What Milley Got Right—and Wrong


Two days after the Jan. 6 Capitol assault, Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, placed an urgent call “on a top secret, back-channel line,” to his Chinese counterpart, Gen. Li Zuocheng. This is from Bob Woodward and Robert Costa’s new book, “Peril.” Gen. Milley believed Gen. Li and others in the Chinese leadership had been rattled by what had just happened in America. Gen. Li asked Gen. Milley if the U.S. was politically collapsing. No, Gen. Milley said: “We are 100% steady,” but democracy can seem “sloppy sometimes.”

It wasn’t their first such conversation. Four days before the 2020 election, according to Messrs. Woodward and Costa, Gen. Milley had called Gen. Li after U.S. intelligence reported the Chinese were on high alert and feared that President Trump, desperate to win, might create a military crisis and present himself as its hero. “We are not going to attack or conduct any kinetic operations against you,” Gen. Milley assured his counterpart. “If we’re going to attack, I’m going to call you ahead of time.” Gen. Li, who’d known Gen. Milley for five years, said he’d take the American at his word.



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