Majority of Americans lose trust in their military

December 10, 2021 - 20:24

TEHRAN - The results of a new poll show most Americans no longer maintain strong confidence in their country’s own armed forces. According to the national defense survey by the Ronald Reagan Institute; the lack of confidence in the military has jumped since President Joe Biden took over as commander-in-chief.

Reagan Institute’s annual poll asked about scores of national security issues, including the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, the role of the U.S. military in the world and top threats facing the country. The survey interviewed 2,523 people across the country between October 25 and November 7 and, according to the institute, has margin of error of 2 percent. When Americans were questioned whether they have a “great deal of trust” in their military? the survey revealed only 45 percent do. The results mean this is the first time less than half of the respondents expressed trust in American troops.

The poll finds diminishing support for “active global leadership” by the U.S., just 42 percent think America should be “more engaged and take the lead” in international affairs, down from 51 percent in February. More than one in four Americans (27 percent) want the military to reduce its armed presence overseas and only deploy troops in response to aggression. The survey shows only 42 percent have “great confidence” in the military’s ability to win a war, while just 40 percent are “confident” in the ability of the U.S. military to act in a professional and non-political manner.

The survey essentially shows Americans are unsure about the capabilities of their armed forces to meet its core responsibilities.

Other polls hint at similar projections. Over the past three years, public confidence has tumbled by 25 percentage points from a peak of 70 percent. In the past nine months alone under Biden, the rating has plummeted 11 points and the Reagan Institute survey show the figures for other public institutions are even lower. As of November, only 19 percent of Americans polled said they had strong trust in the presidency, which is down from 30 percent in February.

The survey essentially shows Americans are unsure about the capabilities of their armed forces to meet its core responsibilities.Among those surveyed by the Reagan Institute who expressed “little or no confidence” in the U.S. military, the most common reason cited was “political leadership”, in another blow to the White House. The survey also finds just 42 percent of Americans have a “great deal” of confidence in their military’s ability to win an overseas war. When asked about military action, nearly one-third (32 percent) said the U.S. used the military in too many situations where diplomacy could have been a better option.

This year, the Pentagon has come under fire after lawmakers accused the armed forces of becoming “woke.” The Biden administration’s chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan, in which 13 U.S. service members were killed and hundreds of American citizens were left stranded in the Taliban-controlled country, triggered further public outrage. The Reagan survey shows 62 percent of Americans disapprove of how the Afghanistan exit was handled. Nearly half of respondents blame Biden’s poor judgment, while 20 percent cite poor military planning.

In a summary, the institute said, “almost a year after the start of the Biden administration and a few months before the withdrawal from Afghanistan, the American people are equivocal and uncertain about the global leadership and military capabilities of the United States.” According to the summary, confidence has fallen among Republicans, Democrats and Independents. The downward trend in trust occurs more quickly for the military than for other public institutions.

Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby refused to provide any meaningful reasons for the popularity drop but said it is concerning. "We are an all-volunteer force, and the men and women who serve in this department come from homes and families all over the country," he said. "And so the American public's perceptions of the United States military matters to us, not just from a recruiting perspective, although that's valid, but also from a representational perspective."

He added that the military is not immune from the polarization occurring in the country at the moment. The press secretary added that Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin "wants to spend a little bit more time and try to see if there's some wisdom he can glean from the survey. He obviously took it seriously when he had a chance to at least look at it briefly."

Experts blame the fall in ratings for the botched troop withdrawal from Afghanistan. Senator Joni Ernst who attended a panel discussion at the Reagan National Defense Forum, says that America's "credibility" had been "jeopardized" by the troop withdrawal operations in Afghanistan. The senator further warned that the nation's allies and partners would stop looking up to the U.S. as a "partner of choice" if the new findings were to translate to U.S. perception among other nations. She also says that she was "pulled aside" by "many of our traditional allies and partners" and asked about the Afghanistan withdrawal at a Security Forum last month.

Meanwhile, Austin says he is concerned about Americans' waning trust in the military. A similar survey held in March of this year, before the Taliban took control of Afghanistan, claimed that Americans’ trust in the military had dropped by 14 percentage points since 2018. The new findings represent a further 11 percent drop. The Taliban's swift military advance in Afghanistan and its subsequent takeover of Kabul on 15 August this year has triggered widespread global and domestic criticism against the Biden administration. The poll revealed that 47 percent of Americans support the withdrawal of troops after 20 years of conflict. “Nonetheless, a majority of Americans (62 percent) say that, regardless of how they feel about the decision to withdraw troops, they disapprove of the way the withdrawal was handled”, the institute said. Overall, the survey suggests an American public that is starting to question the U.S.’ role in the world. Only 42 percent said the U.S. should be “more engaged and take the lead,” down from 51 percent in February, while 30 percent said it should be “less engaged.”

So how can the American military recover its image? The worst way would be to wage another war. The U.S. armed forces have not won a battle, arguably since World War Two. 
Instead of focusing on defending America, the Pentagon is too busy defending American interests, which are not viewed overseas as positively as they are back home. Americans want to see a military that can help defend the country’s domestic issues, at times of natural disasters for example. After all, it’s the taxpayers who are paying the Pentagon’s $700 billion budget and what are they exactly getting in return? News reports about civilians being bombed to death overseas. Washington can also start by ending a culture of impunity that excuses the killing of civilians on the battlefield.

By the same token, the survey reflects a growing reality regarding America’s allies. They too are losing confidence in Washington’s ability to defend their security interests. This sentiment is growing in West Asia and Europe who are discussing security pacts or holding meetings with the aim of warming ties. At the end of the day; the U.S. military is finding it difficult to defend its own interests, let alone that of its allies. Afghanistan will continue to haunt the United States for many decades to come.

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