Saheli*: Musings and Observations
Tuesday, March 01, 2005
 
The Draft

There is possibly no single issue that tenses up people under the age of 30 or 25 faster than that of reinstating the military draft. It's an idea that's been tainted by memories of Vietnam and the meddling of the good ole boy network (remember how in It's a Wonderful Life the despicable Mr. Potter heads up the draft board of Bedford Falls?). But more than that, it has entirely dropped out of the dreams and schemes of upper middle class Americans. Even in these times of war and terrorism, the generation of kids that carry their own PDAs to keep track of their test-prep classes, violin lessons, and soccer practice sessions does not have "two years in the military" penciled in. So, after that moment of getting all tensed up, we tend not to take it to seriously. That's a mistake.

Philip Carter of Intel-Dump, one of the best national security writers around, has a a must-read article in the new Washington Monthly with its editor-in-chief Paul Glastris--arguing for a reinstatement of the draft. Carter's one of the few veteran-writers whom I know to be on record as having voted for Kerry, and he's no cheerleading fan of our decision to invade Iraq. The Washington Monthly is, of course, a very liberal magazine. Nevertheless Carter and Glastris build a compelling case that we simply must reinstate the draft. Even without that case, the article is required reading because of its clear explanation of the structure and size of our military, and the requirements of different operations.
America has a choice. It can be the world's superpower, or it can maintain the current all-volunteer military, but it probably can't do both.
. . .
Using troops-to-population ratios from previous occupations, RAND projected that, two years after the invasion [of Iraq], it would take anywhere from 258,000 troops (the Bosnia model), to 321,000 (post-World War II Germany), to 526,000 (Kosovo) to secure the peace. . . begin by deducting virtually the entire Navy and Air Force from the head count; the Iraq occupation has been almost exclusively a ground game, hence an Army and Marine operation.. . .So instead of counting individual soldiers—a meaningless exercise—one must look at how many units the United States could theoretically put on the ground if it wanted to mobilize every active and reserve soldier available. And if you do that, you come to a figure of roughly 600,000 troops. That's the total number of deployable soldiers that the United States could theoretically have called upon to man the initial invasion.
In practice, however, the Pentagon would never have sent that many troops to Iraq, for good reasons: It would have left the defense cupboard bare and served as an open invitation to America's enemies to make trouble elsewhere in the world. . . .the Pentagon must rotate its forces in and out of theater every 12 months or so in order to maintain morale and reenlistment. [Emphasis mine.]

After going through five other options besides the draft, Carter and Glastris propose a 21st century draft that spreads the responsibility and taps talent across the classes by tapping into the college-bound PDA carriers I mentioned above:
Instead of a lottery, the federal government would impose a requirement that no four-year college or university be allowed to accept a student, male or female, unless and until that student had completed a 12-month to two-year term of service. Unlike an old-fashioned draft, this 21st-century service requirement would provide a vital element of personal choice. Students could choose to fulfill their obligations in any of three ways: in national service programs like AmeriCorps (tutoring disadvantaged children), in homeland security assignments (guarding ports), or in the military. . . .But some would certainly select the military—out of patriotism, a sense of adventure, or to test their mettle. Even if only 10 percent of the one-million young people who annually start at four-year colleges and universities were to choose the military option, the armed forces would receive 100,000 fresh recruits every year. These would be motivated recruits, having chosen the military over other, less demanding forms of service. And because they would all be college-grade and college-bound, they would have—to a greater extent than your average volunteer recruit—the savvy and inclination to pick up foreign languages and other skills that are often the key to effective peacekeeping work.
This is an important discussion to keep active. I myself am deeply troubled by the notion, and would rather just avoid it, but I recognize that much of that unease is purely from a sense of self-protection. In a recent post I noted writer Max Boot's proposition that we "outsource" wars to a Freedom Legion composed of wannabe citizens, and in the ensuing comments we kept talking around the issue of spreading the burden of war to better inform the ostensibly collective decision to go to war.

Armchair Generalist today notes an editorial in the Atlanta-Journal Constitution arguing for less drastic measures to grow the Army, and responds by saying that we also need to think about simply scaling back our operations: "I think the U.S. government does have an international leadership role to play, and that includes military options, but maybe it is time to pull back our forces from those permanent bases in Asia, Europe, and the Middle East." That may work for now, but I think in the long term Carter and Glastris' stark question will have to be answered. Do we want to have a draft or do we not want to be the world's Superpower? And if we don't want to be the world's Superpower, who are we willing to let take over?
 


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Saheli Datta started this when she was a journalism student at Columbia in New York. Now she lives in the Bay Area. *Old people call me R. New people, call me Saheli. Thanks! My homepage. Specifically, my links. Email me: Saheli [AT] Gmail [dot] Com

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