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Senator Tom Cotton Grills Gen. Milley Why He Has Not Resigned

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OPINION: This article contains commentary which reflects the author's opinion


Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton had some tough questions for General Mark Milley on a day when he and Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, and General Kenneth McKenzie testified before the Senate.

And the most pressing of these questions, during the testimony on Tuesday, was why he has not resigned.

“I can only conclude that your advice about staying in Afghanistan was rejected,” the senator said to Gen. Milley “I’m shocked to learn that your advice wasn’t sought until August 25 on staying past the August 31 deadline. I understand that you’re the principal military advisor that you advise, you don’t decide, the President decides. But if all this is true, General Milley, why haven’t you resigned?”

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“Senator,” the general responded, “as a senior military officer, resigning is a really serious thing. It’s a political act if I’m resigning in protest. My job is to provide advice, my statutory responsibilities, provide legal advice, or best military advice to the President. And that’s my legal requirement. That’s what the law is.”

“The President doesn’t have to agree with that advice,” he said. “He doesn’t have to make those decisions just because we’re generals. And it would be an incredible act of political defiance for a commissioned officer to just resign because my advice is not taken.”

“This country doesn’t want generals figuring out what orders we’re going to accept and do or not, that’s not our job,” he said to the senator. “The principles of civilian control of the military is absolute. It’s critical to this republic, in addition to that, just from a personal standpoint, you know, my dad didn’t get a choice to resign, in Iwojima, and those kids there at Abbey Gate, they don’t get a choice to resign, and I’m not going to turn my back on them.”

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“I’m not going to resign, they can’t resign, so I’m not going to resign,” he said. “There’s no way. If the orders are illegal, we’re in a different place. But if the orders are legal from civilian authority, I intend to carry them out.”

The senator asked Gen. Milley what his recommendations to Biden were and when he made them.

The general said his   “assessment was back in the fall of ’20. And it remained consistent throughout.” And “that we should keep a steady state of 2,500. And it could bounce up to 3,500, maybe something like that, in order to move toward a negotiated gated solution.”

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“Did you ever present that assessment personally to President Biden?” the senator said.

“I don’t discuss exactly what my conversations are with the sitting President in the Oval Office, but I can tell you what my personal opinion was and I am always candid,” the general said.

General McKenzie affirmed that Gen. Milley’s assessment was also his assessment.

But Cotton wanted to know if and when these assessments were shared with Biden because “in an interview with George Stephanopoulos” in August, Biden “said that no military leader advised him to leave a small troop presence in Afghanistan. Is that true?” Cotton said. “Is that true or not?”

“Did these… recommendations get to the president personally?” the senator said.

“Their input was, was received by the president and considered by the President,” Austin said to the senator, “for sure. In terms of what they specifically recommended, Senator, they just as they just said, they’re not going to provide what they recommended in confidence.”

“I mean, it sounds to me, this is it’s shocking to me, it’s not to me like maybe their best military advice was never presented personally to the President of the United States about such a highly consequential matter. Let me move on to another recommendation they reported to have made.” The senator said. “General Milley, Joe Biden has said that it was unanimous recommendation of the Joint Chiefs that we not maintain a military presence beyond August 31. We’ve heard testimony that effect today as well. When was that unanimous recommendation sought and presented to the President?”

“You turn about the 31 August? So we’re getting on 25. August, I was asked to make an assessment provide best military advice—” Milley said. “On August 25, I was asked to provide best military assessment is whether we should keep military forces past the 31st.”

“Secretary Austin, was anybody asked before August 25 if we should keep troops at the Kabul airport?” Cotton pressed.

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“This is the president tasked us to provide an assessment on whether or not we should extend our presence beyond August 31,” Austin responded “And as General Milley just said, that assessment was was made, we tasked him to make that assessment on the 25th. And he came back and provided his best military advice.”

“Kabul fell on August 15,” the senator said. “It was clear that we had thousands of Americans— clear to members of this committee. We’re getting phone calls that we had thousands of Americans in Afghanistan behind Taliban lines on August 15. And it took 10 days to ask these general officers. If we should extend our presence? I suspect the answer might be a little different. If you’re asking them 16 days out, not five days out.”

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