China is a sleeping giant. Let her sleep, for when she wakes she will move the world
– Napoléon Bonaparte
When President Barack Obama left office after two terms on a high note with a national approval rating of 57%, in the military it stood at just 36%.
Interestingly 36% is also the current approval rating of both French President Emmanuel Macron and Obama’s successor Donald Trump in their respective countries, nation-wide, with meddling with military being cited as the key if not one of the core contributors, to the plummeting of their ranking. 39-year-old centrist Macron, who polled 67% at the May election against Marine Le Pen, is the first French President to assume office without military experience. With mandatory military service being scrapped in 1990 this was not seen as a major handicap.
Within three months into office his nosedive in popularity from 67%- 36% is the steepest plummet any French President has recorded in modern France.
Two months into office, in July, he ran into trouble with the Army when it was revealed that the President was planning a €850m cut in military finances despite his election pledge to increase defence funding.
The row that followed saw young Macron, who is also the Commander-In-Chief telling the Generals “I am the boss” and Military Chief Gen Pierre de Villiers tendering his resignation. The sequence of events in the run up to de Villiers resignation shook the establishment and saw Generals observing that it spoke of “Juvenile Authoritarianism” by the President, hinting at Macron’s lack of experience in military affairs and immaturity being a young President.
The French watched Macron’s breach of promise for the Army and the way he handled the whole episode with disdain, disgust and shock.
Though the President has now promised to increase the defence budget by 2025 it did very little to undo the damage. This, coupled with his move to give a Constitutional role to his wife, plans to liberalise the Employment Code, his USD 31,000 makeup bill, sense of arrogance that has alienated him from the public and blunders by deputies of his party, République En Marche, saw an unprecedented dip in approval ratings in France.
On the other hand Donald Trump who came into power criticising war veterans and acknowledging Human Rights violations by the US military is today embroiled in another scuffle with the Army.
Despite strong protests from the military, Democrats and a section of his own party, on Friday Trump signed a directive reinstating a ban on transgender individuals from serving US military. Polls conducted after Trump first announced his move for this ban on twitter, have indicated that 68% of the US citizens too are against the ban.
Meanwhile, despite successful military operations against Al Qaeda and Libya’s Gadaffi under his regime, President Barack Obama too had soured ties with the military by the time he left White House. Obama’s moves to downsize the military, withdrawal of troops from Iraq and undermining the military warnings on potential threats from China were among the key causes that contributed to this scenario.
One can expect discrepancies in popularity ratings between the general public and those of the military in a multi-ethnic and a more right conscious nation like the United States.
However, in a more homogeneous land like France where nearly 85% of the population is formed by citizens of European origin, the military and the public think more or less on the same lines.
Any move to down-size the Army, reduce military funding, ridicule or clash with Military by the executive or the legislature even for the best of reasons, only goes to make the leaders unpopular among the majority.
However much they score internationally by the measures to weaken the military, the leaders are finally answerable to their citizens and for the majority of the public that military is their pride.