The Milley Doctrine

General Mark A. Milley, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
General Mark A. Milley, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Photo: Celal Gunes/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images
Julia Ioffe
April 25, 2023

At dawn last Thursday, I boarded General Mark Milley’s plane at Joint Base Andrews, along with the Chairman’s staff, a reporter from the A.F.P., and the voluble Chairman himself. Our destination was Ramstein Air Base, in Germany, for the eleventh meeting of the Ukraine Defense Contact Group, a coalition of fifty or so countries, led by the U.S., that have been providing military assistance to Ukraine. They meet once a month or so to coordinate who’s giving what—and to put the screws on the holdouts. 

Because heading the Joint Chiefs of Staff—that is, the entire U.S. military—means playing whack-a-mole with international crises, Milley spent the entirety of the eight-hour flight to Ramstein on the phone with the White House and his European counterparts, trying to figure out what exactly was happening in Sudan and whether to move U.S. troops into the region to evacuate the American embassy in Khartoum. (While we were in flight, Politico broke the story that was embargoed for us: the U.S. military was prepositioning troops—moving them from Fort Bragg to Djibouti—in case President Biden gave the order to evacuate personnel, which he did over the weekend.) 

As we boarded, one of the Chairman’s extremely tough-looking staffers—a Navy SEAL, I would later learn—carried a number of bags on board, most belonging to the Chairman, I assumed. One of them was a small, black, plastic case that looked especially important. “Are those the, uh, nuclear codes?” I asked one of the Chairman’s communications adjutants. They laughed. It was, they said, full of challenge coins.