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Milley Warns That War with Iran Would Disrupt Strategy to Confront Russia, China

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Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley warned Thursday that war with Iran would delay and disrupt the overall National Defense Strategy, which is aimed at great power competition to deter Russia and China.

“If it did happen,” conflict with Iran would have a “significant impact” on the strategy to focus more on “near-peer” competitors instead of the counter-insurgency efforts that have dominated military operations since 9/11, he said at his confirmation hearing to become the next chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

However, Milley later added, “I don’t think anyone is seriously considering” major attacks against Iran, which could involve as many as 150,000 troops.

Under questioning by Sen. Joe Manchin, D-West Virginia, Milley said, “I don’t know if it’s realistic or feasible” to defuse the crisis in the Gulf through diplomacy, but U.S. policy is to “get back to the negotiating table.”

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The U.S. should “approach this from the diplomatic angle” rather than military conflict with Iran, he added.

Should he be confirmed by the Senate, Milley said he would also back diplomacy to avoid conflict with Russia and China.

“We’re living in a period of great-power competition,” but “our goal should be to sustain great-power peace,” he said in his opening statement.

He acknowledged that that goal will be difficult to achieve, given China‘s stated determination “to have the capability to defeat us by mid-century.”

At the Senate Armed Services Committee hearing, Milley stressed his qualifications to succeed Marine Gen. Joe Dunford as Joint Chiefs chairman, while acknowledging he has much to learn.

His 39-plus years in the military have “provided me with the necessary knowledge, skills and experience to lead” the Joint Chiefs, but “I do not know all the answers,” he said.

Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, wanted to know whether Milley as JCS chairman and top military adviser to the commander in chief would have the wherewithal to stand up to President Donald Trump when necessary.

“The Oval Office can be an intimidating place,” King said.

Milley said he would follow the example of Dunford and other high-level commanders who have “seen a lot of combat. We’re not going to be intimidated into making stupid decisions.”

He faced little opposition during the hearing and appears headed to quick confirmation by the full Senate.

“I think you’re the man for the job,” Milley was told by Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Mississippi.

His confirmation would make him the top uniformed officer of a military committed to radical transformation of its roles and missions through the National Defense Strategy, even as the Pentagon’s leadership is in flux and disarray.

The turmoil in the Pentagon’s E-Ring became even more evident only hours ahead of Milley’s testimony.

The nomination of Air Force Gen. John Hyten to become Milley’s No. 2 as vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs was put in question after allegations emerged that he had been accused — and cleared by an internal investigation — of sexual misconduct against a former staffer.

The female officer told The Associated Press that Hyten repeatedly made sexual advances, saying, “My life was ruined by this.”

Earlier this week, Adm. Bill Moran, the highly regarded Trump choice to succeed Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson, withdrew from consideration for the nomination and announced he was retiring after maintaining contact with a former aide who had been accused of groping at a 2016 Christmas party.

In questioning Milley, Sen. Jack Reed, R-Rhode Island, a West Point graduate and former Army Ranger, said the military has been “hamstrung by the fact that there has not been a permanent Senate-confirmed secretary of defense for nearly seven months” since former Defense Secretary Jim Mattis resigned in December in a dispute with Trump over Syria policy.

“During this time, two different political appointees have helmed the department in an acting capacity,” Reed said. “In addition, vacancies are pervasive across the senior level, particularly the civilian posts.”

In response, Milley said that filling those positions is “really important” to improving the readiness of the force, but noted that the responsibility mostly rests with civilian leaders.

This story will be updated.

— Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.

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