Public anger at Washington is at a high. But perhaps the much-admired military has qualities that can rub off on the rest of government.
About a third of Americans are now flat-out angry at how Washington works and not just simply dissatisfied, according to polls. Congress’s approval rating is at a record low.
Surprisingly, however, more than three-quarters of Americans retain a high confidence in one federal institution – the military. It earns even more respect than religious organizations.
This Veterans Day – marked 11-11-11 on the calendar – is an opportunity to ask what people see in their military that they would like to see in the rest of government.
Chances are, people wouldn’t focus just on how well the armed forces does in conflicts like Libya. Rather, they would probably focus on the way that soldiers operate with service, loyalty, trust, integrity, and purpose, or other high-minded qualities often found lacking in politics or civilian bureaucracies.
The best example in the public’s mind today? Gen. David Petraeus, now the CIA chief.
Qualities matter in foxholes as much as physical training. “The US military has always distinguished itself from other countries by the degree of trust and responsibility placed on its small unit leaders,” said former Defense chief Robert Gates in a speech this year.
Yes, some of the rank and file can go astray, as with the abuse of Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib. For British soldiers in Iraq, the low point was the 2003 killing of Baha Mousa, a civilian in their custody.
But most soldiers display a mental and moral strength that is not only admired on military-related holidays but by civilian employers who hire vets. After all, vets come out of a system with a high accountability for mistakes.