Milley sworn in as Joint Chiefs chairman

Milley sworn in as Joint Chiefs chairman
© Aaron Schwartz

Army Gen. Mark Milley on Monday was sworn in as the 20th chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, becoming the highest ranking military officer in the United States at a time of turmoil both at home and abroad.

Outgoing Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford administered the oath at Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall, Va., in a ceremony attended by President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump says his advice to impeachment defense team is 'just be honest' Trump expands tariffs on steel and aluminum imports CNN's Axelrod says impeachment didn't come up until 80 minutes into focus group MORE and a cadre of top administration officials, including Vice President Pence, Defense Secretary Mark EsperMark EsperOvernight Defense: Veterans group seeks Trump apology for comments on brain injuries | Pentagon says dozens of troops suffered traumatic injuries after attack | Trump unveils Space Force logo Commerce Department withdraws Huawei rule after Pentagon pushback: reports  Dozens of US troops suffered traumatic brain injuries after Iran missile strikes MORE and all of the service secretaries and chiefs.

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Speaking in the pouring rain, Trump joked that Milley will be “the luckiest general in history” because “all of my life I have heard that if it rains on a big occasion, it brings luck.”

“You're my friend, you’re my adviser, and you deserve this position. I never had a doubt," Trump told Milley.

“I have absolute confidence that he will fulfill his duty with the same brilliance and fortitude he has shown throughout his long and very distinguished career,” Trump said.

Trump also thanked Dunford for his service, claiming that the general gave him advice when they met at an awards ceremony in 2015 that “help[ed] me form an opinion” on running for president.

Milley, for his part, promised Trump that he will “always provide you informed, candid, impartial military advice.”

“With the complex challenges of the international environment, the United States armed forces stand ready,” Milley said. “We stand ready to keep the peace or, if necessary, win the war. We are the best equipped, best trained, best-led military in human history, and our adversaries should know never to underestimate our skill, our capability and our combat power.”

Milley steps into the role as Trump's top military adviser at a time when U.S.-Iran tensions have threatened to boil over into military conflict, the war in Afghanistan lurches into its 19th year after peace talks with the Taliban flamed out and the National Defense Strategy says the United States should be pivoting to focus more on competition with Russia and China than on the Middle East.

In his confirmation hearing, Milley warned that a premature withdrawal from Afghanistan would be a “strategic mistake.”

Milley, who previously served chief of staff of the Army, has been described as a blunt-talking intellectual whose political acumen helped him ascend to be the No. 1 general in the country.

He will need to employ those traits to manage advising a mercurial Trump who has cycled through several national security advisers, Defense and State secretaries and other national security team members.

Trump has also repeatedly pulled the military into the political fray, such as deploying troops to the U.S.-Mexico border and tapping military construction funds for his long-sought border wall.

Milley also becomes Joint Chiefs chairman at a time when the Pentagon has been trying to stay out of the thorniest political issue to date, the House’s impeachment inquiry into Trump. The Pentagon has been threatened to be pulled into the impeachment drama since military aid to Ukraine is at the center of the inquiry. 

Trump on Monday kept his speech at Milley’s ceremony on topic even as he has increasingly lashed out at the impeachment inquiry over Twitter.