Pinkston News Service
December 9, 2021
WASHINGTON, DC — (Pinkston News Service) —A new survey of American public opinion revealed that a minority of Americans (45%) have a “great deal of trust and confidence” in the U.S. military — compared to 70% just three years ago. At the same time, a majority of the 2,523 Americans surveyed identified China as the greatest threat to America.
The survey, commissioned by the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation and Institute (www.reaganfoundation.org), was released at the Reagan National Defense Forum (RNDF), an annual gathering of defense industry executives, congressional and military leaders at the Reagan Library in California.
Among those lacking a great deal of confidence in the military, the most oft-cited reason was political leadership. Over the past three years, both Presidents Trump and Biden faced challenges and controversies in the role of commander-in-chief.
Notably, the Trump administration weathered criticism for its negotiations with the Taliban as well as its attempt to withdraw American troops from northern Syria. Still in its first year, the Biden administration also received heavy criticism for the military’s rocky pullout from Afghanistan and the subsequent collapse of that country’s democratic government. Political opponents have also accused the Biden administration of “purging” the military of leaders who don’t share the administration’s ideology.
Some RNDF attendees framed the public’s lack of confidence in the military within broader trends in public sentiment. “We do have a problem with institutions and government,” said Karl Rove, a former White House deputy chief of staff, during a panel discussion. “But the military is faring pretty damn good compared to the rest of them.”
Rove pointed out that the military was one of only four institutions that have improved their public standing in Gallup polling since 2000, along with small business, the healthcare system and organized labor.
The widespread recognition of China as the top threat facing the U.S. represented an even more drastic change in sentiment than the recent erosion of confidence in the U.S. military.
Roger Zakheim, Washington director of the Ronald Reagan Institute, told Fox News that discussions about China are now taking place in living rooms across America because “in every aspect of our lives, but particularly in the security front, China is acting more aggressively and making investments.” He gave the Trump administration credit for refocusing the nation on the threat of China, and the Biden administration credit for maintaining that focus.
In the defense and national security spaces, China is frequently prompting headlines which cause concern among Americans. The Wall Street Journal, for instance, recently reported that China is working to establish a military base in the western African country of Equatorial Guinea, a move which would grant them a much greater ability to project power in the Atlantic Ocean.
RNDF panelists pointed out that China’s aims don’t stop there. General Laura Richardson, who commands U.S. forces in South America, noted that “China’s playbook for Africa is taking place in Latin America now.”
The keynote speaker at RNDF, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, struck an optimistic tone. He acknowledged that China represented a stiff competitor, but said “America isn’t a country that fears competition. And we’re going to meet this one with confidence and resolve — not panic and pessimism.”