuff remarks and gut-instinct approach to military action often make a tumultuous world even less stable.
Milley seems to have the trust of the president — for now, at least. The question is whether he can maintain that trust over time, especially if he has to repeatedly tell the president things he doesn’t want to hear.
Trump likes advisers out of the spotlight. Milley might step into it.
People who know Milley describe him as extremely bright and as someone who has no problem expounding at length about complex military issues.
Others note that Milley is a serious thinker who ponders all the risks of war. For example, the Washington Post reports that he pushed the Pentagon and others in the administration to understand the true costs of a large-scale fight with North Korea.
His outgoing nature also suggests he may be more willing to go on national television and explain the administration’s policies, something his predecessor didn’t always like to do.
But speaking openly and honestly may cause some strain with Trump, who prefers his staffers not to contradict him in public.
Milley has already done this, though. After Trump refused to fully condemn the actions of white nationalists in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017, Milley (and several other military leaders) publicly went further than the president: “The Army doesn’t tolerate racism, extremism, or hatred in our ranks,” Milley tweeted on August 16, 2017. “It’s against our Values and everything we’ve stood for since 1775.”
But if he continues to publicly defy the president as Trump’s top military officer, Milley may not survive too long in the administration.