Mark Milley is the Army general next to Trump -- one of the many men on Trump's side of the table wishing they were somewhere else. He's serving his first month as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff after being confirmed by the Senate in an 89-1 vote. I think it's most interesting to imagine the meeting from his perspective.
Early in the meeting, Trump handed out copies of the blustery letter he had written to Erdogan, which begins "Let's work out a good deal! You don't want to be responsible for slaughtering thousands of people, and I don't want to be responsible for destroying the Turkish economy -- and I will." Apparently Erdogan put the letter in the trash. Milley has a Masters in International Relations from Columbia, and he knows that this is utterly ridiculous.
Trump then called former general James Mattis "The most overrated general in the world. You know why? He wasn’t tough enough. I captured ISIS. Mattis said it would take two years. I captured them in one month." Milley has been in the military for 39 years, and I doubt he enjoys hearing this language from a man who claimed bone spurs to avoid military service.
Milley had warned during the meeting that ISIS was "not destroyed" and could "reconstitute" if Erdogan's attack on the Kurds freed captured ISIS fighters. Trump then claimed that only the least dangerous ISIS fighters had escaped. When Chuck Schumer asked Defense Secretary Mark Esper if any intelligence confirmed this, Esper said there was no such intelligence.
Schumer then asked Trump, “Is your plan to rely on the Syrians and the Turks?” Trump replied, “Our plan is to keep the American people safe.” Pelosi told him, “That’s not a plan. That’s a goal.”
Trump then complained about Obama and started insulting Pelosi. She told Trump that he gave Moscow a foothold in the Middle East. As far as I can tell, the photo is taken as she says, "All roads with you lead to Putin."
There are many other ashen-faced men on Trump's side of the table. But it's Milley's torment that seems the most exquisite to me. His boss has just been arrogantly stupid on issues his entire career has trained him to understand. Now he is forced to contemplate working for a President who has been compromised by the enemy.
If he thought Pelosi's remark was unfair or wrong, he might be glaring back at her, or at least sitting with a straight-necked military bearing. But he isn't. His head is bowed, his hands are clasped, and his eyes are squeezed shut.
The marble bust of Benjamin Franklin stares sternly over his shoulder. Behind Pelosi in the photo is a statue of George Washington. I wonder if he tried not to meet their eyes when he left the Cabinet Room.