September 28, 2022

Irregulars

By Katherine L. Kuzminski

For decades, the U.S. Republican Party had an effective claim of ownership over its country’s military affairs. The Republican president Ronald Reagan faced down the Soviet Union and helped end the Cold War in the 1980s, while his Republican successor George H.W. Bush erased the political scars of Vietnam by prosecuting the Gulf War of the early ’90s in 43 days. If a Democrat wanted to be president, they had more or less to emulate their opposition when it came to national security. Bill Clinton, elected in 1992 as the first Democratic president since 1980, even made the Republican William Cohen his Defense Secretary. By the mid-2000s, an American public disillusioned by seemingly endless wars in Iraq and Afghanistan had soured on military adventurism, but public opinion on the military and its leadership appeared unaffected. That all began to change with the fractious presidency of Donald Trump, and today, the sanctity of the U.S. military—much like that of much like the U.S. Supreme Court—is under political attack: With recruitment numbers down, right-wing critics attribute the problem to “woke” social-engineering policies that they see as having weakened America’s most trusted institution. High-profile commentators on the right, such as Tucker Carlson and Ben Shapiro—along with some of the more conservative members of the U.S. House and Senate—are escalating their criticism of the military and threaten to fracture public perceptions of the Armed Forces for years to come. ​​What’s driving these attacks?

Katherine Kuzminski is a senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security, an independent, bipartisan policy-research organization based in Washington, and the director of its Military, Veterans, and Society Program. Before joining CNAS, Kuzminksi worked at the RAND Corporation, researching military-personnel policy. In 2016, she was a signatory to a letter signed by 122 Republican national-security leaders arguing that Trump’s personal behavior and views on national security made him unfit for the presidency. Kuzminski says that Trump’s ongoing denunciations of the U.S. military’s leadership have been influential, but they’ve also tapped into an underlying current of populist resentment that will likely continue moving on the American right. To her, these rebukes fundamentally misunderstand the power dynamics at play between enlisted officers and civilian policymakers. Still, if the right’s disenchantment with the U.S. military and its leadership grows, it could find common ground with the elements of the left, in its own populist wing, transforming a once-fringe political tendency into something that destabilizes a long-standing bipartisan consensus on American military policy.

Read the full article from The Signal.

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