A while back, entropy156 and I were pondering whether the restaffing of the selective service boards, the administration's "No Child Left Behind" education law quietly requiring high schooler info to be provided to the military, two successive congresses having introduced selective service legislation (Republicans in 2001-2002, Dems in 2003-2004), and the deepening strain on our current armed forces meant that there would, or would not, be a military draft coming along soon (though probably after November 2 in any event, for obvious reasons). I said Definitely Yes, he seriously doubted it. We'll know when we know, of course, but -- what with the Fourth of July upon us, and speaking as our resident pro-military whiner -- I thought I'd mention a few additional signs, pro and con.
(1) For some members of the armed services -- including those formerly-reserve forces, the National Guard and Reserves -- "the draft" has been going on for a while now, through combat call-ups to Afghanistan and Iraq, and what are known as "stop-loss orders": orders forbidding those serving to leave the military, even though their promised commitments are finished; this on top of repeatedly going back on promises made as to how long combat tours would last. All of this involves imposing involuntary service, and in a real sense, that's a "draft" (though not, of course, what Entropy and I were debating about).
(2) Now comes the news that some five thousand people -- for starters -- who have long since left the services are being involuntarily reactivated. This one feels even more like a "real" draft: these are civilians, who thought their military time was done and are now being ordered back into uniform, and harm's way, whether they like it or not.
(3) Even though everybody would rather wait until after the elections, the media are beginning now to prepare us for the possibility of a "real" draft -- i.e., involuntary service by 18-26 year old civilians who never signed up for the military. When in one 24-hour period you have four different media sources discussing this possibility*, we've moved beyond the let's-introduce-legislation-just-in-case stage.
(4) I'm not trying to be alarmist, here, and (contrary to my earlier post) the politics makes this way too difficult to call, conclusively. My former certainty that a draft was inevitable was based on the current administration's promise (in 2001) of a sixty-country "war on terror" -- what with a multi-year commitment of at least 100,000 occupation troops in Iraq** alone (140,000 or so are currently in-theater), anything remotely like that scale of further operations would appear to require a draft. That said, it's harder to say, today, not least because it's looking somewhat less certain that the current administration will be returning next term (though it would be typical to let the Dems be the Bad Guys who reintroduce the draft: historically, Democratic administrations are the ones given the task of expanding our warmaking capacity).
The current bunch are obviously frantic to avoid a draft before the election, and have gone to extraordinary lengths to try to ensure this. Most recently, four years after unilaterally tearing up the Clinton administration's deal with North Korea, they've basically reinstated it after all -- a shooting war on the Korean peninsula, added to the current commitments, would pretty much be the ballgame. But while this would normally mean "we're one crisis away from reactivating the draft," I have to concede that the politics makes this more complicated than I'd initially realized.
When I was a kid, there was a general societal commitment to defending the country; compulsory military service was taken for granted, and people could see good things the government was doing which deserved citizen support. Now, however, we've had (a) twenty-five years of being told -- by an increasingly "conservative"-Republican government -- that "government is the problem, not the solution," and (b) thirty years of soldiering being Somebody Else's Job, not something most Americans would ever have to contemplate for themselves. This raises, for the first time in my lifetime, the possibility that draft resistance today could be dizzyingly widespread, not just limited to peaceniks. Beyond that, there's the pampered-child-of-empire factor: the sense that it is part of the natural order of things that the poor of all races should have to fight the battles for their "betters." That said, history suggests that there are real dangers to requiring military folks -- including some who have long since completed their duty -- to shoulder more and more of the burden, while civilians get a free ride.
(5) In sum, then, it is unclear to me now how this will play out, absent one of the many simmering crises actually coming to a full boil***. We are clearly closer to draft reactivation than we have been at any time in the past thirty years, but we also probably have a far less willing pool of potential draftees than I have ever seen****. What happens next is anybody's guess...but it's obvious to me that some trial balloons have already started going up, just in case.
93 93/93 -- AJ
* PBS special "Flashpoints USA," with Republican Sen. John McCain saying he hopes a draft won't be needed, that bigger financial and educational incentives will attract the needed additional recruits; MSNBC "Hardball" segment with Republican Sen. Chuck Hagel saying he's "not calling for a draft" -- yet -- but thinks "it's time to start having this discussion"; and a CNN segment, and AOL newspage, floating the possibility that a draft may be required; all 29-30 June. Note that sometimes these discussions are held in code: "Do we need a bigger military?" actually means, "If we can't get enough additional recruits, is it time for a draft?"
There's also some media effort to debunk this, of course, at least long enough to get the War President re-elected -- most notably a recent Knight-Ridder piece trying to portray draft fears as a sort of urban legend Internet hoax, like thousand-dollar chocolate chip cookies or five cent per email taxes. Note, however, that even that piece has a caveat, suggesting there won't be a draft "unless some sort of Pearl Harbor event occurs." (Like, say, another of those wars we were already promised? -- or, come to that, an event like the one we had three Septembers ago?, the repeat of which has also been virtually promised us? Duh.)
** For those who don't get why we need 100,000 occupation troops there for the foreseeable future, it's simple: our toppling the late Iraqi regime means that even if the Iraqis acquiesce in U.S. dominance (as we pray they will, though if they don't that's another reason), neighboring Iran could move into a power vacuum any time to "liberate" Iraq and declare a Shiite revolutionary government, unless and until an Iraqi military, loyal to us, is prepared to stop them. This is why (as he explained in his book) the prexy's father didn't get rid of the regime in 1991, and why Sen. McCain says "We have to succeed in Iraq, because I can't contemplate what failure would mean." I assume that (as Bob Woodward has suggested) the administration will try to mask this open-ended commitment by pulling out a token number of troops -- say 10,000 of the current 140,000? -- before the election, but the underlying need will remain.
You may have noticed, btw, that the people who not long ago ridiculed comparisons with Vietnam have stopped doing so. Simple reason: Baghdad 2004 is looking increasingly like Saigon 1963. When Gen. H. Norman Schwartzkopf (of Gulf War fame) is asked whether Iraq has become Vietnam and can only answer "We're not there yet," he means that we may yet be able to avoid it -- but that the similarities are striking.
*** The easiest way to reimpose the draft, of course. Another shooting war, another 9/11, and it's presumed the public would largely go along with selective service...though I'm a lot less certain than I was a few weeks ago that this is true. The administration may have missed an historic opportunity to reinstate the draft without resistance, on 12 September 2001, despite some wise Republican congresspeople trying to tell them so.
**** A young friend suggested they should take Fox "News" fans first. Heh.