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Gen. Milley is Stepping Down. Will His Replacement Be Even More “Woke”?

General Mark Milley, the outspoken Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, will be stepping down this fall amid rising strategic challenges facing the United States.

Appointed chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff by President Donald Trump, Milley will be retiring at the age of 65 after a distinguished, but controversial tenure as the nation’s highest-ranking member of the U.S. armed forces.

His leadership position is likely to be filled by Gen. Charles Q. Brown Jr., the Air Force Chief of Staff, or Gen. David Berger, the commandant of the Marine Corps. Milley’s successor will face near-unprecedented strategic challenges in the post-Cold War world, which is witnessing the rise of 5G (5th-generation) warfare driven by rapid technological advances.

America is entering a period of decline as a global hegemon. Chinese aggression is posing a serious threat to U.S. allies like Taiwan, Japan, and South Korea in the Pacific theater.

Meanwhile, the Biden administration is waging a de facto, undeclared proxy war in Ukraine to push back against Russian aggression. The U.S. is spearheading the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) effort to provide military and economic aid to Ukraine, a former Soviet republic that is not a member of NATO.

Milley, meanwhile, has pressed for the Biden administration to lobby for peace between Russia and Ukraine, as a December article in the New York Times reported.

It is far from the only controversial position that has marked Milley’s tenure. The four-star general held unauthorized phone calls with his Chinese counterpart general Li Zuocheng both prior to and after the tumultuous 2020 election. The first of the unauthorized phone calls, made four days prior to the 2020 election, indicated that Milley would give advance warning to China in the event of a military attack.

The episode was detailed in the book “Peril” by Washington Post editor Bob Woodward and national political reporter Robert Costa.

“General Li, I want to assure you that the American government is stable and everything is going to be okay,” Milley told General Li. “We are not going to attack or conduct any kinetic operations against you.”

“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,” Milley added.

The second call followed the Capitol riots surrounding the contested Electoral College proceedings at the U.S. Congress on January 6.

“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’.”

“Li remained rattled, and Milley, who did not relay the conversation to Trump, according to the book, understood why,” the Post added. “The chairman, 62 at the time and chosen by Trump in 2018, believed the president had suffered a mental decline after the election, the authors write, a view he communicated to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) in a phone call on Jan. 8. He agreed with her evaluation that Trump was unstable, according to a call transcript obtained by the authors.”

U.S. lawmakers even demanded that the Pentagon open an Article 15-6 investigation into the actions of Chairman Milley for reported conduct suggesting that he might have allegedly committed high treason.

Milley did not give in among calls to step down, however, and will have seemingly weathered the storm as the nation’s top general. Milley has also presided over U.S. armed forces that have bled prospective recruits and re-enlistments in part due to complaints about rampant “political correctness” in the ranks, earning him the epithet as as “Woke” general.

In one famous exchange before Congress, Milley pushed back against accusations that he was turning the military “Woke.”

“I’ve read Mao Zedong, I’ve read Karl Marx. I’ve read Lenin. That doesn’t make me a communist,” Milley continued. “So what is wrong with some situational understanding of the country for which we are personally here to defend?”

“And I personally find it offensive that we are accusing the U.S. military, our general officers, our commissioned or non-commissioned officers of being, quote, woke or something else because we’re studying the same theories that are out there.”

The general then endorsed the notion that military leaders learn critical race theory and other left-wing concepts like “white rage.”

“I want to understand white rage – and I’m white,” Milley said. “What is it that caused thousands of people to assault this building and try to overturn the Constitution of the United States of America? What caused that? I want to find that out. I want to maintain an open mind here. And I do want to understand that.”

“It’s important that leaders now and in the future do understand it.”

Beyond the partisan framework adopted by Milley, there is little to suggest that the extremist mob that carried out a siege at the U.S. capitol on January 6 was motivated by racist sentiment.

Milley’s replacement will thus also have to deal with a military recruiting effort that is lagging due to multiple prevailing headwinds. The Armed Forces has seen troops depart over the Covid-19 vaccine mandate, since rescinded by Congress, in what critics have referred to as a “purge” of conscientious objectors.

There is also concern that the U.S. military as a whole has become excessively politicized and has strayed from its core mission of defending the United States without partiality or prejudice against America’s citizens.

Milley, to be fair, had repeatedly warned of a “more aggressive” Chinese military in the South China Sea over the past five years. But Milley has pushed back against the view of the top brass in the People’s Liberation Army and the Chinese Communist Party that war with the U.S. is “inevitable.”

“My analysis of China is that at least their military and perhaps others have come to some sort of conclusion that war with the United States is inevitable,” he said in an April 2023 interview.

“I don’t believe war is inevitable,” he added. “I don’t think it’s imminent. But I do think that we need to be very, very pragmatic and cautious going forward and we will reduce the likelihood of war if we remain really, really strong relative to China and China knows that we have the will to use it if necessary.”

Meanwhile, the U.S. and its allies pivoted to begin laying the groundwork for a potential conflict in the Pacific at least as early as January. China has since been ratcheting up its military exercises in the Taiwan Strait.

The Biden foreign policy has also been unmitigated disaster. China has made substantial inroads into making trade deals in its currency the yuan with major powers, including Russia, Brazil, and Saudi Arabia. It is also bolstering its alternative oil and gas trade, as well as its refining capacity. These are serious preparations for war that a major power might undertake.

French president Emmanuel Macron, fresh off a four-day state visit to meet with Chinese leader Xi Jinping, signaled potential neutrality should China invade Taiwan. Macron even expressed openness to moving away from the dollar as the global reserve currency. France is now making overtures to remake Europe into a “third superpower.”

Milley’s replacement as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff must be prepared to deal with a complex threat environment that is exacerbated by the shift from a global hegemonic position to a multipolar world.

Air Force Chief of Staff C.Q. Brown is an African-American general, but he would not be an “affirmative action” hire should the Biden administration nominate him for the position. Gen. Brown has an impressive resume and a track record of leadership, particularly in Pacific theater operations. Gen. David Berger has an exceptionally distinguished record of wartime leadership as Marine commandant, and he pioneered the revamping of the Marines with his Force Design 2030 “to prepare the Corps for high-tech warfare against China and other potential adversaries.”

“He has gotten rid of all the Marines’ tanks and more than half of their artillery batteries, while reducing the number of infantry and helicopter units,” Max Boot writes in the Washington Post. “He is investing in rocket artillery, drones, loitering munitions, electronic warfare, tactical missiles, a new amphibious assault ship and other cutting-edge capabilities. The centerpiece of his reforms is the creation of littoral combat regiments — the first one has just been stood up — that, in the event of war, are supposed to move around Pacific islands, performing reconnaissance missions and firing missiles at Chinese ships and aircraft.”

His vision for the Marines, however, was not without controversy. A number of retired generals took the unusual step of criticizing the sitting Marine commandant for the overhaul.

“Setting small groups of Marines on islands to wait for enemy ships to sail past is not innovation,” the retired top brass argued. “Cutting significant combat capabilities that may be needed in all theaters to afford questionable capabilities in one theater is not innovation.”

“The stakes in this gamble require not only serious study and war-gaming both within and without the Marine Corps, but they beg closer scrutiny by the combatant commanders, the Defense Department and Congress,” they added. “The national security ramifications of reducing the capabilities of our nation’s most ready, agile and flexible force are seismic.”

While it would have been easy to gainsay the retired generals’ editorial published one year ago as typical ex-officio clatter for increasing military resources, the global threat terrain now validates their warning as prescient.

The frontrunner, however, appears to be C.Q. Brown. Eminently qualified, Brown would additionally carry on Milley’s legacy as a “Woke” general. The Daily Caller News Foundation lays out the varied reasons.

“Prior to serving as Air Force chief of staff, Brown served as commander of U.S. Air Forces – Pacific, which would play a critical role in denying China air superiority in the event of a Taiwan contingency, Maximilian Bremer and Kelly Grieco wrote for War on the Rocks, a publication for scholars of geopolitics and military affairs,” DCNF notes. “He has clocked nearly 3,000 flying hours, of which 130 were in combat.”

“Brown also appeals to the administration’s DEI bent, Thomas Spoehr, director of the Heritage Foundation’s Center for National Defense, told the DCNF. His concerted messaging on racism in the military matches the White House’s agenda to combat racism and perceived barriers to inclusion and success for minorities,” the report continued.

“Shortly before being confirmed as chief of staff and in the midst of nationwide rioting and protests following George Floyd’s murder in 202o, Brown offered his thoughts in a video posted on social media,” the report added.

“I’m thinking about my Air Force career, where I was often the only African American in my squadron, or as a senior officer the only African American in the room,” he said, referencing the imbalance in the proportion of black senior officers in the Air Force compared to lower-level and enlisted. “I’m thinking about the pressure I felt to perform error-free, especially by supervisors I perceived had expected less of me as an African American.”

Since then, the Air Force has independently conducted deep-dive investigations into racial and gender discrimination in the Air Force, the report continued. In February 2022, DefenseOne reported that Brown led monthly “inclusion councils” where leaders “ask some really hard questions.”

Brown’s politically charged remarks did not hinder his bipartisan confirmation in the Senate. Nor would they be likely to impede him now, should he become nominated to become the next Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

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OPINION: This article contains commentary which reflects the author's opinion.