Friday, August 12, 2005

Shouldn't We Discuss The Draft?


Shouldn't We Discuss The Draft?

Palm Beach Post Columnist

Monday, July 25, 2005

The United States must find more soldiers or shrink its war plans. Everyone can see that, but it's out of bounds for discussion in high places. President Bush the Younger often says that if his commanders in Iraq say they need more troops, they will get them, and that's that. Or is it?

The general who said that in the first place, Army Chief of Staff Gen. Eric Shinseki, received a snotty lecture from Paul Wolfowitz and was retired without the usual trumpets and drums. Army Secretary Thomas White, who agreed with him, lost his job. For knowing what to say — certainly not for being a banker or an economist, neither of which he is — Mr. Wolfowitz got the presidency of the World Bank. So that's how that works.

But Gen. Shinseki was right then and still is. Troops at home between assignments in Iraq say they need more help. What's Mr. Bush going to do about that? Fire them? He can't. The Army, Army Reserve and National Guard are behind in meeting recruitment goals.

And Iraq isn't the only spot on Mr. Bush's map. "Free" Afghanistan consists of Kabul and its suburbs. Small units come under fire in other areas of the country trying to make Kabul look better, but there aren't enough troops for the larger units it would take to free the rest of the country from the old Taliban and the older warlords. Then there is the job of handling Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's threats against Syria, and nuclear threats against the U.S., tacitly from Iran and very noisily from North Korea.

President Bush said after 9/11, "This country must go on the offense and stay on the offense." Now, he lacks the troops to take on any new missions, either of choice or necessity, until he finishes the ones he started.

Since Richard Nixon tried to save his presidency by ending the draft, we have relied on volunteers. The day after Pearl Harbor, volunteers formed lines at recruiting offices. Since 9/11, Americans line up only at airport checkpoints. There's a big difference. Recruiting difficulties suggest that Mr. Bush's war and foreign policy don't draw the kind of support that leads to people putting their lives on the line.

In a war with terrorists, civilians usually will be in the front lines anyway. The British Army wasn't in London's subways this month. It was, first, ordinary people and then the police and other emergency services who dealt with the attacks. Has your government prepared you for the job? Didn't think so. That's because Mr. Bush has cast the war on terrorism as a military war. Retired Col. Andrew J. Bacevich, author of The New American Militarism, computes that Mr. Bush's version of this war is being fought by 0.5 percent of the population — 1.5 million men and women on active duty in a population of 290 million.

How long before Americans put vocal muscle behind the yellow ribbons on their cars and demand a stop to hanging inadequate forces out to die?

Two summers ago, Rep. Charles Rangel, D-N.Y., brought up all of this when he proposed resuming the draft in a New York Times Op-Ed piece. I discussed it then because Rep. Rangel had five interviews on radio and television, and none of them took up the points he had made. Instead, they discussed his motives: Are you, a Democratic Korean vet, doing this to embarrass the president, a Republican who never went anywhere? That sort of thing.

That sort of thing is what you get when people who never do anything without a partisan political agenda have to face an adult proposing a national agenda. Rep. Rangel was trivialized then, and we never had a discussion of the three points he made. They are: that popular wars demand shared sacrifice, that Congress members aren't likely to know many of the fighting men or their families — and that an all-volunteer Army wouldn't provide enough troops to fulfill all of Mr. Bush's ambitions.

I didn't think then, and I still don't think, that there's much likelihood of restoring the draft. And as far as I'm concerned, it's good that having to raise volunteers discourages the kind of imperial ambitions the Bush administration harbors.

But if we are already tied down by a war of choice, what if another war is forced on us? If we had discussed Rep. Rangel's points, we would be in better shape to deal with the mismatch between the military and our war aims that is becoming inescapable.

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