The Wrongologist

Geopolitics, Power and Political Economy

Military is Less Supportive of Trump

The Daily Escape:

The Olympic Range from Mt. Elinor trail – 2019 photo by malevolint

A new poll by the Military Times (MT) shows that half of active-duty service members are unhappy with Trump as their Commander-in-Chief. This represented a  decline in his approval rating since he was elected in 2016.

The top line numbers show Trump is viewed very favorably or favorably by 41.6% of those surveyed, while 49.9% view him very unfavorably or unfavorably. 8.5% were neutral on the question. By comparison, when the MT surveyed the troops after Trump won in November 2016, 46% of troops surveyed had a positive view of Trump, while only 37% had a negative opinion.

The poll surveyed 1,630 active-duty MT subscribers between October 23 and December 2, 2019, in partnership with the Institute for Veterans and Military Families (IVMF) at Syracuse University. The numbers have a margin of error of ± 2%. The survey audience was 92% male and 8% female. Respondents identified themselves as 75% white, 14% Hispanic, 13% African American, 5% Asian and 5% other ethnicities. Here is a chart of the top line changes over time:

Trump’s overall favorability is similar to what he receives in the civilian population.

Some of the big drivers of the increase in his unfavorability have to do with military decisions. While troops supported Trump’s steps to disengage in Afghanistan (59% approve of negotiating with the Taliban), 58% disapproved of his decision to withdraw US forces from northern Syria. When asked about using military funds to build the southern border wall, 59% disapproved of his decision. More than half rated current US relations with “traditional allies” like NATO as poor.

Some other findings:

  • Military men are more supportive of Trump than military women: 43% of men rate him favorably, while among women service members, 53% expressed a “very unfavorable” rating, and 56% responded negatively.
  • By race, there were key differences: 46% of whites had a favorable view, versus 45% unfavorable. Among non-white service members, about 66% held a negative view of Trump.
  • 33% of respondents identified as conservative, outnumbering liberals (25%).
  • There was a shift toward more service members identifying as political independents. They now are 45% of respondents, up by 3% since 2018.
  • There was a 3% increase in the number of Democrats, and a 7% decrease in the number who considered themselves Republicans, or Libertarians.
  • Regarding impeachment, 47% backed impeachment, while 46% were opposed, roughly the same as the rest of the American public.
  • More than 75% said they think the military community has become more politically polarized, with about 40% now saying they have seen significantly more division in the ranks.

While historically male, white and Republican, the military is changing rapidly. The swing in the numbers of self-declared Democrats and Republicans is important. Many are confused about the military’s role, and America’s global mission.

Mark Bowden has a current article in The Atlantic about the negative view of Trump held by recently retired generals. Here is the key takeaway:

“In 20 years of writing about the military, I have never heard officers in high positions express such alarm about a president.”

Bowden is a highly respected military historian who wrote Black Hawk Down, and Huế 1968. He quotes a general saying that Trump: (brackets by Wrongo)

“…doesn’t understand the warrior ethos…it’s sort of a sacred covenant not just among members of the military profession, but between the profession and the society in whose name we fight and serve…. Trump [just] doesn’t understand.”

There is an opening for Democrats here. Plenty of issues are up for grabs, like the fact that the military spouse unemployment rate floats around 20%, or that homeless veterans are overrepresented at 11% of all homeless adults, and commit suicide at 1.5 times the rate of their non-veteran adult counterparts.

There are serious problems with lead in both military housing paint, and in their drinking water. Reuters did a special report on this last year.

Democrats have pushed policies for limits on payday lenders, while Trump and the Republicans support them.

Military sexual assault, energized by Sen. Gillibrand (D-NY), still has yet to pass. Gillibrand’s law would require that all sexual assault cases are placed in the hands of experienced military prosecutors, outside the chain of command.

So far, Democrats haven’t offered a clear alternative that our military can endorse. Dems need to speak in a voice that conceptualizes the military not just as a special interest looking for a pay raise, but as a unique community that defends us against all enemies, foreign and domestic.

Can the Democrats running for president embrace the military?


Transformative Ideas, Part II – Reestablish Compulsory Military Service

This is Part II of a continuing series in 2015, bringing forward for your review, ideas that have the potential to transform and end the ossification of our country. Part I was about ending our love affair with the unregulated free market.

In Part II, we argue for re-establishing compulsory military service. In response to the anti-military opinion during the Vietnam War, Nixon replaced the compulsory military draft with an all-volunteer force in 1973. This facilitated our ability to make decisions about conducting wars without worrying about who fights them.

Registering for the draft (as differentiated from compulsory service) is still the law for young men in America. If you were born in 1996 or earlier, that means you’re potentially on the hook if America runs out of professional military during wartime.

There are two problems that compulsory military service will help to ameliorate. First, the permanent state of war that our politicians and defense contractors have fostered in the past 40 years. Charles F. Wald, retired Air Force general who oversaw the start of the air war in Afghanistan in 2001 told the WaPo in September:

We’re not going to see an end to this in our lifetime.

Second, a professional military has dangerously skewed the demographics of our professional military compared to our society at large.

We have a permanent state of war because the price we pay is opaque, or meaningless to most citizens, despite some estimates that Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan cost more than $4.4 Trillion, including future obligations for the disabilities of American soldiers. Reinstating the draft would compel the American public to have “skin in the game” for the wars we fight. James Fallows in a very important article for The Atlantic gives us some perspective relative to when we had the draft and what goes on today: (brackets and parenthesis by the Wrongologist)

At the end of World War II, nearly 10% of the entire US population was on active military duty—which meant most able-bodied men of a certain age (plus the small number of women allowed to serve).

[Today] the US military has about 1.4 million people on active duty and another 850,000 in the reserves.

(Out of a population of 310 million, or about three-quarters of 1%, served in Iraq or Afghanistan at any point in the post-9/11 years, many, many of them more than once)

Since 1970, the population of the US has grown by about 50%, from roughly 200 million to 300 million. Over the same period, the number of active-duty armed forces has fallen approximately 50%, from 3 million to 1.4 million. Fallows quotes Admiral Mike Mullen, the retired chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff under George W. Bush and Barack Obama: (brackets by the Wrongologist)

My concern is this growing disconnect between the American people and our military…I would sacrifice some of [our military’s] …excellence and readiness to make sure that we stay close to the American people. Fewer and fewer people know anyone in the military. It’s become just too easy to go to war.

Moving to the demographic differences between the professional military and American society at large, Charles J. Dunlap Jr., a retired Air Force major general who is at the Duke Law Schools says: (emphasis by the Wrongologist)

I think there is a strong sense in the military that it is indeed a better society than the one it serves…In the generation coming up, we’ve got lieutenants and majors who had been the warrior-kings in their little outposts…They were literally making life-or-death decisions. You can’t take that generation and say, ‘You can be seen and not heard.’

Dunlap told James Fallows: (brackets by the Wrongologist)

[The military is] becoming increasingly tribal…in the sense that more and more people in the military are coming from smaller and smaller groups. It’s become a family tradition, in a way that’s at odds with how we want to think a democracy spreads the burden.

Making Dunlap’s point, Danielle Allen, of the Institute for Advanced Studies on Military Service wrote about the political implications of a professional military in the WaPo:

By the end of the draft in 1973, military service was distributed pretty evenly across regions. But that is no longer true.

Tellingly, changes to the map of military service since 1973 align closely with today’s red and blue states. Montana, Alaska, Florida, Wyoming, Maine and Texas now send the largest number of people per capita to the military. The states with the lowest contribution rates? Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Jersey and New York. What’s clear from the data is that a major national institution, the US military, now has tighter connections to some regions of the country than to others. The uneven pattern of military service is not an insignificant reflection of the cultural differences that characterize different regions of this diverse country. This has broad ramifications for our future.

Heidi A. Urben, a Lieutenant Colonel, studied the attitudes of the officer corps, and found that about 60% said they identify with the Republican Party, and that 70% had not changed their party affiliation, despite two long wars.

The Pentagon reports that bringing back conscription would be costly at a time when the US Army is drawing down its forces. It might cost billions to reinstate the draft, while maintaining the present quality of armed forces. But it may be the only way to wake up a detached and nonvoting public that has depersonalized military service. The additional cost of managing a draft and training all Americans for some kind of government service would pay dividends:

• A draft would ensure that government decision-making regarding military involvement would be undertaken only after the fullest debate — a debate today that seems to not be part of the national consciousness and hardly registers any interest by the public.
• A draft would narrow the gap between people in power in Washington and the men and women at peril in fighting our nation’s battles.
• A draft could re-balance the skewed demographics of the military.

A draft could mean that voting on Election Day would be more important in our now-fragile democracy. It could mean that going to war is worth having every citizen sacrifice, or it isn’t worth any soldier’s life.