America’s “War Czar,” Lt. Gen. Douglas Lute, says the draft, military conscription, remains on the table as a solution to the stress being placed on an all-volunteer army. In an interview on National Public Radio, General Lute said he is concerned about the men and women in uniform who are under extreme stress as a result of multiple deployments into the combat zones of Iraq.

The general also referenced his concern about maintaining the quality of an all-volunteer force, since some standards have recently been relaxed concerning criminal records and gang membership. When asked directly whether a return to the draft was being considered, Lute replied, “You know, that’s a national policy decision point that we have not yet reached.”

While public opinion polls are not in favor of resurrecting the draft, there are proponents who have raised sensible reasons for doing so. Boston Globe columnist Joan Vennochi notes that “the volunteer army ensures that someone else’s children are losing limbs and dying – someone else’s children are pushed to alleged acts of violence against Iraqi detainees and civilians.” Vennochi continues, “If turning 18 meant your kid’s boots would be on the ground, a resolution to pull troops out of Iraq might grab more votes in the Senate.”

As mentioned in an earlier Chase Hamil blog, last year U.S. Representative Charles Rangel (D-NY) proposed a bill requiring all people in the U.S. between the ages of 18 and 42 to carry out a period of military or public service, the performance of which would bolster national defense and homeland security. “A draft would ensure that every economic group would have to do their share and not allow some to stay behind while other people’s children do the fighting,” said Rangel.

Recent reports show that the Army is having difficulty meeting its enlistment quotas. In addition, reserve and regular Army members, fed up with extended tours of duty and multiple redeployments, are not reenlisting in the numbers hoped for. The Army’s advertising agency, McCann Erickson, was awarded $1.35 billion to spend on recruitment ads. In addition to full college scholarships to all who serve honorably, signing-up incentives as high as $10,000 are being offered to those who enlist in the next couple of months.

Congressman Rangel argues that these incentives appeal mostly to the jobless and those whose professional future seems bleak. For some, a check for $10,000 takes enlistment out of the “voluntary” category and makes it problematical as an informed choice. If the draft were reinstated, argues Rangel, politicians would have to answer to all American families, not just those who volunteered for military service by responding to the carrot-and-stick approach.

The Pentagon responded to General Lute’s statements by saying no consideration is being given to reinstituting the draft, and that the volunteer force is working just fine. But the top U.S. commander in Iraq, General David Petraeus, has said on several occasions that the war, in a scaled-down version, could last for another ten years. With tension building between the U.S. and Iran, there is the possibility that additional U.S. troops will be needed, even if that war remains “cold.” So if the war in Iraq continues, in a curtailed mode, for another decade or so, and a new front opens up with Iraq or some other adversary, and if the war on terror is bumped up another couple of notches, where is the manpower and womanpower to handle all this going to come from? Again, General Lute: “When our forces are as engaged as they have been over the past several years, particularly in Iraq, we’re concerned as military professionals that we also keep a very sharp edge honed for other contingencies outside of Iraq.”

Although eligible Americans are still required to register for the draft, it was essentially ended in 1973 toward the end of the Vietnam War. Since then, the U.S. military has hoped that an all-volunteer Army would draw educated, highly motivated recruits, many of whom would make a career in the military. But, as mentioned earlier, the Iraq war has lasted more than four years, making it necessary to send fighting men and women back to the battlefields two and three times, often with only a short respite between tours. The result is often less incentive for more of the same, and thus a return to civilian life.

While an all-volunteer force met the expectations of the military brass initially, some, such as General Lute, apparently are having second thoughts. The recent failures to meet enlistment quotas were dismissed as “a temporary problem,” but the matter has served to reinforce the position of those who want to revive the draft. Among their reasons:

  • The existence of a professional (non-drafted) military is one of the reasons there was little opposition to the U.S. invasion of Iraq.
  • The absence of compulsory military service is leading to a generation of civilian leaders with no military experience.
  • The burden of the war is not being shared equitably (see Rep. Rangel’s position).
  • The Army is spending over a billion dollars on recruitment ads and offering bonuses never before seen, with modest results.
  • With fewer people enlisting, joining the military, especially the Army, is seen as an express ticket to the Iraq battlefields.

Perhaps the strongest argument for bringing back the draft comes from The American Enterprise Institute, which says “a draft would give the military access to a true cross-section of our youth.” If all of America’s children faced the prospect of induction into the military, perhaps Congress would take the next declaration of war more seriously.

– Chase.Hamil

 

 

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