White House

‘We are not going to be intimidated into making stupid decisions,’ Joint Chiefs pick says

At a confirmation hearing, senators expressed hope for steadiness and steeliness from the U.S. military’s top officer

Army Gen. Mark A. Milley, nominee for chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, arrives for his Senate Armed Services Committee confirmation hearing in Dirksen Building on Thursday, July 11, 2019. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Senate Armed Services members expressed hope Thursday for steadiness and steeliness from the U.S. military’s top officer, with the Pentagon beset by leadership chaos and the president reacting unconventionally to proliferating threats.

The occasion was a confirmation hearing for Gen. Mark Milley, the Army chief, who has been nominated to be the next chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

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Angus King called this “the second most important” job in the U.S. government. King asked Milley, as he asks every senior Pentagon nominee, if Milley is prepared to say, “Mr. President, you are wrong about this,” when necessary.

“The Oval Office is an intimidating place,” the Maine independent told Milley.

Milley replied that he is intimidated “by no one ever,” and he added that the leaders of the U.S. military have seen war and buried comrades and, as a result, “we are not going to be intimidated into making stupid decisions.”

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Asked by Hawaii Democrat Mazie K. Hirono what would cause him to resign from his post, Milley said he would step down rather than carry out an “illegal, unethical or immoral” order.

In another exchange with Hirono, Milley showed independence when he suggested, not for the first time, that he would not advocate restricting transgender people from joining the military if that was not a presidential order.

“If you meet the standards” of performing your job, he said, “it is my view you should be welcomed in.”

King and Hirono were among several senators, mostly Democrats, who worried aloud about a mercurial president facing mounting global perils at the same time that about a dozen of the top positions in the Defense Department are being run by people who have not been confirmed by the Senate.

Jack Reed of Rhode Island, the committee’s top Democrat, said he is concerned that the vacuum in leadership “can weaken civilian control of the military in the department.”

Reed said Trump “careens from one crisis to the next,” an implied reference to tensions with Iran, North Korea, Russia, China, terrorists and hackers. Reed expressed particular concern about the prospect of a war with Iran, which he said could divert resources from confronting Russia and China.

Reed fretted about an increased risk of “miscalculation and unintended consequences.”

Milley said the international order is under “the most stress since the end of the Cold War.”

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