This is what I thought as I read: Gen. Milley seems to have spent large parts of the past year building the reputation of Mark Milley. (He had marched in fatigues alongside the president at Lafayette Park during the 2020 street protests; he no doubt concluded reputational rehab was in order.) It would have been better if he’d given that time and energy to avoiding the calamitous disaster that was America’s withdrawal from Afghanistan. Instead of seeing to his standing he should have been putting his job on the line to keep Bagram Air Base open.
Top U.S. military officers tend always to have their eye on the media, and how they’re being perceived, which brings us to a larger point. The services are at a hinge point. They have been through 20 years—an entire generation—of war in Afghanistan and Iraq. Now it is officially over. They need to take time to review and reflect on that experience in a kind of service-by-service after-action report. Part of that should include this question: While the wars were being fought, did top brass keep the military a step apart from the damaging cultural and political swirls that have swept the nation?
It looks to me as if they have been too eager to prove they have all the right cultural and political predicates, that they want the media and political class to see this. That they’re desperate for them to see it.
But the U.S. military is the most respected institution in the country in part because its members aren’t like the country.