Sometime around the middle of next week, President Bush will veto the $124 billion war spending bill and its timetable for withdrawing American troops from Iraq. Bush has made clear that he will continue to veto future bills that contain a withdrawal date.

Buried in the middle of this dispute is the issue of how the United States is going to protect itself from aggressors without a sufficient number of troops to win a war. What if, while we are engaged in Iraq, North Korea would decide to invade South Korea? What if China began to cast a covetous glance toward Formosa? What if Iran would do something inflammatory?

As I suggested in an earlier blog, we may be on the verge of having to bring back the draft. Charles Rangel, the incoming chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, plans to propose that the draft be reinstated. Part of Rangel’s position is that an all-volunteer army is unfair – luring low income and disadvantaged individuals into the military with promises of free training, enlistment bonuses, and college education.

ABC-Television recently aired an expose of Army recruiters being sent to low-income neighborhoods where the likelihood of unemployed youngsters, with few prospects for improvement, might be likely to enlist. The ABC cameras even caught some Army recruiters telling high school students that the war was over, and that no one was being sent to Iraq any more.

The draft has always been considered the “third rail” of America politics: touch it and you’re fried. Military leaders in the field have said time and time again we have an insufficient number of troops in the combat zone. Even the new “surge” strategy amounts to only a 10% increase in troop strength. Add to this the fact that we have already over-mobilized the National Guard and Reserves, and a troubling situation approaches critical proportions. Many U.S. troops are supposed to have 12 months off between tours of duty before they are rotated back to the front lines. That interval is often shortened. Just recently, those tours of duty in the combat zones were extended from 12 months to 15.

A recent story in Slate www.slate.com; argues that even though American troops are stretched thin, compulsory military service is not the answer. The article claims that while 95% of today’s recruits graduated from high school, only 79% of civilians have high school diplomas. Slate then concludes that a draft, which included a cross-section of these civilians, would lower the high school academic level by as much as 16%. “In short, today’s armed forces are not the downtrodden, ethnically lopsided social rejects that they tended to be after the Vietnam War, when the all-volunteer military came into being,” asserts Slate.

But congressman Rangel remains adamant: “Those who love their country have a patriotic obligation to defend this country. For those who say the poor fight better, I say give the rich a chance.” Rangel adds that if those who support the war thought it would include sending the affluent to fight, they would more readily feel the pain that’s involved and thus be less likely to send their own into harm’s way.

General Barry McCaffrey, division commander during Operation Desert Storm, is a bit more contentious: “We broke the Army after World War II and paid for it in Korea. We broke the Army after Vietnam, and paid for it with the “hollow force” of the 1970s. We are doing it again with an Army that is overcommitted and underfunded. And if we end up in an unprovoked war with North Korea, then the United States could pay a very heavy price as a result.”

Today, many soldiers and officers are not reenlisting. Men and women who might otherwise consider enlisting in the Reserves or the National Guard are balking, apprehensive of extended tours of duty not bargained for, and, of course, the very real possibility of being killed or maimed on the front lines. Congress is currently in a “retreat” mode: get out and get out now and damn the consequences. Item: even those members of Congress who want the withdrawal to begin as soon as possible, acknowledge that some troops will have to be left behind as a “presence” in Iraq. These troops would continue to train Iraqi security forces and protect U.S. facilities in that country.

But when the withdrawal was complete, save for that handful of U.S. troops left behind, who would ensure their safety? It’s when the lioness is out hunting for food that the untended cubs fall prey to the jackals. How long would the handful of U.S. troops left behind survive? And in what horrendous way might they be massacred while the clueless Iraqi security forces looked on?

If we are to withdraw all U.S. troops from their current occupying positions, bring them home, and create “fortress America,” fine. Our “line of defense” in such a situation would be to watch foreign predators ravage lesser nations and be able to do nothing – hardly in the American tradition. It would also be understood that since we no longer had a standing army capable of effective police action anywhere in the world, our only defense against aggression within the borders of the U.S. and its territories would be immediate nuclear response.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., is urging President Bush to carefully read the bill containing a rigid timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq. “He will see it fully provides for our troops and gives them a strategy worthy of their sacrifices,” said Reid. Yes, let us indeed hope that the last of the U.S. troops in Iraq benefit from the “strategy” carefully crafted by our elected officials. Let’s hope that it won’t be a replay of the Mogadishu massacre of 18 U.S. Rangers on a peacekeeping and humanitarian mission in the autumn of 1993. They too were trying to exit.

Those U.S. troops were caught in an ambush by more than 1,000 guerrillas. Two helicopters were shot down, a third crash-landed, and in the resulting firefight, 18 of the American troops were killed, 78 wounded, and one helicopter pilot captured. The American public was then treated to images on the nightly news of bodies of mutilated U.S. servicemen being dragged through the streets of Mogadishu.

The lesson to be learned: leave behind a small contingent of U.S. peacekeeping troops, outnumber and surround them by bloodthirsty thugs who just love to behead people, and then pray – really pray – that the withdrawal proposal provides for our troops and gives them a strategy worthy of their sacrifices.

– Chase.Hamil

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