* One of my sabbatical goals is to catch up and write about the latest civ-mil work (and some older stuff). Robinson's book was at the top of the pile. Now I am working on Jason Dempsey's book about whether the US Army was "Conservative" or partisan in the early 2000s.
Robinson does an amazing job of taking a variety of surveys and survey experiments (where some respondents read or listen to one vignette/treatment and others get exposed to different ones to see what primes people) to assess a variety of dynamics surrounding the US military: what shapes people's views, what shapes their media consumption, what shapes media coverage, and ultimately what shapes the standing of the US military in the public. Oh, and how thoroughly screwed the US military is.
The basic idea is that there are different ways to politicize a military. The military can politicize itself by directly getting engaged in politics or by doing things that resonate beyond the military. But the book is really a story of affective politicization--that how people see the military depends not just on what the military is doing, but what the other actors in the system are doing that makes it appear as if the military is becoming closer or farther politically. This is all very important because most modern militaries in most democracies seek to be non-partisan institutions--that they were taught the key to both civilian control of the military and relative autonomy was to stay out of politics. Indeed, because most militaries are not seen as partisan, they tend to have higher popularity ratings--that most other institutions are seen as belonging to one side or another and thus at least a chunk of the political spectrum is pissed off. I have delighted in our CDSN surveys showing that only academic folks have higher trust ratings than the military.
In the US, there was an arms race between the Democrats and Republicans amassing endorsements from retired generals and admirals, as each sought to be seen as the party of national security. This was bad for the military, as it may be that the public sees retired officers as the voices of the active service since the latter are largely restricting from speaking in a partisan fashion. This culminated in Flynn chanting "Lock Her Up" at the 2016 convention, which is more than a smidge ironic or hypocritical given that Flynn was a far greater danger to releasing classified information than Clinton's email. Anyhow, things got worse once Trump got into office as he kept referring to his generals, kept making partisan statements to and in front of the military (including announcing the Muslim ban at the Pentagon).
Robinson, in his book, shows that views towards the military have become increasingly partisan--that views of the military now go up and down depending on who is president--that Republicans, traditionally strong supporters of the military, are less enthusiastic when a Dem is president. The key dynamic driving much of this is confirmation bias (woot?)--that partisans will notice only that which agrees with their preconceptions and discount that which does not agree. As Americans become increasingly partisan--with their identities tied to parties, this gets worse, especially for those who consume only from a very biased portion of the media (you know who).
What I like about this book is that it uses a word I hate, polarization, quite well. Polarization generally implies that all parties are spinning away from the center, when studies show that the GOP is becoming radicalized, but the Dems are mostly staying where they were, sliding a smidge to the left. But what is abundantly true is that all sides are increasingly tied to their partisan id. Robinson goes on to show that that consumption of Fox is not good, and so on. And the military is utterly screwed because if they push back at, say, charges of wokeness, they only make things worse. The results also show that despite all the talk of norms of civil-military relations, the public is not really aware of them, nor that concerned about them. So, it is up to the politicians to refrain and for the military to ... hope (and hope is not a plan).
So, it is a great book, with terrific social science, important implications for civil-military relations, and, yeah, we are kind of fucked.
And now it applies to Canada, damn it. The Conservatives are bringing Mr. Cancelled to their convention, imitating the GOP, so he can rail against the Liberals and the wokeness of the Canadian Armed Forces. The Liberals have dipped into this as they had Andrew Leslie, another retired LTG, in a prominent place when they ran in 2015. The key difference is that they were just trying to use his credibility and stature to buttress their own, they were not using him to attack the military, nor did he speak out that much in any way that was particularly controversial. Maisonneuve, on the other hand, used his Vimy speech and then a regular spot at a national paper, to blast the Liberals, the woke media, the military for daring to make itself more inclusive, and pretty much anyone else he felt spurned by [I am still waiting for some media outlet to note that Maisonneuve was part of the military's abuse of power crisis].
The Conservatives are embracing some of the GOP's efforts to mobilize populist resentment as they now apparently seek to tear down many Canadian institutions. When I say this will endanger Canadian civil-military relations, I don't mean there will be a coup. But it will mean that the public and politicians will view the military as a partisan actor, that appointments and decisions will be viewed through partisan lenses, and then the Canadian military will be fucked, because its efforts to defend itself as an inclusive institution, desperately needed during a personnel crisis, will be seen as partisan. "Hey, we don't discriminate against x" will be seen by CPC partisans as being too woke. Which will make it harder to recruit and retain, deepening the spiral that may make it very hard to send a ship to the Pacific or sustain the commitment to Latvia. In short, the Conservatives are starting a process that is going to be bad for the military, despite their bad faith assertions that they care more about the CAF than the Liberals do. [No, Trudeau does not care much about the CAF, but the CPC does not either].
So, here's a song that goes with all of this.