President Trump discusses Milley and Afghanistan

President Donald J. Trump presents the Medal of Freedom to Lou Holtz Thursday, Dec. 3, 2020, in the Oval Office of the White House. (Official White House photo by Tia Dufour)

[Editor’s note: This story originally was published by Real Clear Politics.]

By Tom Bevan
Real Clear Politics

The following is Part 2 of my interview with former President Donald Trump. You can read Part 1 here.

U.S. Army Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, testified Tuesday and Wednesday before the Senate and House armed services committees. These were Milley’s first public appearances since the publication of excerpts from a new book by Washington Post journalists Bob Woodward and Robert Costa, which made several explosive revelations, including the following:

  • Milley insinuated himself into domestic politics by conducting backchannel conversations with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in which they called President Trump “crazy.”
  • He also inserted himself into the chain of command by telling senior U.S. military commanders that they could not launch nuclear weapons without his permission.
  • The JCS chairman also made secret phone calls to his military counterpart in the People’s Republic of China, promising to forewarn him of any impending U.S. attack.

While testifying this week, Milley defended his phone calls as fully coordinated and above board, and he denied any suggestion he had attempted to usurp the president’s authority.

Milley’s name came up repeatedly in my interview with Donald Trump last week. After initially disparaging him as “not the brightest bulb,” Trump said that he had liked the general while he was in the White House, but that Milley had changed.

“Don’t forget, he wasn’t this way,” Trump said. “He became this way because he was a politician. He tried [to] curry favor with Biden. I saw that he choked under pressure, and what made him choke was the television camera. He was really bad.”

Trump said keeping Milley on as chairman of the Joint Chiefs is a “bad idea,” but when asked about other senior leadership in the military, he refused to single anyone else out by name as having done a poor job.

“They are good people,” Trump said, referring to other generals he had worked with, “but they make really bad decisions.”

As to Afghanistan, Trump was adamant that his decision to wind down the war was the correct one but ripped President Biden for bungling the exit. “It’s the single most embarrassing moment in the history of our country,” Trump said, adding that had he been in office, his administration would have handled it much better.

“For us to flee,” Trump said, “surrender with ‘hands up,’ and give them the best military equipment in the world, without a shot being fired. I had them at bay. We were going to get out too, but we would’ve got out with dignity and actual victory.”

I asked Trump how much resistance he faced in Washington in ending the war in Afghanistan, despite the policy’s broad popularity with the public.

“I had a lot of resistance from the military, and I had a lot of resistance from Congress,” he said. “A lot of people in Congress didn’t want to leave. … They would’ve stayed in forever. We were there for 21 years, and I said 21 years is enough.”

Trump was also unsparing in his criticism of former President George W. Bush, who was back in the news recently on the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. At the Pennsylvania  memorial to passengers who fought for control of doomed United Airlines Flight 93, Bush paid homage to the “heroism and decency” Americans showed in the face of evil. He also took a thinly veiled shot at Donald Trump and many of his supporters, saying domestic extremists are “children of the same foul spirit” as the violent jihadi terrorists who attacked America in 2001.

For his part, Trump didn’t appreciate the swipe.

“George Bush doesn’t have the right to lecture people, because he blew it,” Trump said dismissively. “Bush made the single greatest mistake in the history of our country, which was going into the Middle East. We spent trillions of dollars and millions of lives (counting both sides) and we are further away from utopia that they were looking for than we were 21 years ago when he did this. It was a terrible decision going into the Middle East, so when I hear him lecturing people, I just don’t think he has the right to do it. He was a failed president.”

Tom Bevan is the co-founder and president of RealClearPolitics and the co-author of “Election 2012: A Time for Choosing.” Email: tom@realclearpolitics.com, Twitter: @TomBevanRCP

[Editor’s note: This story originally was published by Real Clear Politics.]

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