Barely a day after president Trump visited US troops in Iraq and Germany, questions are being raised about the politicization of the US military. During the visit, Trump unleashed partisan attacks and also signed “Make America Great Again” hats for the troops.
Analysts say the visit was a clear indication of the struggle that Pentagon officials have been going through trying to navigate the toxic political environment in the country while at the same time staying neutral and immune to any kind of political pressure.
As the US heads into the 2020 election, it’s becoming increasingly clear that this hyper-partisan state of US politics will not change, especially considering that Trump is one of the few presidents who has defied convention so many times before. The debate also comes a few days after the Secretary of Defense James Mattis stepped down. Mattis received extensive bipartisan support during his confirmation and was seen as one of the sober minds of Trump’s administration.
The secretary of defense resigned to protest the president’s abrupt decision to pull US troops out of Syria despite getting advice against the move from senior national security officials.
Trump shrugged off the criticism on Twitter and targeted the media in the process. He argued that if soldiers wanted him to sign their MAGA hats then he wouldn’t hesitate at all. However, critics focused quite a lot on the content of the president’s speech. Trump made overtly political remarks to troops who were excited to see their commander in chief. Experts warn that this kind of behavior could paint the US military as a partisan fan base for the president’s message.
Although this might play well with his base, it may jeopardize the trust that most Americans have always placed on the armed forces.
Analysts note that such visits would normally involve the president thanking soldiers for the sacrifice they have made. But when it turns out to be a political rally, then there are many issues to deal with. Analysts argue that images of soldiers clapping and jumping for a partisan message could have serious negative effects on the neutrality of the US army and the kind of trust that Americans have on the institution.
The US military is the most trusted institution in the US. A Gallup poll that was conducted in 2018 showed that 74% of all Americans had faith in the army. Analysts note that one of the ways the military has actually earned this trust is by steering clear of any political headwinds in the country. But it looks like things are changing for the worse.
Although it’s not uncommon for such visits to turn political, many analysts believe that Trump was way over the line compared to other presidents. The analysts also note that it’s incumbent upon the president, who also serves as the commander in chief, to make sure that the US army, one of the most powerful institutions in the country, is not used for partisan ends.