by Victor Davis Hanson
As we watch events unfold in 2021, obvious questions about the fitness of our national leaders present themselves. Who are these new woke national icons and how did they come to lord it over the rest of us? Here are some observations by way of preliminary explanation.
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley conceded to Congress last week that he has been an anonymous source to controversial “inside” progressive muckrakers detailing the supposed dysfunctions of the prior administration. He strangely characterizes such anonymous, self-serving, behind-the-scenes leaking as some sort of public-service transparency. Evidently, it is now a part of the chairman’s duties to serve the media.
Among the many “background” quotes that Milley provided to meet his journalistic obligations were his various comparisons of his commander-in-chief to Nazis—a violation of Article 88 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice. He reportedly offered further allegations to journalists that news outlets like the Epoch Times and Newsmax were “terrorist” organizations. When pressed on such details the usually punctilious Milley shrugs, in the fashion of James Comey’s under-oath testimonies, that he does “not recall” such specifics. Such is the honor of the nation’s most visible military officer.
Although by statute Milley lacks operational command, he admittedly has intervened in the operational protocols concerning the use of nuclear weapons. At one point, after a conversation with, and on the apparent prompting of, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), he redirected normal decision-making channels concerning the potential use of nuclear weapons through his own person. That is forbidden by law—despite what his beltway apologists have pleaded.
More interestingly, though, Milley took it upon himself to call up the major military leaders of Communist China, and to apprise them that (in his opinion) the United States was in crisis (“messy”). No worries, though: the freelancing Milley assured the People’s Liberation Army heads that they should not worry about any preemptive attack or aggression, since Milley himself apparently was in de facto charge of such strategic decision-making and would warn them in advance if his country seemed dangerously aggressive. Thus far in the imbroglio, the Pentagon and the retired military apparently seem comfortable with such a radically new role for the chairman of the Joint Chiefs.
Milley ignored that Trump was the first president in memory who did not initiate a major new military engagement. And when pressed under oath, Milley himself later confessed that he did not think Trump was likely to start a war against anyone—which raises the question of why he even made such a peremptory call to our adversaries? Much of what Milley has testified to under oath before Congress is flatly contradicted by transcripts of his phone call with Pelosi, is in utter conflict with statements made by President Biden and the State Department and cannot be reconciled with his own frequent prior disclosures to journalists.
In sum, America’s highest-ranking honorific military officer has violated the Uniform Code of Military Justice, has violated the law concerning his own advisory role as chairman of the Joint Chiefs, and has either serially not told the truth, or assumes that Nancy Pelosi, Joe Biden, several journalists (and various earlier incarnations of himself) are all not telling the truth.
Milley has set a new precedent for the leadership of the Joint Chiefs of Staff: it is now permissible to be overtly political, to leak confidential conversations to progressive book-writing journalists, to freelance and warn likely enemies if and when the U.S. military might take action against them, and to pick and choose when to exercise (illegally) operational command, and when (legally) to refrain, or at least to remain “only” an advisor, when culpability for a disaster, like the one in Afghanistan, is determined.
Historians will later ponder why this officer has not resigned and what his continued tenure says about the status of the current U.S. military.
The Health Wizard
Our pandemic czar, Anthony Fauci, early on in the COVID-19 crisis praised the efforts of China to work with the world in containing the virus. Yet the Chinese did not disclose accurate information about the nature, origins, and spread of the virus. Indeed, Beijing had locked down the ground-zero Wuhan metropolis from all internal travel, while allowing its possibly infectious residents to fly freely to the United States and Europe.
China then criticized Western travel bans as xenophobic and warped the World Health Organization to the point that its director initially assured the United States that COVID-19 was not a global threat and would be contained.
Fauci himself insisted that the virus’s most likely origins were natural, to be found in animals sold in a Wuhan “wet” market. He also still cannot quite concede that the “science” favors the idea that naturally acquired COVID-19 immunity is comparable or superior to the protection provided by vaccinations. And thus, Fauci cannot adequately explain why someone with antibodies from a prior infection must be vaccinated—other than the assumption of his past use of the “noble lie,” or the idea that grandees must sometimes not tell the truth in a public-spirited effort to prevent ignorant American citizens from doing something not approved by our elites—such as some with natural antibodies not wishing to be vaccinated after recovering from COVID-19.
Fauci has dismissed increasing scientific objections that the virus bore evidence of being engineered, that there were dissident reports from Chinese sources that the virus most likely was released, if accidentally, from the Wuhan top-security virology research lab, and that the Chinese military and government went to great efforts to silence any Chinese scientist or medical professional who connected the Wuhan creation of the SARS-CoV-2 virus to the nearby government lab.
Fauci adamantly denied under congressional oath that he had funded any “gain-of-function” viral research in Wuhan. Yet he admitted that his National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, along with the National Institute of Health, had given several hundred thousand dollars for Wuhan virology research, apparently much of it focused on alterations of viruses (in grantese: “further altering the mutant viruses”) to discover levels of infectiousness and transmissibility. And he had routed much of such aid to the Chinese Wuhan lab through the EcoHealth Alliance, an organization run by Dr. Peter Daszak.
Daszak himself headed a “global” medical investigation that strangely enough found no human role in the outbreak of the new SARS-CoV-2 virus. Yet he was later recused from his investigatory leadership, apparently due to failure to disclose his own conflicts of interest in Chinese-Western viral research. Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?
In the end, we are left with the fact that the controversial, media-obsessed, and highly visible Dr. Anthony Fauci praised Chinese cooperation in containing the virus. He has admitted that a federal agency under his direction had channeled viral research grants to the likely source of the outbreak in a Wuhan virology lab. And yet he has denied the lab itself was either engaged in gain-of-function research or received U.S. dollars to pursue such research, although much of the scientific community now disagrees with his flat-out definition that American subsidized research at Wuhan could not possibly be seen as artificially enhancing the lethality or transmissibility of natural viruses.
The Moral Leader
In the past week, Joe Biden did what he now seems to do every week: He told a series of untruths that the media simply ignored or reported as true. Within the space of a few days, he lied when he said his own border patrol agents whipped illegal aliens trying to enter the United States illegally. He lied when he said only 4 million had been vaccinated when he entered office—although that was not quite as bold a lie as when he earlier entered office claiming that no one had been vaccinated (it was 17 million actually). And he lied about “trillionaires” (none exist) not paying their fair share.
Collate Biden’s accounts of the advice he says he got from the chairman of the Joint Chiefs and the defense secretary with what the latter two swore to under oath, and either Biden or his military advisors or both are simply not telling the truth.
Biden says that as vice president and as a candidate for president, he never knew of, much less participated in, or profited from, his son Hunter’s various multimillion-dollar shakedowns of foreign governments.
Hunter’s schemes included Ukraine (the Burisma rip-off) and China (his “real estate” partnership bankrolled by $1.5 billion in Chinese investment money). Despite earlier promises, Hunter apparently still has not disposed of his 10-percent stake in an investment company related to the Chinese Communist government that has ties to companies sanctioned by the U.S. government.
Most recently the younger Biden dreamed up a fraudulent art con to hock his paintings to anonymous buyers, who are more interested in buying his father’s clout than investing in Hunter’s lack of artistic ability. Hunter, remember, has no business talent to speak of, other than his name and leveraging his father’s influence on behalf of foreign interests. But he does have a long history of serial drug use, reckless, anti-social behavior, and general unethical conduct.
Joe Biden, remember, flew on Air Force Two with Hunter, just two weeks before the huge deal with Hunter’s Chinese partners was announced. The statement by Joe Biden that he knew nothing of Hunter’s quid pro quo imbroglios is belied by his son’s trips with him on government flights, by photos of Joe Biden with Hunter’s foreign associates, by references in emails to Joe’s cut, and by testimony from Hunter’s own associate Tony Bobulinski that Biden was fully involved in and knowledgeable of his son’s grifting
Indeed, from his son’s own emails, we know that Joe Biden was referred to by Hunter’s grifting associates as “the Big Guy,” with a reference to a 10 percent cut (e.g., “10 held by H for the big guy?”). So, from Hunter’s own associate we hear that Joe received monies for the use of his name and position to leverage foreign connections. We also know from Joe’s own braggadocio that he leveraged Ukraine officials to stop investigating the very firm that his son was so assiduously milking for money. And we know that Joe has used Hunter’s profits for his own personal expenses. In sum, without Joe Biden’s complicity, the Bidens’ corrupt empire would never have existed.
None of this apparently matters. Few worry over Joe Biden’s inability to tell the truth, his reliance on the fusion media to disguise his serial mendacity, his overt refusal to be questioned regularly by the press, and his disastrous and unpopular policies concerning Afghanistan, the border, inflation and deficits, and reduced oil and gas development.
In a strange way, Biden’s cognitive dysfunction and age-related befuddlement serve as prophylactics. The understood contextualization of his serial fantasies and lies goes something like, “Well, you might lie too, or get confused, if you were 78, given a president’s schedule and past serious brain operations.”
Or perhaps a cruder form of apologetics is intended: “Damned right he lies constantly and of course he seems addled. So, what exactly are you going to do about it—replace him with Kamala Harris?”
How do these people continue to exercise such power and influence? There are at least four likely reasons:
1) D.C. Deference Culture. As creatures of government and Washington, they, and legions like them, understand that there are zero consequences for not telling the truth. When trapped in “misstatements” and “I don’t recall” fibs, they tend to resort to an argument from authority, whether that be leveraged by the initials following their name, their titles, or their ribbons and medallions. They have enjoyed life-long impressive government remuneration and their obsequious fealty understandably seems to be first toward the permanent beltway corporate, media, and government class that protects and abets them.
2) Careerism. They understand America’s academic, cultural, and corporate institutions—the media, Wall Street, academia, Silicon Valley, the federal bureaucracy, Hollywood, and now professional sports—are monopolized by leftists. And so, they make the necessary adjustments to ingratiate themselves with such centers of power, often virtue signaling their anger against the supposedly Neanderthal and deplorable Right.
Thus, Hollywood’s heartthrob Fauci’s constant sermonizing about the unvaccinated (that carefully avoids any allusion to the least vaccinated of all demographics, African Americans, and illegal aliens). Thus, Milley mounts a crusade not against the Taliban, but against “white rage.” Thus, Joe Biden’s invective against “chumps,” “dregs,” the “fat,” and “lying dog-faced pony soldier(s).”
3) China. As good globalists, they have a surreal, if not dangerously familiar, relationship with their communist Chinese counterparts, whether in the highest echelons of the People’s Liberation Army, the military-affiliated researchers at the Wuhan lab, or the government-controlled companies that have invested in the Biden family’s various grifts.
4) The Shadow of Trump. All three of these careerists came to greater prominence as progressive anti-Trump mascots, as part of their acquiring woke insurance.
Once Milley apologized to the nation for appearing next to Trump, it was but a short devolution to assuring Michelle Obama that he too was delighted that Trump lost the election or making sure that Washington insider journalists knew that he too considered Trump a Hitlerian figure. That was a wise career move for Milley, since legions of Washington grandees and reporters are now lining up in his defense. And likely greater rewards await Milley upon retirement: what the public sees as embarrassing behavior, corporate defense contractors likely will welcome as properly positioned assets.
Likewise, it did not take Fauci too long to see he would be damaged goods if he continued as an advisor to the hated Trump Administration. So in back channels, he made his own odium known and began appearing exclusively on left-wing television to erase the earlier stain of appearing next to Trump in his supposedly nonpartisan role as COVID-19 advisor.
Again, that hedge was smart. As a result, the now angelic St. Fauci became a veritable deity on the Left—in the manner it had once briefly canonized a Ruth Bader Ginsburg or Robert Mueller, before inevitably turning on both as disappointments.
Finally, Joe Biden had little to recommend him as president, as his past two failed campaigns, and his early dismal 2020 effort attested. But once Biden rebooted himself as having no ideas or policies other than hating Trump and being the only “centrist” leftist who could beat him, he too was consecrated.
All his racist slurs and looney statements were forgiven—at least as long as he seems to offer some utility before abdicating to Kamala Harris.
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Victor Davis Hanson is a distinguished fellow of the Center for American Greatness and the Martin and Illie Anderson Senior Fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution. He is an American military historian, columnist, a former classics professor, and scholar of ancient warfare. He has been a visiting professor at Hillsdale College since 2004. Hanson was awarded the National Humanities Medal in 2007 by President George W. Bush. Hanson is also a farmer (growing raisin grapes on a family farm in Selma, California) and a critic of social trends related to farming and agrarianism. He is the author most recently of The Second World Wars: How the First Global Conflict Was Fought and Won and The Case for Trump.