The Draft vs. Patriotism Lite?

[Updated] The possibility of resurrecting the military draft was briefly a campaign issue, but with politicians of all stripes swearing that bringing back the draft would be impossible, it went away. The reality that we are overextended in Iraq remains, but politicians are keeping their heads firmly implanted in the sand.’s War Room pointed me to an article on the possible return of the draft. The War Room also pointed to a New York Times article on the difficulty recruiters are facing.

    At least 37 members of the Army Recruiting Command, which oversees enlistment, have gone AWOL since October 2002, Army figures show. And, in what recruiters consider another sign of stress, the number of improprieties committed – signing up unqualified people to meet quotas or giving bonuses or other enlistment benefits to recruits not eligible for them – has increased, Army documents show.

In a symposium held Wednesday (30 March), Lawrence Korb, a draft opponent and assistant defense secretary in the Reagan administration, now senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank, and a senior adviser to the Center for Defense Information and Phillip Carter, a conscription advocate and former Army captain, now an attorney who writes on military affairs for and other media, agreed on a couple things: First, “[w]ith recruitment lagging and no end in sight for U.S. forces in Iraq, the ‘breaking point’ for the nation’s all-volunteer military will be mid-2006.”

    “What keeps me awake at night is what will this all-volunteer force look like in 2007,” Richard Cody, the Army Vice Chief of Staff, told the Senate Armed Services Committee on March 16.

    Korb, assistant secretary defense for manpower from 1981 through 1985, said the current rotation is unfair to the “patriotic” men and women who volunteered for military service and are stuck on a cycle in and out of Iraq. Since only a tiny segment of the populace is sacrificing, there is no political pressure to change the system, he said.

    “If you had a draft right now, I think you’d be out of Iraq,” Korb said.

    The American society “hasn’t gotten the message that we’re at war,” agreed Carter.

    “Those at peril are completely divorced from those in power,” said Mark Shields, a syndicated columnist and TV commentator who moderated the symposium. “It’s ‘Patriotism Lite’ — you put a sticker on your SUV.”

A draft may be politically unpalatable. “‘Today, no leading politician in either party will come anywhere near the idea — the draft having replaced Social Security as the third rail of American politics,’ wrote Carter.” But there are a couple scary questions here:

  1. What happens when the current military force “breaks?”
  2. What happens when the politically unpalatable meets the reality of a “broken” military force?

According to the New York Times, “[t]rying to refill the ranks solely through recruitment in wartime is rare. Historians say the Spanish-American War, Mexican-American War and Gulf war were the only major conflicts since 1775 that did not rely, in part, on conscripts.” But the Bush administration has been trying anyway.

One idea, advocated by Rep Charles Rangel, D-N.Y., and Rep. Pete Stark, D-Fremont, to fill the ranks is to require “all 19-year-olds to do a year or two of national service. Military service would be one of their options.”

A bipartisan group put together by the Project for the New American Century, a group that reflects the thinking of the neoconservatives who have been so influential in determining President Bush’s military and foreign policies, sent a letter to congressional leaders in late January. In it, the signatories wrote, “it is our judgment that we should aim for an increase in the active duty Army and Marine Corps, together, of at least 25,000 troops each year over the next several years.”

Politicians seem to be resting their hopes in Iraqi forces being able to take charge of their own security. The Pentagon claims “there are 142,472 trained and equipped Iraqi security forces,” but according to a Reuters story, there’s little basis even to establish current capabilities. This makes it hard to see how anyone can forecast future capabilities.

“Data on the status of Iraqi security forces is unreliable and provides limited information on their capabilities,” Joseph Christoff, of the Government Accountability Office (GAO), told a House of Representatives Government Reform subcommittee.

Pentagon projections do seem over-optimistic. As recently as January, a State Department report painted a bleak picture:

In some of the most violent areas of the country, Iraqi forces have been ”rendered ineffective,” the State Department wrote in the report dated Jan. 5. Due to intimidation and attacks by insurgents, ”large numbers” of police, highway patrol, and border enforcement personnel ”have quit or abandoned their stations,” it said. And many units are still waiting for key equipment such as rifles and ammunition, the report said

While President Bush promised “an assessment team, headed by a retired general, will go to Iraq next week to review the training and recommend ways to ensure they can more quickly take on a greater role battling insurgents,” it doesn’t seem plausible that these forces can be anything like ready in time to relieve American forces.

“This is like fantasy land. This is as fictive as the weapons of mass destruction,” Rep. Dennis Kucinich, an Ohio Democrat, told [Rear Adm. William] Sullivan of the Pentagon’s figures. “I’m embarrassed for you that you would come to a congressional committee with this kind of a phony report.”

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