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July 11, 2019

King Emphasizes Need for Military Leaders to Provide Honest Advice to President

Senator King and Joint Chief Nominee General Milley ask and answer: “Are you going to be intimidated?”

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senator Angus King (I-Maine) pressed General Mark Milley, U.S. Army, nominee to serve as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, on the importance of providing independent and honest military advice to the President. Senator King’s comments came during General Milley’s nomination hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee. At other points in his testimony, King questioned General Milley on America’s military and diplomatic strategies in Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan, while emphasizing the number of vacant positions at the Department of Defense (DOD) that are awaiting nominees from the Administration.

Senator King’s exchange with General Milley, which begins at 00:50, is included below: 

Senator King: “General Milley, given the risks that you’ve articulated and that the national defense strategy articulates, I consider your job the second most important in the United States government, because we are living in a dangerous world and your position as principal advisor to the President in a time of heightened international tension and risk is incredibly significant and important. You know what my questions going to be. What is it? Guess what my next question will be?”

General Milley: “Probably the same one you asked me when I was nominated to be the Chief. Are you going to be intimidated?”

King: “That’s the question. What’s the answer?”

Milley: “Absolutely not. By no one. Ever. I’ll give my best military advice. It’ll be candid. It’ll be honest. It’ll be rigorous. It’ll be thorough. And that’s what I’ll do, every single time.”

King: “And I believe that but I think it’s very important to emphasize the Oval Office is an intimidating place, the President of the United States is the most powerful leader in the free world. And to be able to, to be willing to say, ‘Mr. President you’re wrong about this or this is the consequence of this,’ if it’s something that he or she doesn’t want to hear. There’s no more important responsibility in your career that you will have had to make that statement. I have confidence that you will do that. You said to me four years ago no one intimidates you and I believe that but I just want to refresh your recollection on that point.”

Milley: “Senator, and I would say that applies to General Dunford, and most of us – we’ve seen a lot of combat. We’ve buried these soldiers. Arlington is full of our comrades, and we understand absolutely full well the hazards of our chosen profession, and we know what this is about. We are not going to be intimidated into making stupid decisions. We will give our best military advice, regardless of consequences to ourselves.”



Other topics touched on by Senator King during today’s hearing included:

The lack of nominees for top DOD posts. (Starts at 00:17)

“I’ve recently become aware that there are some 16 vacancies in the Department of Defense at senior levels that haven’t been nominated,” said Senator King, in response to concerns raised by one of his colleagues. “There isn’t obstruction of someone who hasn’t been nominated. The failure here in terms of the leadership of the Department of Defense is not with the Congress – we have to have nominated candidates, and as you know, we have a series of vacancies. I can understand your frustration on some other areas but this isn’t one of them where Congress is causing any slowdown in terms of the filling of these vacancies.”

American military and diplomatic strategies in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria. (Starts at 03:11)

King: “What conditions do you see that would justify withdrawal from Afghanistan? When do we call it enough is enough?”

Milley: “I think that the war in Afghanistan, at least American participation in the war in Afghanistan comes to an end when our interests are met and I think that will be met through a negotiated settlement with the Taliban. And I think we’re seeing some progress, I think some of that was reported just recently from Ambassador Khalilzad. So, I think it is slow, it is painful, it is hard. I’ve spent a lot of my life in Afghanistan but I also think it’s necessary. We went to Afghanistan for a single purpose, to make sure it never again becomes a platform for a terrorist strike in the United States of America like 9/11. There hasn’t been one and we’ve been successful to date. It is hard,though, but I think the conditions at the end of the day will be a negotiated settlement with the Taliban.”

King: “Do you believe that the continued presence of American forces is a predicate for those successful negotiations?”

Milley: “Absolutely. I think it underwrites those.”

King: So if we pulled out prematurely it would undermine the possibility of a successful negotiation?

Milley: “I think pulling out prematurely would be a strategic mistake.”

King: “Similar opinion in Iraq and Syria?”

Milley: “Different conditions, different situation. In Syria we’ve been very successful and destroyed the geography of the caliphate, the physical entity of the caliphate, the proto-state. But the organization of ISIS, the ideology of ISIS is still there. There’s a modest amount of capability that needs to remain there. And the same thing with Iraq, in order to maintain stability in Iraq.”


As a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee and the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, Senator King is recognized as a thoughtful voice on national security and foreign policy issues in the Senate. Earlier this year, he traveled to Iraq as part of a bipartisan Congressional Delegation, where he met with leaders on the ground to discuss ongoing security challenges in the region.  In addition to his committee work, he serves on the Congressional-Executive Commission on China, the Senate North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) Observer Group, and the Cyberspace Solarium Commission.  

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