President Trump should choose the head of the army to become the next president of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, drawing from a fickle and unconventional combat veteran to become the leading US military officer, people familiar with the plans of the House Bianca said Friday.
In a move that reflects his predilection for spectacularity, the president plans to announce his appointment of Gen. Mark Milley to the annual Army-Navy football match on Saturday, ending months of speculation about who will replace the current president, General Joseph F. Dunford Jr., who has had to resign this fall.
According to individuals, who spoke on the anonymity of the condition to discuss a decision that was not made public, Trump took into consideration two senior officers, Milley and the Chief of Staff of the Air Force, General David Goldfein, whom Defense Secretary Jim Mattis preferred.
The choice of a president, who oversees global operations and serves as the president's chief advisor on military matters, is an important opportunity for Trump to make his mark on the US military.
If confirmed by the Senate, Milley would bring to work a distinguished record as a commander in the anti-insurrection wars of the last two decades. A graduate of Princeton University, Milley worked as a green cap and later commanded troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.
As head of the army, Milley supported the proposal to create specialized units to train local forces in Afghanistan, while seeking to improve the readiness of the army while the Pentagon re-orientates the challenges from Russia and China.
Milley's Trump selection challenges an expectation from many Pentagon officials that the next president will be selected by Aeronautics, in line with an unofficial alternation between services. Dunford, a marine, replaced an army president in 2015; previously, a Navy admiral served in the job.
It is not clear why Mattis preferred Goldfein, another widely respected cerebral officer. Some current and former officials have cited the president's choice as a sign of the diminished influence of the Pentagon chief with the White House.
"It is a rather important decision to go against Mattis," said a former senior defense official who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
Current and former officials have said that Mattis has a good relationship with Milley. When the defense secretary wanted to rethink the war in Afghanistan, he took the unusual step of going to Milley to brainstorm, even though as a chief of staff of the army he had no direct oversight of the war, he said a former senior defense official.
Mattis was frustrated by the inability of the army to reduce the large headquarters in Afghanistan and push more soldiers to play an active role in support of Afghan troops in the field. Milley was seen as the kind of officer who could produce a more unorthodox approach, officials said.
The result of this effort was the security forces' brigade, which is now trying to help the Afghan troops reverse a prolonged Taliban comeback.
Milley also took the time to make sure the US military understood the risks and was ready for a possible conflict with North Korea. Inside the Pentagon, he warned that any conflict with Pyongyang would result in huge loss of life and catastrophic damage.
At the same time, he pushed to improve the readiness of the joint force to repel or carry out an attack on North Korea, if ordered, said a senior army official. He also urged military planners to think more broadly about how such a war could be fought, officials said. Most of the military plans for a war on the peninsula were based on North Korean aggression rather than on American offensive action to smooth a growing North Korean threat.
Milley is ready to climb to the top of the uniformed position in a moment of challenge for the strength of the army's volunteers. Today the military has to deal with a politically polarized country, a small group of recruits and a mandate to throw the extremist focus of the September 11, 2001 era and focus on major powers like Russia and China.
One of Milley's greatest challenges could be the management of an impulsive commander-in-chief, whose rhetoric and actions, including his decision to deploy active forces at the southern border before the mid-term elections, threatened to politicize the force.
Many in the Pentagon in private questioned the need for deployment and feared that the troops would be used for political purposes.
Dunford and Mattis tried to overcome these challenges in part by trying to protect the military. They both refused to speak publicly about their opinions in areas where Trump caused controversy. Dunford also emphasized his duty to execute legally issued orders, regardless of his opinions.
His relationship with Trump was farther than his predecessor, the general army Martin Dempsey, with President Barack Obama.
It is not clear how Milley will navigate among the potential pitfalls. Occasionally, his willingness to speak out seemed to put him at odds with his commander-in-chief.
After Trump was criticized for apparently condemning some of the white nationalist demonstrators in Charlottesville, in August 2017, Milley tweeted that the army "will not tolerate racism, extremism, or violence." I hate our ranks ", apparently distancing himself from the president's comments.
Milley will probably raise the president's profile. Dunford has avoided taking on a public role as a senior officer of the army, matching his circumspect personality.
In contrast, Milley is an exuberant personality and a natural storyteller who could follow the path of Adm. Michael Mullen, former president of the Obama administration. Concerned about the growing gap between the armed forces and the company he had sworn to defend, Mullen not only spoke on the news, but also made an appearance at the Late Show with David Letterman.
Milley, who attended the preparatory school in Massachusetts and then in Princeton, has an unusual background for a senior military officer. He played with hockey and remains a longtime friend of producer and screenwriter David E. Kelley.