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Gen. Milley’s concerns about Trump underscore need for nuclear guardrails on president

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This Baltimore Sun op-ed leveraged public opinion data from a May 2019 survey entitled "Americans on Nuclear Weapons" conducted by CISSM and the Center for Public Consultation. Click here to view the survey.

In their new book, “Peril,” Bob Woodward and Robert Costa reveal that after President Donald Trump’s electoral defeat in 2020, Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, assured his Chinese counterpart that the United States would not strike China. In addition, they report that General Milley told his senior officers that, if they received orders from the lame duck president to launch a nuclear attack, they were to “do the process” of consulting with him first.

Such willingness to break protocol throws into stark relief an underlying contradiction in presidential powers. The power to declare war belongs to Congress, but the president is commander-in-chief, with the full military power at his disposal, putting him above even the highest military officer. The Founders would certainly not have wanted a lame duck president to be able to launch a conventional war, much less a nuclear war, driven by personal political motives, as the Chinese likely feared from Mr. Trump.


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