"You're gonna have a f***ing war"

A running concern for Milley was the prospect of Trump pushing the nation into a military conflict with Iran. He saw this as a real threat, in part because of a meeting with the President in the early months of 2020, at which one of Trump’s advisers raised the prospect of taking military action to stop Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons if Trump were to lose the election. At another meeting, at which Trump was not present, some of the President’s foreign-policy advisers again pushed military action against Iran. Milley later said that, when he asked why they were so intent on attacking Iran, Vice-President Mike Pence replied, “Because they are evil.”

In the months after the election, with Trump seemingly willing to do anything to stay in power, the subject of Iran was repeatedly raised in White House meetings with the President, and Milley repeatedly argued against a strike. Trump did not want a war, the chairman believed, but he kept pushing for a missile strike in response to various provocations against U.S. interests in the region. Milley, by statute the senior military adviser to the President, was worried that Trump might set in motion a full-scale conflict that was not justified. Trump had a circle of Iran hawks around him and was close with the Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, who was also urging the Administration to act against Iran after it was clear that Trump had lost the election. “If you do this, you’re gonna have a fucking war,” Milley would say.

Finally, on January 3rd, after Trump had flown back from his Christmas vacation at Mar-a-Lago, he convened the Oval Office meeting on Iran, asking his advisers about recent reports from the International Atomic Energy Agency on Iran’s nuclear activities. Both Mike Pompeo and the national-security adviser, Robert O’Brien, told Trump that it was not possible to do anything militarily at that point. Their attitude was that it was “too late to hit them.” After Milley walked through the potential costs and consequences, Trump agreed. And that was that: after months of anxiety and uncertainty, the Iran fight was over.