Obama's popularity falls to record low among US troops. Why?

Only 15 percent of US active-duty service members approve of President Obama's job as commander-in-chief, according to an annual Military Times survey. What's behind American troop dissatisfaction?

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    A soldier photographs Vice President Joe Biden as he speaks to troops at Fort Campbell, Ky., Friday, May 6, 2011. President Barack Obama and Biden came to Fort Campbell to address soldiers who have recently returned from Afghanistan.
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If President Obama's approval ratings have slipped with the general population, they have plummeted to record lows within one segment of the population: the US military.

Only 15 percent of active-duty service members approve of Mr. Obama's job as commander-in-chief, according to an annual Military Times survey, and more than half – 55 percent – say they disapprove of his job. The president has never been a very popular commander-in-chief among troops, but these numbers reflect a record low for Obama. His first year in office he enjoyed a relatively high 35-percent approval rating. 

Compare that to his approval rating in the general population, which is far higher, though still slumping: In the most recent CNN/ORC poll, Obama had a 44 percent approval rating among Americans.

"[O]ne thing is clear," writes the Military Times. "He is a deep[ly] unpopular commander in chief among the troops."

Why?

Obama's sinking popularity among the troops can be traced to a number of factors: budget cuts, falling troop morale, frustrations over the Obama administration's foreign policy, gay and gender equity initiatives within the military, and US political leaders in general.

According to the Military Times' poll, troops are more unhappy under Obama than they were under previous commanders-in-chief. Some 91 percent of active duty service members were satisfied with their quality of life in 2009. This year, that figure dropped to 56 percent.

One reason: More than half of American troops believe they are underpaid today. In 2009, 87 percent of service members rated their pay and allowance as good or excellent; today, just 44 percent do so. 

For good reason, reports the Military Times.

"Congress just approved, at the request of the Pentagon and the White House, a 1 percent basic pay raise the for the troops next year," writes the publication, attributing it in part, to sequestration. "[That's] the second straight year of such a raise, constituting the two smallest annual increases in the 41-year history of the all-volunteer force."

Events in Iraq, Afghanistan, and the rise of the Islamic State, have also led some in the military to challenge Obama's foreign policy.

His decision to remove all troops from Iraq in 2011 helped lead to the rise of the militant group ISIS, according to some military experts, who see Obama as a weak leader in foreign policy. The rise of ISIS forced Obama to return US troops to the region, another unpopular decision among troops. When asked whether the US should send a large force of combat troops back to Iraq to fight Islamic State militants, 70 percent of survey respondents said, 'No.'

Similarly, the report found troops were unhappy with the outcome of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, for which they blame their commander-in-chief.

"The percentage of troops who feel the war in Afghanistan ultimately will be viewed as a success has taken a nosedive since 2007," writes the Military Times. "Similarly, only 30 percent of respondents feel the eight-year Iraq War was a success.

"The pessimism about Iraq is especially understandable; troops have spent years listening to senior leaders tell them Iraq was emerging as a stable democracy, its army a reliable ally in the fight against Islamic extremism. Just a few years later, both notions turned out to be spectacularly wrong."

Obama has also pushed through major social changes in a traditional institution unused to social upheaval, including allowing gays to openly serve in the military, ending the ban on women in combat troops, and cracking down on sexual assault and harassment. 

"For Obama's supporters, the cultural changes he's overseeing are on a level with President Truman's 1948 order that desegregated the military and put it at the forefront of the national push for racial equality," writes the Military Times. But for some in the US military, the wave of changes to deep-seated policies and attitudes can be jarring," concludes the report, adding, "[T]o his critics, his moves amount to heavy-handed social engineering that erode deep-seated traditions and potentially undermine good order and discipline."

But Obama has reason not to take the nosediving approval rating too personally: It turns out his unpopularity among troops comes with falling support for and trust in both major political parties.

According to the poll, nearly half of active duty service members surveyed said they believe both the Republican and Democratic parties have become less supportive of military issues. Only 12 percent said both parties “have the armed forces’ best interests at heart,” according to the Military Times.

The report found US troops, like the general population, are increasingly frustrated with gridlocked congressional politics.

As Army Sgt. 1st Class Gregory Pettigrew told the Military Times, "It seems like all the [congressional] debate now is completely disconnected from reality. They don't really seem to care about how their decisions impact us."

 
 
 

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