Top US general feared Trump would provoke 'war' with China, new book claims

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Mr Trump with Gen Milley (right) and Secretary of Defense Mark Esper (left) - REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque/File Photo
Mr Trump with Gen Milley (right) and Secretary of Defense Mark Esper (left) - REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque/File Photo

America's top general was so worried that Donald Trump might provoke a war with China that he secretly called his counterpart in Beijing to avoid an armed conflict, a new book claims.

General Mark Milley also took the extreme step of summoning other senior military officers to review the procedures for launching a nuclear attack amid fears over the Republican president's mental state.

The claims are made in the book Peril by Watergate journalist Bob Woodward and Washington Post reporter Robert Costa.

Extracts of the book, Woodward's third on the Trump presidency, were leaked to US outlets ahead of its September 21 release.

They paint a portrait of an unstable and unpredictable commander-in-chief whose actions left America's military leaders fearful of a potential national security crisis.

In the final months of the Trump administration Gen Milley, chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, twice attempted to reassure his Chinese counterpart, Gen. Li Zuocheng, over Mr Trump's bellicose rhetoric, the book claims.

In one particularly alarming episode, it is claimed that Gen Milley called his Chinese counterpart on October 30 2020 - just days before the presidential election - after reviewing intelligence which suggested Beijing believed Washington was preparing to attack.

It followed rising tensions between the two nations over military exercises in the South China Sea which were exacerbated by Mr Trump's rhetoric towards China.

“General Li, I want to assure you that the American government is stable and everything is going to be okay,” Gen Milley reportedly said. “We are not going to attack or conduct any kinetic operations against you.”

Gen Milley made a second call to Gen Li on Jan 8, just two days after a pro-Trump mob stormed the US Capitol to prevent the certification of Joe Biden's victory.

In the book's telling, the Chinese general reportedly remained concerned about the political turmoil in Washington despite Gen Milley's assurance.

Gen Milley is said to have shared those concerns, reportedly believing that Mr Trump had suffered a mental decline after losing to his Democratic opponent.

The book sheds further light on a phone call between Nancy Pelosi, the top Democrat in Congress, and Gen Milley. At the time, Mrs Pelosi revealed she had received assurances from the top general about keeping an “unstable” Mr Trump from accessing the nuclear codes.

But according to the authors of Peril, Gen Milley took further action by summoning senior officers to review the procedures for launching a nuclear attack.

Gen Milley demanded each officer look him in the eye and affirm an "oath" that they understood Mr Trump could not give such an order alone and explicitly stated that the chairman should be involved.

Gen Milley also called the US Indo-Pacific Command unit to recommend postponing the military exercises in the region over fears it could escalate tensions with China.

"Peril" also examines Mr Biden's bid to win the presidency and the challenges he faced in his first months in office.

An extract of the book seen by the Washington Post claims Mr Biden was deeply frustrated with Joe Manchin, the moderate West Virginia Democrat senator who wields considerable power in the 50-50 Senate.

As he struggled to get Mr Manchin on board with his $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief bill in March, the president is said to have told the senator: “If you don’t come along, you’re really f---ing me”.

The White House ultimately succeeded in getting the bill passed after a number of amendments to "satisfy" Mr Manchin.

Meanwhile the journalists claim that Jim Clyburn, the influential African American congressman, was able to extract a commitment that Mr Biden would name a black woman to the Supreme Court should a seat open up.

The pledge was in exchange for Mr Clyburn's endorsement in the South Carolina primary - the race that propelled him to win the Democratic nomination.

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