Mark Milley ‘s Last Battle?

By James Durso

The key to a successful military career is being able to recognize a threat, then take decisive action against it, but not in the case of Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Mark Milley.

After his recent performance on the Hill, you don’t want be in a foxhole with this guy.

General Milley recently testified to the House of Representatives on teaching Critical Race Theory (CRT) to service members. He was criticized by conservatives for weighing in on cultural issues, but was applauded by liberals for being an “an empathetic, racially aware, and humanitarian general.” Milley’s money quote was, “I want to understand white rage. And I’m white.”

If the general wants see white rage he should go to Portland where it tried to burn down the federal courthouse, and blinded police officers.

But Milley is au courant: he mouths the right words, like “white rage” and called the violent demonstration at the Capitol on January 6th “sedition and insurrection.” The inability to distinguish an imaginary threat – the January 6 protesters – from the real thing – Critical Race Theory which seeks to delegitimize America in pursuit of a system of totalitarian collectivism – is why America lost in Afghanistan and Iraq.

The general’s uncritical use of an enemy’s lexicon is an example of “ideological capture” and one critic pointed out that “to use it at face value is to accept the doctrine rather than to read merely to be informed about its content.”

Of course, talking about CRT is a way to change the topic from the U.S. retreat from Afghanistan, and accusations the Pentagon is downplaying the Taliban’s gains on the ground. It also helps present a new enemy – domestic white supremacists – that may look like an easier nut to crack than Russia or China (or farmers with rifles known as the Taliban), and can be used to justify a bigger military budget.

To the dismay of the brass, white rage may be like Bigfoot – a blurry image, seen at a distance, that can never be proven – again demonstrating the demand for white supremacy in America exceeds the supply.

Admiral Mike Gilday, Chief of Naval Operations (CNO), also testified about including CRT texts on his professional reading list but his adiaphorous characterization of them as professional reading akin to Dutton’s Nautical Navigation, instead of an opportunity to “know the enemy,” is proof of either insouciance or an inability to understand that America has ideological enemies that mean it harm, not just geopolitical competitors like Russia and China that want to expand their spheres of influence.

And, given the preventable high-seas collisions that killed seventeen sailors and highlighted long-standing deficiencies in material readiness, ship handling, and navigation, more Dutton’s and less White Fragility may be, literally, a matter of life and death.

The general and the admiral may be waiting for their cue from Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin who still hasn’t defined “extremism,” though military whistleblowers have complained their commanders are pushing CRT on them and many members are resigning as a result. (They’re wise to get out now as diversity training has been shown to promote prejudice, which is bad enough at an insurance company but fatal in a military unit when it degrades unit cohesion.)  And Secretary Austin admitted the military isn’t a racist institution only when pressed by a senator – after mandating a military-wide stand-down to address the systemic problem he now says may not exist.

In the wake of the testimony, Fox TV host Tucker Carlson criticized Milley as “obsequious” (which echoes a previous critique of Milley as a “perpetual hype man.”)

Milley allies (or Carlson enemies) defended Milley, but didn’t explain why any government official be immune to criticism, or even mockery, especially, when they lead an organization just blew over $6 trillion in the unsuccessful post-9/11 military campaigns.

A February 2021 poll by the Ronald Reagan Institute found public confidence in the military has dropped precipitously in the last three years. The institute’s poll found about 56 percent of Americans surveyed said they have “a great deal of trust and confidence” in the military, down from 70 percent in 2018

General Milley and Admiral Gilday are no doubt alert to the prevailing political winds but, if they are the stewards of the military they pride themselves in being, they have to consider their impact on recruitment and retention. The biggest influence on a person joining the military is a family connection to the service, but if your father or brother tells you it’s all about woke indoctrination and not patriotism, adventure, and testing yourself – the things that attract an 18-year-old – the services, which already draw from a shrinking  talent pool will be in even more trouble.

And if conservatives believe they are the targets of the Pentagon’s purity purge that will compound recruiting and retention woes as most recruits come from areas that leaned red in recent elections.

Leftists will exploit the military and move on, but Middle America, which is the foundation for recruiting and a strong national defense, will be disenchanted with risking its childrens’ lives for the woke brass, after it overlooked military officials’ ethical lapses or personal enrichment. From there it’s a short hop to an ambitious conservative politician getting elected – and re-elected – by making the case for giving the Pentagon a 10% haircut (to start) and using it as the bill-payer for more popular programs instead of weapons that don’t work, and pointless wars in places that don’t matter.

Military leaders love to go on and on about morality and ethics, but this isn’t a think tank seminar or a bull session at the Officer’s Club, its life with real consequences. If they are really worthy of the young man and women they command, they must reject any accommodation with CRT ideologues – who hate them – so they can build trust with Middle America.

And its not just the right thing to do, it’s the practical thing to do: Senator Tom Cotton wants Congress to probe the views of all senior officers to ensure “our flag officers subscribe to those very basic principles that are outlined in our Declaration [of Independence] or in King’s Dream speech,” Not every senior officer is ready for prime time so, if the Pentagon doesn’t want to deal with the televised debacles – and rejected nominations – that will ensue, it better reaffirm its compact with Middle America ASAP.

Its’s decision time, gentlemen.

James Durso (@james_durso) is a regular commentator on foreign policy and national security matters. Mr. Durso served in the U.S. Navy for 20 years and has lived in Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, and Iraq.