More troops – significantly more – are needed to maintain the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Pentagon officials recently acknowledged the fact that existing troops have been assigned multiple rotations and shorter periods between combat assignments in order to take up the slack.

The answer is clear: recruit more troops. But normal recruiting efforts have come up short, so the Army and Marine Corps have “relaxed” some of the recruitment standards. An Army report published in The Washington Post showed that 2,129 “conduct waivers” had been allowed between 2006 and 2007. The total number of Army recruits with former felony and misdemeanor convictions stands at 10,258. For the Marine Corps, the number is 17, 413. The Navy had 42 recruitment waivers, the Air Force had none.

Conduct waivers can mean anything from traffic offenses to felony convictions such as grand larceny and burglary. Defense Department officials view the recruitment trend as “digging deeper into the barrel.” As a result, many Pentagon officials believe we are running out of qualified troops to fight the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Couple to this the saber-rattling rhetoric of President Bush, and presidential candidate John McCain, and a third conflict with Iran seems more than a remote possibility.

In addition to the conduct waivers, recruiters have been caught on tape (by ABC-TV News) telling high school students that the war was over, and no one was being sent overseas anymore. Charles Rangel, chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, has proposed that the draft be put in place again. Rangel believes that the current volunteer army is inequitable, luring low income and disadvantaged individuals into the military, with promises of free training, education, and enlist bonuses.

It continues true that any mention of a draft remains “the third rail of American politics,” hence the emphasis by the candidates on anything but military conscription. The U.S. has been on an all-volunteer military since after the Vietnam War. But there are rational and compelling reasons why restoring the draft is justified. The first, as stated previously, is that we are running short of “boots on the ground” and voluntary enlistments are on the decline to such a degree that the Army and Marine Corps have lowered they standards for enlistment.

The second reason for restoring the draft is that an all-volunteer military fosters discrimination by class. Many who enlist do so because they have reached a dead end in the employment field. Others volunteer because they see no prospect of advancing their job skills and consequently have no way to provide health care or retirement benefits for themselves and their families. And for those with criminal records who ordinarily would be denied a military career, conduct waivers are yet another incentive to enlist.

But despite these encouragements plus full college scholarships and sign-up incentives as high as $10,000, enlistments and reenlistments are still lagging. Congressman Rangel argues that these incentives appeal mostly to the jobless and those whose career opportunities seem bleak.

In recent testimony before Congress, General David Petraeus, commander of American forces in Iraq, said the war, even in a scaled-down version, could last for another ten years. The general says the security of the United States, global stability, and the future of East-West relationships depend on how the Iraq war plays out. Add to this the possibility that the U.S. could face a confrontation with Iran or some other adversary in the near future, and the all-volunteer Army in its present form becomes woefully inadequate.

Consider the status quo: in addition to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan there is the possibility of skirmishes in North Korea and Iran, plus confrontations with terrorists almost anywhere. A recent column in The New York Times said “the United States today finds itself with too much war and too few warriors.” This position is firmly backed by Lawrence Korb, a former senior official at the Pentagon. “The current use of ground forces in Iraq represents a complete misuse of the all-volunteer military. It was never designed for a protracted ground war, but that is exactly what it faces. The responsible course is for the president and those supporting this open-ended presence in Iraq to call for reinstating the draft,” Korb said.

Korb’s opinion is echoed by General Richard A. Cody, Army Vice-Chief of Staff. “The current demand for our forces in Iraq and Afghanistan exceeds the sustainable supply. Soldiers, families, support systems and equipment are stretched and strained. Overall, our readiness is being consumed as fast as we build it.

A volunteer army is inequitable, luring low income and disadvantaged individuals into the military with promises of free training, college education, and reenlistment bonuses. Currently 40 percent of the U.S. military is minority, compared to a quarter of the overall population. Congressman Rangel notes that “the draft will prompt political leaders to think twice before starting wars, especially if they thought kids from their communities would be placed in harm’s way.”

Senator Chuck Hagel of Nebraska has also called for a return to the draft. “Why shouldn’t we ask all of our citizens to bear some responsibility and pay some price?” Hagel asked. “Those who are serving today and dying today are the middle and lower middle class. The burden of military service should be spread among all economic classes of people,” he said.

The views of Rangel and Hagel to bring back the draft are reinforced by 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 more seriously.


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