As General Milley Retires, His Legacy Is Brinkmanship with Russia and China

Gen. Mark Milley retired on Friday as the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and handed over command to Air Force chief Gen. Charles Q. Brown. In 2019, Milley took up the post after being nominated by President Donald Trump. He oversaw massive escalations in the buildup for war with China, the Ukraine proxy war, and the current brinkmanship with Moscow during his four-year tenure.

Milley’s years as top general saw Washington and the Pentagon pour weapons into Kyiv and begin transforming Ukraine into a de facto NATO state, well before Russia launched its invasion in 2022. This process saw multiple joint military exercises held by US and Ukrainian forces as well as between the North Atlantic alliance and Ukrainian troops.

Throughout 2021, the US and Ukrainian militaries along with NATO participated in a series of war drills, many of which took place near Russia’s borders and in the Black Sea, the size of which rivaled any military exercises during the post-Cold War era. In November 2021, the US was flying bombers only about a dozen miles off Russia’s borders and simulating nuclear first strikes.

These were some of the policies being implemented by Milley and his colleagues – including Gen. Brown – in Eastern Europe in the months before Russian President Vladimir Putin invaded Ukraine. After helping to provoke the invasion, US military leadership seized upon the opportunity to back Kyiv in a bloody proxy war with the aim of “weakening” Russia and crippling its military. As a result of this policy, the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists now warns humanity has never been closer to outright nuclear war.

Despite the catastrophic risks, the policy has failed. As EUROCOM chief General Christopher Cavoli explained to Congress earlier this year, Russia’s navy and air force have taken negligible losses and its ground forces are “bigger today” than when the war began. The Pentagon is depleting its own weapons stocks to support Kyiv’s failing war effort, while Russia’s capacity to produce armor and ammo has outstripped the entire NATO alliance.

Ukraine has lost 20% of its country, the Kremlin gained more territory than Kyiv this year, and Ukrainian forces are estimated to have suffered tens of thousands of casualties during recent months.

Although Milley was calling for negotiations last fall, perhaps sensing that Kyiv had reached its peak in terms of battlefield successes, he was overruled by the likes of the ultra-hawkish Secretary of State Antony Blinken, America’s top diplomat, and National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan.

Milley did not threaten to resign in protest of a policy he reportedly made a “strong push” against, a policy he not only believed was wrongheaded, but that carries with it the ultimate risk of direct war between the United States and Russia.

Instead, when Kyiv launched its long-awaited and disastrous counteroffensive in June, Milley told CNN “the Ukrainians are very well prepared.” Before the doomed campaign began, Western military officials knew Ukraine’s troops were woefully ill-equipped and undertrained.

In May, a neo-Nazi militia tied with Ukrainian military intelligence launched a raid using NATO vehicles and weapons targeting civilians in Russia’s Belgorod region. In the aftermath, Milley bluntly explained “we have asked the Ukrainians not to use U.S.-supplied equipment for direct attacks into Russia… Why is that? Because we don’t want – this is a Ukrainian war. It is not a war between the United States and Russia. It’s not a war between NATO and Russia.”

Although, the White House is now preparing to send Ukraine ballistic missiles – with a range of nearly 200 miles – that can be used for attacks against Crimea and the Russian mainland. “In terms of their targeting decisions, it’s their decision, not ours,” Blinken said last month when asked if the US would green light Kyiv’s desires to hit targets deep inside Russia.

Again, Milley made no public protest after the administration declared the US will facilitate and support attacks on Russia which he previously stated could trigger World War III.

In recent months, the US has resorted to pouring cluster bombs and Abrams tanks armed with toxic depleted-uranium ammunition into what is now the most heavily mined country on the planet, demonstrating a lack of concern for the lives of Ukrainian civilians and soldiers.

But this is in keeping with Milley’s pronouncement last year that “what’s at stake here is much greater than Ukraine.”

Under Milley’s leadership, the US military drastically ramped up Barack Obama’s “pivot to Asia,” encircling China for a future war. In 2020, Trump’s war cabinet vastly expanded the US military footprint in Beijing’s near abroad by sending more warships and spy planes, conducting aerial surveillance flights, to the region and especially the South China Sea.

During the end of the Trump administration, Milley called his Chinese counterpart and assured him there was no imminent plan to launch an assault against China. US intelligence indicated Beijing believed the US was planning an attack “based on tensions over [Washington’s dual aircraft carrier] military exercises in the South China Sea, and deepened by Trump’s belligerent rhetoric toward China,” the Washington Post reported.

Milley later explained, “My task at that time was to de-escalate.” As with the Russia policies, however, since then Milley never put his post on the line to voice opposition to Washington’s trajectory in the Asia-Pacific, which appears to be leading to war between the United States and China. Instead, he led the charge in his position as the nation’s top military officer.

Last year, US spy planes flew 1,000 sorties in the South China Sea, in some instances, just over a dozen miles from the baseline of China’s mainland territorial waters. US aircraft carrier strike groups and amphibious alert groups made eight deployments to the region as well, with extended durations. The US also sent nuclear-powered attack submarines to the South China Sea 12 times.

Currently, Washington and its partners are “setting the theater” for an upcoming direct war with China. The US is securing additional bases near Taiwan and China and increasing U.S. military access in the Pacific island nations. The US has even committed billions in unprecedented military aid to Taipei, making war more likely.

Meanwhile, in Syria Milley championed Washington’s indefinite and illegal occupation over large swathes of the eastern parts of the war-torn country. The US controls a third of Syria including most of the nation’s oil and wheat resources as an ancillary to its economic war against Damascus. Roughly 900 US troops and an undisclosed number of contractors are embedded with the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces.

Ethnic tensions and violent clashes between Washington’s Kurdish proxy and the local Arab tribesmen may soon make the occupation untenable. As CENTCOM chief Gen. Michael “Erik” Kurilla has conceded, the American troops’ unwanted presence is also becoming more dangerous as there have been numerous close calls with Russian forces and aircraft as well as dozens of attacks by ostensibly Iranian-backed groups.

Nevertheless, Milley has not advocated for a withdrawal or even a reduction in troop levels, instead as he leaves his post another base is being built in the northern province of Raqqa.

Earlier this year, Milley told Congress US forces would begin “harshly” targeting members of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) in Syria, which could lead to a hot war with Iran. “We need to be targeting [the IRGC Quds Force], and targeting them very harshly over time, and that’s exactly what we plan on doing,” Milley declared.

After Trump kicked off 2020 with the brutal and illegal drone strike assassination at the Baghdad International Airport of Iranian General Qasem Soleimani, the Iraqi parliament demanded all US forces leave the country. The American troops were never removed, making Milley’s lofty rhetoric about what’s at stake with the rise of China and the Ukraine war dubious.

Washington’s wars in the post-9/11 era have killed 4.5 million people overseas and cost Americans trillions of dollars. Despite these realities, in August, Milley boasted “I can’t imagine that the United States would ever walk away from the Middle East. I think we’ll remain committed for many, many years and decades to come.”

In 2021, during the end of Washington’s withdrawal from Afghanistan – after the failed 20-year war and occupation which left about a quarter of a million people dead – a US drone strike on a home in Kabul slaughtered ten civilians, including seven children.

US officials claimed the strike targeted an ISIS-K suspect who was planning a terrorist attack. Instead, Zemari Ahmadi, an aid worker employed by a California-based NGO, along with nine members of his family were killed in the August 29 strike.

Almost immediately, evidence mounted that noncombatants had been murdered. But the administration and the military chose to promote it as a success as long as possible. Milley was emphatic, “the procedures were correctly followed and it was a righteous strike.”

Months later, Lt. Gen. Sami Said, the Air Force Inspector General, led a review which found the killings were not the result of any “misconduct or negligence” and there was no need to hold anyone involved accountable. At the time, Milley’s successor, Gen. Brown, was Chief of Staff of the Air Force.

Milley’s legacy is the completely broken foreign policy that has defined the new American century. The Wolfowitz doctrine will continue sputtering out as the multipolar world realities supplant unipolar moment fantasies. Washington can be expected to chaotically lash out at the so-called “revisionist powers,” Russia and China, until America is bankrupt or nuclear weapons are launched.

Milley never tried to save his countrymen or his military from this destruction, he could always be counted on to do what was best for his own selfish interests.

He will be celebrated by the corporate press every time he excoriates Trump as a “wannabe dictator” and talks up his oath to the Constitution, even if each war Milley was involved with was undeclared, unconstitutional, and illegal.

Next, he may find himself a comfortable seat on the board of Raytheon or Lockheed Martin. He may even make a presidential run. Regardless, history will be ruthless in its appraisal of the man who co-bylined an imperial agenda destined to culminate in a Third World War, condemning humanity to misery, poverty, death, and despair.

Connor Freeman is the assistant editor and a writer at the Libertarian Institute, primarily covering foreign policy. He is a co-host on the Conflicts of Interest podcast. His writing has been featured in media outlets such as, Counterpunch, and the Ron Paul Institute for Peace and Prosperity. He has also appeared on Liberty Weekly, Around the Empire, and Parallax Views. You can follow him on Twitter @FreemansMind96.