Book reveals top US officer feared Trump would order nuclear strike on China

Chinese general became so anxious over the president's unhinged behaviour that US brass repeatedly promised 'no surprises'

Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen Mark Milley reportedly reassured Gen Li Zuocheng of the People’s Liberation Army the US would not strike on two occasions. Reuters
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Fearful of Donald Trump’s actions in his final weeks as president, the top US military officer twice assured his Chinese counterpart that the two nations would not go to war, a forthcoming book claims.

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen Mark Milley reportedly told Gen Li Zuocheng of the People’s Liberation Army that the US would not strike.

One call took place on October 30, 2020, four days before the election that defeated Mr Trump. The second call was on January 8, 2021, two days after the insurrection at the US Capitol by supporters of the outgoing president.

Gen Milley went so far as to promise Gen Li that he would warn his counterpart in the event of a US attack, the book Peril, written by Washington Post journalists Bob Woodward and Robert Costa, says.

“Gen Li, I want to assure you that the American government is stable and everything is going to be OK,” Gen Milley told him in the first call, the book states. “We are not going to attack or conduct any kinetic operations against you.”

“If we’re going to attack, I’m going to call you ahead of time. It’s not going to be a surprise,” Gen Milley reportedly said.

Selections from the book, which is set to be released next week, were first reported by The Washington Post on Tuesday.

The second call was meant to placate Chinese fears about the events of January 6.

But the book reports that Gen Li wasn’t as easily assuaged, even after Gen Milley promised him, “We are 100 per cent steady. Everything’s fine. But democracy can be sloppy sometimes.”

Gen Milley believed the president suffered a mental decline after the election, agreeing with the view shared by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in a phone call they had on January 8, officials said.

“We are 100 per cent steady. Everything’s fine. But democracy can be sloppy sometimes.”
Gen Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff

Ms Pelosi had previously said she had spoken to Gen Milley that day about “available precautions” to prevent Mr Trump from initiating military action or ordering a nuclear launch, and she told colleagues she was given unspecified assurances that there were long-standing safeguards in place.

Gen Milley reportedly called the admiral overseeing the US Indo-Pacific Command, the military unit responsible for Asia and the Pacific region, and recommended postponing upcoming military exercises.

He also asked senior officers to swear an “oath” that Gen Milley had to be involved if Mr Trump gave an order to launch nuclear weapons, the book says.

Gen Milley was appointed by Mr Trump in 2018 and later drew the president’s wrath when he expressed regret for participating in a June 2020 photo op with Mr Trump after federal law enforcement cleared a park of peaceful protesters near the White House so Mr Trump could stand at a nearby damaged church and brandish a Holy Bible.

The general’s second warning to Beijing came after Mr Trump fired then-secretary of defence Mike Esper and filled several top positions with interim officeholders loyal to him.

Former US president Donald Trump. Bloomberg

The book also offers new insights into Mr Trump’s efforts to hold on to power despite losing the election to Democrat Joe Biden.

Mr Trump refused to concede and offered false claims that the election had been stolen. He repeatedly pressed his vice president, Mike Pence, to refuse to certify the election results at the Capitol on January 6, which was interrupted by the violent mob.

Mr Pence, the book says, called Dan Quayle, a former vice president and fellow Indiana Republican, to see if there was any way he could acquiesce to Mr Trump’s request. Mr Quayle said absolutely not.

“Mike, you have no flexibility on this. None. Zero. Forget it. Put it away,” Mr Quayle reportedly said.

Mr Pence ultimately agreed. He defied Mr Trump to affirm Mr Biden’s victory.

Mr Trump was not pleased.

“I don’t want to be your friend any more if you don’t do this,” Mr Trump said in response, the book states. He reportedly later told his vice president, “You’ve betrayed us. I made you. You were nothing.”

Updated: September 15, 2021, 12:30 AM