- By Thomas E. RicksThomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military for the Washington Post from 2000 through 2008.
By Jim Gourley
Best Defense chief military culture correspondent
Back in 2011, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Martin Dempsey wondered aloud at a National Guard leadership conference why the U.S. military had scored the highest among Americans polled on what institutions they trusted most. “Maybe if I knew what it would take to screw it up, I could avoid it,” he said.
The numbers haven’t wavered outside of statistical error since then. Despite highly unfavorable public opinion of the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, polls by Gallup and Pew back in June showed public confidence in the military holding above 75 percent. The implication appears to be that no one blames the military for failing to achieve distinct victory. It leads one to wonder just what the American people will blame the military for. In the last year, the military has run some of the biggest governmental scandals this side of the fiscal cliff. To recap, by service:
- Two high-profile sexual assault fiascos, one of which by a sexual assault prevention officer
- A massive cheating conspiracy among nuclear missile officers
- Shady handling of pilot deaths in the F-22
- The discovery they lied about the severity of a B-2 crash years ago
- The revelations of the Air Force Academy’s secret informant program
- A bribery scandal involving top-ranking officers, high-level security clearances, millions of contract dollars, hookers, and Lady Gaga tickets
- Nuclear reactor officers cheating on their tests (what is it about cheating on nuke exams?)
- The incompetence of two generals leading to an attack that destroyed eight aircraft and killed two Marines.
- Potential undue command influence of a trial by the commandant
- Potential tampering with evidence in a trial by the commandant
- Potential cover ups by the commandant
- Petty, vindictive reprisals against the press for covering the commandant’s indiscretions … probably enacted by the commandant
- A $34 million dollar contract for a building in Afghanistan the military will never use
- A recruiting fraud scandal running up a $100 million tab
- The discovery that a four-star general turned the National Security Agency into the biggest American diplomatic catastrophe since Dick Cheney.
- “Minor” sexual indiscretion among senior officers is so rampant that it’s futile to try to parse out cases among each service.
Then there’s the massive waste occurring in the Defense Department’s accounting systems. But with tens of billions involved, there’s plenty for everyone to lay claim to. Dempsey’s question almost deserves a comedic rephrasing. “What’s a military gotta do around here to lose the public trust?” Or is it perhaps that we’ve run out of other places to put it, and it’s going to rest with the military no matter what?
Kevin Baron is a national security reporter for Foreign Policy, covering defense and military issues in Washington. He is also vice president of the Pentagon Press Association. Baron previously was a national security staff writer for National Journal, covering the "business of war." Prior to that, Baron worked in the resident daily Pentagon press corps as a reporter/photographer for Stars and Stripes. For three years with Stripes, Baron covered the building and traveled overseas extensively with the secretary of defense and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, covering official visits to Afghanistan and Iraq, the Middle East and Europe, China, Japan and South Korea, in more than a dozen countries. From 2004 to 2009, Baron was the Boston Globe Washington bureau's investigative projects reporter, covering defense, international affairs, lobbying and other issues. Before that, he muckraked at the Center for Public Integrity. Baron has reported on assignment from Asia, Africa, Australia, Europe, the Middle East and the South Pacific. He was won two Polk Awards, among other honors. He has a B.A. in international studies from the University of Richmond and M.A. in media and public affairs from George Washington University. Originally from Orlando, Fla., Baron has lived in the Washington area since 1998 and currently resides in Northern Virginia with his wife, three sons, and the family dog, The Edge.| The E-Ring |