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At 36% to 37% in the latest polls, Donald Trump’s approval rating is in a ditch in what should still be the “honeymoon” period of his presidency. And yet, compared to Congress (25%), he’s a maestro of popularity. In fact, there’s just one institution in American society that gets uniformly staggeringly positive votes of “confidence” from Americans in polls and that’s the U.S. military (83%). And this should be the greatest mystery of them all.
That military, keep in mind, hasn’t won a significant conflict since World War II. (In retrospect, the First Gulf War, which once seemed like a triumph beyond compare for the globe’s highest-tech force, turned out to be just the first step into the never-ending quagmire of Iraq.) In this century, the U.S. military has, in fact, stumbled from one “successful” invasion to another, one terror-spreading conflict to the next, without ever coming up for air. Meanwhile, the American taxpayer has poured money into the Pentagon and the rest of the national security state in amounts that should boggle the mind. And yet, the U.S. hasn’t been able to truly extricate itself from a single country it’s gotten involved in across the Greater Middle East for decades. In the wake of its ministrations, nations have crumbled, allies have been crippled, and tens of millions of people across a vast region of the planet have been uprooted from their homes and swept into the maelstrom. In other words, Washington’s version of imperial war fighting should be seen as the record from hell for a force regularly hailed here as the “finest” in history. The question is: finest at what?
All of this is on the record. All of this should be reasonably apparent to anyone half-paying attention and yet the American public’s confidence in the force fighting what Rebecca Gordon has termed “forever wars” is almost off the charts. For that, you can undoubtedly blame, in part, the urge of the military high command never again to experience a citizen’s army roiled by antiwar protests and in near revolt as in the Vietnam era. As a result, in 1973, the draft was ended and in the decades that followed the public was successfully demobilized when it came to American war. George W. Bush’s classic post-9/11 suggestion that Americans respond to the horror of those falling towers by visiting Disney World and enjoying “life the way we want it to be enjoyed” caught that mood exactly. But the explanation undoubtedly goes deeper yet, as TomDispatch regular Gordon, author of American Nuremberg, suggests today.