Mark Milley gives brief on Afghanistan, 2021

Mark Milley and the Coming Civil-Military Crisis

Gen. Mark Milley apparently thinks Ukraine should negotiate with its Russian aggressors and the U.S. should shift its policy toward Kyiv. That’s the upshot of a New York Times piece, published last week, about remarks the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff made at the Economic Club of New York. Such views aren’t merely strategically irrational. They also demonstrate the risks of elevating general officers to positions of political prominence. As partisanship continues to plague American politics, we need a new chairman to repair the military’s fractious relationship with civilian authorities.

The airing of Gen. Milley’s comments isn’t surprising. Since the war began, there have been leaks about intra-White House disputes, particularly over whether to provide Ukraine with long-range weapons. Though Gen. Milley may not have shared all those sentiments, it also shouldn’t be surprising that he is fearful of—and vocal about—escalated conflict with Russia.

Gen. Milley, who became chairman of the Joint Chiefs in October 2019, has a track record of political activity. In September 2021, he admitted that he sought to assure his Chinese counterparts in late 2020 that there was no possibility of a Sino-American war. He took the same approach to Iran in 2020, apparently resisting then-President Trump’s desire to strike the regime in the final months of his term. Never mind that such wartime decisions are the sole constitutional authority of the commander-in-chief, not senior military officials.

Understanding the folly of his current position requires identifying what negotiation might mean. It isn’t clear what Gen. Milley believes should be offered, but the Times’s quote offers some color. The Ukrainians have “achieved . . . as much as they could reasonably expect . . . before winter sets in,” Gen Milley said. “They should try to cement their gains at the bargaining table.”

 This suggests the current territorial balance is a reasonable starting point for negotiations. But that contention is absurd. By retaking the right-bank Kherson region, Ukraine has regained some control over the North Crimea Canal and another major port. But even with such gains, Russia would still be able to regulate Ukrainian trade if the Dnieper divides the two in the south. Russia would keep Ukraine’s most lucrative export locations in the Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions and establish a commanding position in the Black Sea, securing its long-term ability to pressure the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s eastern flanks. There is no logic in Ukraine’s negotiating before it recaptures at least the Kherson region, thereby providing Kyiv with a minimally viable economic export route in the long term.

Read the rest at WSJ.

Mr. Cropsey is founder and president of the Yorktown Institute. He served as a naval officer and as deputy undersecretary of the Navy and is author of “Mayday” and “Seablindness.”

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