Trump Hints He Has Picked His Next Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman

 nytimes.com  12/7/2018 5:56:08 PM   Helene Cooper
Image
Gen. Mark A. Milley, the Army chief of staff, testified before Congress in April.CreditCreditGabriella Demczuk for The New York Times

WASHINGTON — President Trump is expected to name Gen. Mark A. Milley, the Army chief of staff, to be the next chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the top-ranking military position in the country, administration officials said on Friday.

Mr. Trump teased the decision in remarks to reporters at the White House on Friday, saying that he would make an announcement at the Army-Navy football game on Saturday in Philadelphia.

“I can give you a little hint: It will have to do with the Joint Chiefs of Staff and succession,” the president said.

Mr. Trump, who made several staff change announcements on Friday, met two weeks ago with General Milley and the Air Force chief of staff, Gen. David L. Goldfein, the two men believed to be in contention to succeed Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr. of the Marines, whose term as chairman expires next autumn.

It is unusual for a successor to the top military job to be chosen so early, but the president has long been known to have a preference for General Milley, an ebullient officer who is well known in the halls of the Pentagon and at Army bases around the world. That preference for General Milley was at odds with Mr. Trump’s defense secretary, Jim Mattis, who is believed to have wanted General Goldfein for the job.

But Mr. Trump has in the last few months been overriding Mr. Mattis on a number of issues, most recently the decision to send American troops to the southern border with Mexico to counter caravans of migrants making their way north from Central America. But Pentagon officials said that Mr. Mattis, a retired Marine, was perfectly willing to work with General Milley, a graduate of Princeton University who also holds a master’s degree in international relations from Columbia University.

President Donald Trump said he would be announcing the next chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff at Saturday’s Army-Navy football game. He’s expected to name Gen. Mark A. Milley, the Army chief of staff, for the position.Published OnCreditCreditEvan Vucci/Associated Press

General Milley has a long military pedigree with some of the Army’s legendary units, like the 82nd Airborne Division and the 10th Mountain Division. He has served multiple combat deployments in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Before he was appointed Army chief in May 2015, General Milley was head of Army Forces Command at Fort Bragg, N.C., where he decided to charge Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl with desertion for walking off his post in Afghanistan in 2009. Sergeant Bergdahl was captured and held by the Taliban for five years and was released last year in exchange for five Taliban prisoners held at the military prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. He was dishonorably discharged last year.

A Boston Red Sox fan, General Milley carries himself with the kind of earthy manner that screams Fenway Park. He does not shy away from the occasional ribald story, although he does sometimes pepper conversations with talk of “little engines that could” and red cabooses and other well-worn references to inspirational stories.

At the same time, anyone talking to him knows where they stand; he is direct, an approach that played well in Afghanistan, where he was the No. 2 American commander. He was popular among the troops he commanded and got on well with Afghan military officers and civilian officials, even when he pushed back against some of their wilder claims about the war.

His political skills — the same skills he used in the last two years to become a favorite of Mr. Trump — were on display during a day trip in summer 2013 to northern Afghanistan, where he listened patiently as a senior Afghan security official blamed Pakistanis and other foreigners for all the violence in the country.

General Milley responded politely but firmly, saying that while foreign insurgents were exacerbating the situation, the Taliban are an Afghan movement, and that it was ultimately up to Afghans to work out their differences if they wanted peace in their country. At the time, it was a message that Afghans had long ago tired of hearing from the Americans, but General Milley managed to deliver it without offending his host.

Five years later, American military officials are still delivering that same message, as the Afghanistan war continues on. As the Army chief of staff, General Milley has instead turned his attention to whether almost two decades of fighting in Afghanistan — and Iraq and Syria — has taken away from the Army’s ability to fight a land war against a more traditional military adversary.

“Today, a major in the Army knows nothing but fighting terrorists and guerrillas, because he came into the Army after 9/11,” General Milley said in an interview in 2016 with The New York Times. He described a loss of what he called muscle memory: how to fight a large land war, including one where an established adversary is able to bring sophisticated air defenses, tanks, infantry, naval power and even cyberweapons into battle.

A version of this article appears in print on , on Page A15 of the New York edition with the headline: ‘Little Hint’ From President About the Joint Chiefs. Order Reprints | Today’s Paper | Subscribe
« Go back