As the Trump administration recedes into memory and Joe Biden takes the reins of the warfare state, it’s important to reflect on the changing nature of American militarism over the last decade. Trump received a lot of attention for his proclamation that “we are ending the era of endless wars.” But this was more rhetoric than reality, and never received much support from his base, which appeared perfectly fine with militarism and war. As I documented during Trump’s term using national survey data, support (in hindsight) for the war in Iraq, continued support for war with Syria, and agreement that Trump should escalate the U.S. conflict with Iran, were all significantly associated with increased support for Trump.
A comprehensive examination of the Trump administration’s policies demonstrates that across many issues, his presidency was significantly worse than its predecessor, despite both being defined by hyper-militarist policies. At day’s end, both presidents will be remembered for keeping the war machine humming and for the politics of limited-engagement militarism via their avoidance of long-term commitments to large concentrations of ground troops in major military conflicts. Obama’s first term was largely a continuation of the George W. Bush administration’s commitment to large numbers of “boots on the ground” in the “War on Terrorism.” Bush committed more than 160,000 troops to the Iraq war at its height in 2007, and Obama committed more than 100,000 troops to Afghanistan at the height of his escalation from 2010 to 2011.