“The idea of deterring Putin from invading Ukraine, deterring him by the United States, would have required the commitment of US military forces, and I think that would have risked armed conflict with Russia, which I certainly wouldn’t have advised,” the general said.
Milley, the seasoned combat veteran who has come under fire repeatedly by Republicans for what they consider his perceived “wokeness,” was responding to questions from Rep. Scott DesJarlais during the previously scheduled House Armed Services Committee budget hearing. The Tennessee Republican followed on repeated questioning from other members of his party who claim foreign policy weakness from Biden – including the fallout from the disastrous withdrawal from Afghanistan – invited the timing of Putin’s invasion.
DesJarlais’ question specifically centered on whether the US had learned anything from Ukraine about how it could effectively deter the invasion of Taiwan by China – another autocratic government that has similar goals of forcibly seizing territory it considers its own.
Republicans have repeatedly criticized Biden’s attempts to exact pain on Russia for its invasion while not inadvertently expanding the war in Ukraine, which has begun retaking territory from the invading force of Russian troops, foreign fighters and mercenaries. They draw particular attention to the US decision to supply Ukraine with drones, anti-tank missiles and other weapons but stopping short of other equipment, such as Soviet-style Mig fighter jets that Ukrainian pilots can fly. Defense officials have previously explained that they assess the import of Migs would needlessly provoke Russia in a way ground-based weapons would not.
Milley on Tuesday faced questions that have also harangued the Biden administration about its decision to rely on the imposition of sanctions against Russia.
“Sanctions have a very poor track record of deterring aggression, but they are a means of imposing significant cost,” Milley said. “Those significant costs – the sanctions in combination with the foreign export controls – are breaking the back of the Russian economy as we speak.”
Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, who testified alongside Milley, faced direct questions later about whether the scenario in Ukraine applies to China and Taiwan.
“It’s not advisable to make direct comparisons between Ukraine and Taiwan,” Austin said, dismissing as “hypothetical” the suggestion that US military forces could effectively deter China. “These are two completely different scenarios, different theaters.”
“As the world looks at this,” Austin added in response to questions from Rep. Mike Gallagher, Wisconsin Republican, “they’ve been impressed by the commitment, the resolve of many countries of the world to resist that kind of behavior.”