'Stop-loss' efforts signal US military's struggle to shore up forces.
June 4, 2004
Troop strain renews draft debate
by Tom Regan | csmonitor.com
Should the United States reinstate a military draft?
Even though the Associated Press reports that four out of five poll
respondents say no to the idea, the Pentagon still seems to have
trouble convincing the public it doesn't want a draft either. "I
don't know anyone in the executive branch of the government who
believes it would be appropriate or necessary," Defense Secretary
Donald Rumsfeld said recently.
Analysts say that the current strain on US forces, caused by wars in
Afghanistan and Iraq and likely to continue for several more years to
come, is one reason that talk of the draft has continued, despite
public opinion. Only this week, ABC News reports, the Army issued
orders to keep thousands of soldiers in the military longer than they
may have planned (the so-called "stop-loss policy"), "in an effort to
ensure there are enough combat-ready, fresh forces to continue
serving in Iraq and Afghanistan."
The Guardian reports that some critics have called this move a back
door "return to the draft." In an opinion piece in Thursday's New
York Times, Andrew Exum, a former army captain who served in the 10th
Mountain Division in Afghanistan, called the treatment of soldiers
under stop-loss programs "shameful".
"Many, if not most, of the soldiers in this latest Iraq-bound wave
are already veterans of several tours in Iraq and Afghanistan," he
wrote. "They have honorably completed their active duty obligations.
But like draftees, they have been conscripted to meet the additional
needs in Iraq."
Meanwhile, recruitment is down, particularly in the National Guard
and Reserves. ABC reports, for instance, that recruiting for the Air
National Guard is off by 23 percent. In an effort to maintain troop
strength in Iraq, the US recently announced it was moving 3600
soldiers from duty in South Korea to Iraq. Erich Marquardt, writing
in Power and Interest News Report aargues that while the number of
troops being moved will make little actual difference to the war in
Iraq, it has enormous symbolic importance.
This decision will spark many to argue that the administration of
President George W Bush has made ill-fated policy choices that are
causing damage to the US military establishment and also to US
interests. Present conditions in Iraq mean that there will be no
reduction in US troop levels there for some time; if anything, there
will need to be an increase in troops. On May 19, General John
Abizaid, the chief of US Central Command, warned that the United
States "might need more forces" in Iraq. Such an increase would add
even further strain to present US military deployments throughout the
Regardless of the manpower problem in the military, Mr. Rumsfeld says
he remains committed to a totally volunteer military, and doesn't see
the need for a draft. He says the latest high amount of military
activity is probably a temporary "spike." But some Democratic members
of Congress believe that it's necessary to share the burden of
fighting America's wars more equitably throughout the population.
Democrat Rep. Charles Rangel of New York, and Democrat Sen. Fritz
Hollings of South Carolina introduced a bill in the House and Senate
last year, the Universal National Service Act of 2003.
It would require "that all young persons in the United States,
including women, perform a period of military service or a period of
civilian service in furtherance of the national defense and homeland
security, and for other purposes." If approved, the measure would
require citizens between 19 and 26 to serve two years of military or
related service. But The Aberdeen News of South Dakota notes that the
bill lacks even the support of Democratic minority leader Sen. Tom
An editorial in The Sentinel of Carlisle, Penn., represents most
public opinion about the draft. The paper declares that it
is "sympathetic to the idea of shared sacrifice," but that there is
no need for a draft.
The number of soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan is only about a tenth
of the complete active-duty force, and there are any number of ways
the military could maintain or increase the current Middle East
complement if necessary. There's also the political equation. Four
out of five Americans oppose the draft right now. To turn those
numbers around, citizens would have to be convinced the country is in
a deep and immediate danger. And now that we know nearly all the
justifications for invading Iraq were inaccurate, we think the
current administration would find it difficult to make that kind of
case anytime soon. The draft is a tool of last resort for national
defense. Thankfully, we're not at that point now.
Some people argue, however, that the current attitude towards the
draft indicates a lack of public spirit. Charles Moskos, a
Northwestern University sociologist who studies military issues, said
the draft is an idea "whose time may never come." But he also said
the public's reluctance to accept a draft creates a condition
of "patriotism lite" people say they're patriotic but are "not
willing to sacrifice anything." Cynthia Tucker, editorial page editor
for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, argues that the "sons and
daughters of the working class" still bear too much of the burden
of "defending freedom," while the children of the "affluent" are
largely left untouched.
And MSNBC reports on another group that believes the draft is a good
idea: veterans of World War II gathered this weekend in France for
the 60th anniversary of D-Day. Despite President Bush's recent speech
comparing the war on terror to World War II, the men who fought that
struggle say there are few comparisons, and that one of the biggest
difference was the presence of the draft.
"You can't have unity now [behind the Iraq war] when the public isn't
participating in the war. There is no draft ... .So the war is being
fought by a professional army," said Warren Josephy [captain of the
187th Field Artillery Battalion when he landed at Omaha Beach on June
8]. For Mr. Josephy, the very fabric of the military has changed
because, "you don't get that rich man, poor man, college graduates
mixing in with the working guy that you had then." Gardner Botsford
[landed as a 2nd Lieutenant in the Intelligence section of the 1st
Infantry Division at Omaha Beach on D-Day] concurred, "There should
be a draft. I mean, if we are going to be serious about this military
posture we seem to be adopting all over the world. There should be a
Draft dilemma :
They are going to reintroduce the draft in the US. But it's such a
no one wants to mention it
Monday May 31, 2004
Last Wednesday, the American public was officially instructed to
panic. Attorney general John Ashcroft and FBI director Robert
Mueller - brows furrowed, faces grim - took over primetime TV to
deliver a spine-chilling message to their fellow citizens: "Al-qaida
When, where, and what form the outrage will take, is unknown. But
something very, very awful is going to happen very, very soon.
Cynics will be sceptical. Was this another attempt by the
administration, like those "orange alerts" last year, to divert
attention from Iraq, the soaring price of gasoline, and Abu Ghraib?
On the same day that Ashcroft was terrifying his countrymen, I was
emailed by an American student friend. He too is terrified. "The US
legislature," he wrote, "is trying to bring back the draft asap.
Check it out at www.congress.org. For some reason no major news
networks or printed media in this country are carrying this story. If
these bills go through, the only thing between me and military
service is my asthma."
He's right. There is pending legislation in the American House of
Representatives and Senate in the form of twin bills - S89 and HR163.
These measures (currently approved and sitting in the committee for
armed services) project legislation for spring 2005, with the draft
to become operational as early as June 15.
There already exists a Selective Service System (SSS). All young
Americans are obliged to "register for the draft". It has been a mere
formality since conscription was abolished three decades ago, after
Vietnam, together with the loathed (and much burned) draft card. SSS
will be reactivated imminently. A $28m implementation fund has been
added to the SSS budget. The Pentagon is discreetly recruiting for
10,350 draft board officers and 11,070 appeals board members
Draft-dodging will be harder than in the 1960s. In December 2001,
Canada and the US signed a "smart border declaration", which, among
other things, will prevent conscientious objectors (and cowards) from
finding sanctuary across the northern border. There will be no
deferment on higher-education grounds. Mexico does not appeal.
All this has been pushed ahead with an amazing lack of publicity. One
can guess why. American newspapers are in a state of meltdown,
distracted by war-reporting scandals at USA Today and the New York
Times. There is an awareness in the press at large that
the "embedding" system was just that - getting into bed with the
military and reporting their pillow talk as "news from the
frontline". The fourth estate has failed the American public and
continues not to do its job.
The American public just wants the war to go away. One thing that
would get their attention (but not their votes) would be their
children being sent off to die in foreign lands. Best not disturb the
electorate until after November, seems to be the thinking. There are,
after all, more important things than wars: getting your man into the
White House, for example. Kerry has clearly calculated that, as
president, he too may have to bring in the draft. So his lips are
And, of course, the strategic case for the draft is overwhelming. If,
as Rumsfeld promises, Iraq turns out to be "a long, hard slog", who
will do the slogging? If others follow the Spaniards, and Tony Blair
goes, the US may find itself a coalition of one. What then if
something blows up in North Korea?
On how many fronts can America fight its global war on terror with
a "professional" army of half a million? Half a million and shrinking
fast. Reservists are not re-enlisting. They signed up for the
occasional weekend playing soldiers and some useful income, not death
Panic Stations (which is where Ashcroft has placed America this
summer) serves two purposes. It distracts the electorate and, like
any state of emergency, it sanctions tough measures - like the draft.
The advice to my student? Work on the asthma.
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