In an impassioned and at time furious speech, departing Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Mark Milley defiantly proclaimed that the US military does not swear an oath to a “wannabe dictator.”
It was a bitter and pointed swipe that appeared unmistakably targeted at former President Donald Trump, who has in recent days accused Milley of “treason” and suggested that he should be put to death for his conduct surrounding Trump’s bid in 2021 to remain in office despite losing the presidential election.
“We are unique among the world’s militaries,” Milley said. “We don’t take an oath to a country, we don’t take an oath to a tribe, we don’t take an oath to a religion. We don’t take an oath to a king, or a queen, or a tyrant or a dictator.”
“And we don’t take an oath to a wannabe dictator,” he spat. “We take an oath to the Constitution and we take an oath to the idea that is America – and we’re willing to die to protect it.”
Although he was appointed by Trump in 2018, Milley has in many ways been shadow-boxing with the former president since the summer of 2020, when Milley appeared briefly alongside Trump as he walked to a church outside of Lafayette Square for a photo op during the George Floyd protests. Milley, who was in uniform, later apologized publicly for “creat[ing] a perception of the military involved in domestic politics.” The apology outraged Trump.
There were other times that Milley’s comments were directly at odds with the former president. In summer 2020, he backed the effort to rename Army bases named for Confederate generals and testified before Congress that Confederate leaders had committed “treason.”
Milley also took a number of extraordinary actions surrounding the January 6, 2021, attack on the US Capitol to safeguard against what he feared were Trump’s more outlandish instincts, as well as the general chaos of the moment.
Two days after the attack on the Capitol, Milley – concerned that Trump “had gone into a serious mental decline” and might “go rogue” – instructed senior operations officers from the National Military Command Center not to take orders from anyone unless he was involved, according to Bob Woodward and Robert Costa’s book, “Peril.”
Milley also made a now-controversial phone call in the days following the attack intended to reassure Beijing that the United States was stable and that it was not considering a military strike on China. Trump and his allies have since sought to portray that call, which was made in coordination with Trump administration officials at the Pentagon, as Milley conspiring to aid the Chinese in the event of conflict.