DoD: Austin Trying to Glean Wisdom From Survey Showing Loss of Public Confidence in U.S. Military

Susan Jones | December 7, 2021 | 4:15am EST
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President Joe Biden and Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin attend a Memorial Day ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery on May 31, 2021. (Photo by MANDEL NGAN/AFP via Getty Images)
President Joe Biden and Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin attend a Memorial Day ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery on May 31, 2021. (Photo by MANDEL NGAN/AFP via Getty Images)

(CNSNews.com) - "It's important for us to maintain the trust and confidence of the American people," Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin told Fox News's Bret Baier on Saturday at the Reagan National Defense Forum.

Austin was commenting on a Reagan Forum survey showing that only 45 percent of Americans report having a great deal of trust and confidence in the U.S. military. "Alarmingly," the survey said, "this is down 25 points in the last three years."

According to the survey: "Almost a year into the Biden Administration and a few months removed from the Afghanistan withdrawal, the American people are equivocal and unsure about U.S. global leadership and military capabilities."

On Monday, Pentagon spokesman John Kirby told reporters that Austin wants to "spend more time with the survey" to find out "if there's some wisdom he can glean" from it.

"I mean, he had had a chance to look at it briefly before going to the Reagan National Defense Forum," Kirby said:

And I think you heard him say that, certainly, the numbers represented in that survey are not going in the direction he would like to see them, in terms of trust and confidence. It's concerning. So, I think he wants to take a little bit more time to look at it.

I won't speculate for him about what's behind those numbers, but I would point you to what he talked about. There was the interview with Bret Baier that, you know, that we're not -- we are an all-volunteer force, and the men and women who serve in this department come from homes and families all over the country.

And so, the American public's perceptions of the United States military matters to us, not just from a recruiting perspective, although that's valid, but also from a representational perspective. And the trust and confidence of the American people, we continue to believe, is critically important to the institution.

And just like it matters to us, it also makes us -- we are not immune to the kinds of polarization that we see out in the American society. I mean, we -- because we come from America, what was out there in our society affects us, it absolutely does. So, I think he wants to spend a little bit more time and try to see if there's some wisdom he can glean from the survey.

In his Dec. 4 interview with Baier, Austin said, "the trends in this survey are not trends that we would want to see."

It's important for us to maintain the trust and confidence of the American people.

I'll take a hard look at, you know, the potential causes behind these numbers or you know, what the numbers reflect. And we'll take a hard look at ourselves to see what we should continue to do to build trust and confidence with the American people.

But, you know, Bret, if you could see what I see and I know you have because you spent a lot of time downrange. If -- if the American -- average American could see what I see on a daily basis as I go out and visit our troops and listen to them, talk about what they're doing, and watch them at work, there's no question that, you know, our American people would have confidence in our military.

I think we need to do a a better job of telling that story, telling the story of these wonderful troops and their families that have sacrificed so much in the past and continue to sacrifice on a daily basis. We need to remind, you know, America about what they're doing and the sacrifices they're making. And I think, you know, that's something we're going to work on.

Baeir also asked Austin if he has any regrets about the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan:

"Bret, I regret the fact that we lost 13 of our finest at Abbey Gate," Austin said. "I regret that we lost 10 civilians in an errant strike.

“Having said that, Bret, I want to make sure that we don't lose sight of the fact that our American forces in 17 days evacuated 124,000 people from Afghanistan. 124,000. And I think that we need to continue to remind the United States of America, and we need to continue to remind the world about the great work that they have done and that they continue to do on a daily basis."

Although Austin refused to speculate about the reasons for the declining confidence in the U.S. military, the report from the Reagan Forum offers two paragraphs on those reasons, as follows:

To understand more about the trend, a new survey question this year asked respondents to identify the main reason for their level of confidence in the U.S. military. Among those with high confidence, 29% said the reason for their level of confidence has to do with servicemembers; 15% said it has to do with the military protecting our nation and keeping us safe; and 11% said it has to do with our military capabilities, including equipment, weapons, or technology.

Among those with little or not much confidence in the military, their answers were more mixed. The most common answer was political leadership, at 13%, followed by servicemembers and anything related to scandals within the military, both at 9%. Close behind at 8% were the military leadership and the concept that the military is too expensive or has the wrong priorities. While high trust and confidence seems to attribute to our men and women in uniform, the lack of confidence in our military seems to be more about a general negative sense than a predominate or precise reason.

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