The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff was right there with Donald Trump when it was time to walk across Lafayette Park for a photo op after peaceful protesters were tear gassed and hit with rubber bullets. But Gen. Mark Milley now says he has regrets.
“I should not have been there,” he said on video for the National Defense University’s commencement. “My presence in that moment and in that environment created a perception of the military involved in domestic politics.” Why yes, it did.
Milley had previously said—and the Defense Department officials again told The New York Times—that he didn’t know about the attacks on protesters to clear the square and thought he was just going out with Trump to review the National Guard troops on the scene. This continues to seem implausible (or, you know, like an outright lie), but Milley’s friends also “said that for the past 10 days, he has been agonized about appearing—in the combat fatigues he wears every day to work—behind Mr. Trump during the walk across Lafayette Square.” If nothing else, he’s committed to convincing the world that he knows he shouldn’t have been there.
The question is what Milley will do with the knowledge that he was wrong and with the knowledge that Trump embraces such inappropriate actions.
Milley described the walk with Trump as “a mistake that I have learned from.” It’s great that he thinks he learned, but the prospect of future Trump abuses giving Milley the chance to show us what he learned is kind of terrifying—and all too plausible. How is he prepared to put this regret into action the next time Trump wants something the military should not give him? That’s a test we have to hope never happens, but it’s the test Milley needs to prepare himself for.