Spokesman defends top US general, says calls with China were 'vital'

Dave Butler says Gen Mark Milley's calls with China were essential to 'avoiding unintended consequences or conflict'

Michael Hernandez   | 15.09.2021
Spokesman defends top US general, says calls with China were 'vital'


US Joint Chiefs of Staff strongly defended Chairman Mark Milley on Wednesday after a book claimed he went behind former President Donald Trump's back to provide secret assurances to China that an American attack was not imminent.

Spokesman Col. Dave Butler did not address the content of the discussions alleged in the book, but said the telephone calls were "vital" to "reducing tensions" and "avoiding unintended consequences or conflict."

"His calls with the Chinese and others in October and January were in keeping with these duties and responsibilities conveying reassurance in order to maintain strategic stability. All calls from the Chairman to his counterparts, including those reported, are staffed, coordinated and communicated with the Department of Defense and the interagency," Butler said in a statement.

The Washington Post on Tuesday published excerpts from associate editor Bob Woodward and national political reporter Robert Costa that alleges Milley phoned Li Zuocheng twice -- once on Oct. 30, 2020 and again on Jan. 8, 2021 to tell him the US would not attack.

The first call occurred around the time the US was conducting joint military exercises with Japan and Australia in the South China Sea, and intelligence that suggested Beijing believed the US was going to attack.

Milley further provided assurances that he would personally inform Li ahead of any potential attack, according to the book.

“We are 100 percent steady. Everything’s fine. But democracy can be sloppy sometimes," Milley reportedly said in the second telephone call after Trump's supporters stormed the US Capitol in a failed effort to prevent US President Joe Biden's inauguration.

Milley believed Trump had fallen into mental instability after he lost to Biden in November's election by some 7 million votes, according to Woodward and Costa. They wrote in their book, Peril, that Milley also summoned senior military officers to go over nuclear weapons launch procedures and remind them that he had to be involved in any decision to launch the cataclysmic weapons.

Butler confirmed that meeting, saying it "was to remind uniformed leaders in the Pentagon of the long-established and robust procedures in light of media reporting on the subject."

"General Milley continues to act and advise within his authority in the lawful tradition of civilian control of the military and his oath to the Constitution," he added.

White House spokesman Jen Psaki said US President Joe Biden maintains "complete confidence" in the general amid uproar, mostly from Republicans. Trump has also said the charges amount "treason" if they can be verified.

Asked by reporters about Milley, US President Joe Biden said he has “great confidence” in the general.

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