Status of the Draft
I notice that those "the draft is coming!" emails are circulating again, and thought it might help to provide some balance here. Are the emails misleading? Yes, they are (see below). Have both presidential campaigns promised there won't be a draft? Yes, they have. Are they telling the truth?, and even if they are, are they correct? Well, those are the questions, okay. At this writing there is honestly no way to know for sure; maybe some review of what we do
know will be helpful.
The dormant Democratic draft bills (for the years 2003-2004) are "live" but unacted upon, just as the Republican draft bills (right after 9/11, for 2001-2002) before them were, for a simple reason: they've all, from both parties, been contingency bills, meaning that if we needed
a draft, we'd have a mechanism in place to get
one. I continue to believe that neither the Republicans nor the Democrats who introduced these bills were playing politics with them -- note that the DNC in particular has made no effort to publicize the bills in the year and a half their versions have been out there, including during this election season. Introducing them was simply the responsible thing to do when you're going to war and can't be sure of the outcome; both in 2001 when the GOP did it, and in 2003, immediately before the Iraq war, when the Dems (several of the sponsors vets themselves) did. (If memory serves, btw, that would mean that each set of bills was introduced by the party in minority in the Senate at the time (GOP in 2001, Dems in 2003) -- a good start for a bipartisan law, should it in fact become necessary.)
Similarly (and contrary to somewhat disingenuous Selective Service press releases), the draft boards themselves are in a more active state than they've been in many years (major restaffing and such). All that said, neither 1-1/2 nor 3 year old bills, nor the restaffing of Selective Service (and "No Child Left Behind" provision that provides names of high schoolers to the military, as was done in the Vietnam era), constitutes the strongest evidence for a coming draft, and the emails pointing to a specific date are, as of today, being completely irresponsible (don't you just love the Internet? ;) ). OTOH, I think anyone insisting there absolutely won't
be a draft -- most especially both of our craven political parties -- are being, and may shortly prove to have been, equally irresponsible.
The ongoing concern comes from the simple facts of our current military posture. Being as nonpartisan as I know how to, I believe the dynamic is this:
(1) In 2001, when they promised war in sixty countries, I now believe that the Bush administration thought they wouldn't need a draft (which they knew would be unpopular); they expected both Afghanistan and Iraq to be pushovers, and planned to use the National Guard, Reserves, and a lot of well-paid mercenaries to take up the slack, at least at first. This manpower strategy worried a lot of military folks, even then: General Eric Shinseki (in 2002, I think?) got himself an early retirement for questioning the administration's Iraq manpower assessments (suggesting to Congress, when asked, that we'd probably need at least twice the troop complement in Iraq that we planned to send if our occupation was to work; time has, IMO, proved him right in spades). Frankly, I was as amazed that we didn't institute at least "civilian service" immediately after 9/11 as I was at the pressure for tax cuts: historically speaking, that's not how you go about fighting a world war, and in the immediate wake of 9/11, I think resistance to service would have been a lot lower.
(2) As of September 2004, fully half of our troops in Afghanistan and Iraq are National Guard and Reserves: that is, people who volunteered their weekends as "citizen soldiers," to be available to help out in natural disasters (and riots) at home, and (briefly) in a major crisis abroad if need be. These folks have consistently had promises made to them about when they'll be home, which have then consistently been broken -- their service goes on and on. They're meant to guard the nation, and to be in reserve, as the names indicate; they're not designed to constitute an overseas fighting force for years at a time. Military people are, I promise you, very concerned about where all this is headed. (They're also more than a little pissed off that even the war's supporters seem unwilling to face the risks as they are, and frankly I agree, but that's another matter.)
(3) All that said, I only posted about the question myself once prominent Republicans began speaking up (several months ago) about a draft possibly becoming necessary. At the time, running the numbers and knowing of a plan being floated to hit Syria next (not Iran, I'd be willing to bet; not with boots on the ground, anyway) -- not to mention the growing dangers around the world, not least on the Korean Peninsula -- I assumed, and posted, that a draft, probably sold as "civilian service" at first, would be necessary after the 2004 elections no matter who
became president. As you may recall, I amended this several weeks later: I was frankly astonished to find how many of the most devoted supporters of a widening war immediately reversed their support if it would take a draft to win it. As a (late) Vietnam-era guy who himself registered (right before the draft ended, lucky for me; I had only just turned eighteen at the time), I assumed that the only
question post-9/11 was the country's need, and that its young people would by and large come if called. The notion of a flag-waving patriot who was utterly unwilling to take up arms for his country was a new one on me.* Given, then, the (to me) amazingly high resistance to a draft, and the ongoing (and to my mind unbelievably irresponsible) promises of both parties that no draft will be needed, I am nowhere near as sure as I was, and frankly have no idea what will happen at this writing.
(4) The latest info I've heard. (a) A Pentagon-sourced leak that there will be additional National Guard callups immediately after the election. I find this highly credible -- again, not thanks to partisanship, but simply to military needs: with insurgents actually holding some three dozen towns, everyone agrees that only a major offensive can even possibly begin to save our hash in Iraq. (b) OTOH, if Bob Novak's column is correct, and Bush intends to pull the troops out of Iraq in 2005, that would be a very different story. One I admit I find hard to believe, since this would mean handing Iraq, and possibly a lot more, over to Iran, and even al Qaeda -- but hell, it's a possibility, and in an excess of fair-mindedness (despite Novak's track record) I include it here.
On a stack of copies of The Book of the Law
, I am just trying to list the facts here as best I know how. The spring 2005 draftee callups date in the emails is almost certainly wrong, if only because I can't believe that the current Congress would enable this legislation in lame duck session** (i.e., after the elections but before the next Congress is seated in 2005; I mean, I didn't think they'd impeach Clinton in lame duck session in 1998, either, and I was mistaken, but this time I find it even harder to believe); there would have to be new enabling legislation introduced in 2005 (and there almost certainly will be, sooner or later, for the same reason I mentioned: as a stopgap in case it's needed). The Bush folks insist they "can't imagine circumstances" which would require a draft; Kerry makes a similar assertion for himself, proposing a new four-years-of-college-for-two-years-of-"p
ublic-service" approach to fill our obvious manpower deficit. (Edwards goes even further, promising (per CNN, anyway) there won't be a draft during a Kerry presidency. If he really did say that, shame on him, IMO.)
Anyway, as I concluded before, only time will tell.
Forgive the long return to an issue I didn't want to come back to, but (like Republican Senator Chuck Hagel and others) I think there are good conservative Republican reasons not to commit too strongly to the notion that a draft is just a Dem fear tactic. We are, like it or not, in a world war at present, thanks to the 9/11 attacks: wishing the enemy away based on our fears of service does not, alas, have a good historical track record. As a former conservative Republican myself -- and a (small l) libertarian-leaning Dem today, but with strong national security concerns -- I think both parties owe it to this country to be a whole lot more honest about what that world war might come to require, and I thoroughly loathe both parties for apparently being too cowardly to do so.
93 93/93 -- AJ
* Interesting trivia: the origin of the term "Winter Soldier," name of the Vietnam-era "truthtelling commission" Kerry attended as a young vet, and later testified about before Congress. During the American Revolution, the revolutionaries who deserted once winter came on were derisively called "Summer Soldiers"; hence the name "Winter Soldier," meaning "We have a right to talk about this war because we fought in the damned thing." I don't know what the Founders would call "patriots" unwilling to defend their country, but I imagine it wouldn't be very complimentary. I will be fifty this year and consider the Iraq war an historic mistake, but would take up arms to defend my country tomorrow (however ineffectually) if called, and have nothing but contempt for those who "support the war" but rule out ever fighting in it themselves. Some of us still get misty-eyed at that "land of the free, home of the brave" stuff, you wimps. :/
(For those thinking "easy for him to say, at his age," be advised that I felt exactly the same way when I was an eighteen-year-old superliberal Democrat -- and proved it, by registering for the draft.)
** Absent a major crisis, that is...which could clearly change everything. After 9/11, only idiots would rule out such a contingency.