Should we reinstitute the draft?
Rangel has promised to reintroduce his bill calling for a national draft, a bill previously soundly defeated in the House. The bill would also allow non-military fulfillment of service requirements. Some perceive his call for national service as an anti-war statement rather than a genuine legislative proposal, and Rangel himself hopes that his bill would make going to war a more difficult and solemn decision.
"There's no question in my mind that this president and this administration would never have invaded Iraq, especially on the flimsy evidence that was presented to the Congress, if indeed we had a draft and members of Congress and the administration thought that their kids from their communities would be placed in harm's way," said Rangel, a Korean War veteran. "If we're going to challenge Iran and challenge North Korea and then, as some people have asked, to send more troops to Iraq, we can't do that without a draft."
Harsh rhetoric, to be sure. And yet there is some surprising common ground between Rangel and those on the right. For example, McCain recently said the troops are "fighting and dying for a failed policy" and stated that "we have to have additional forces, or we will be playing whack-a-mole." The need for more troops in Iraq has long been obvious, and Rumsfeld's inability to adapt beyond his vision of a high-tech, fast and mobile quick-strike military despite the failure of such tactics to contain the insurgency is one of the reasons he resigned as Sec-Def -- the other reason being, I suspect, the election results and Rummy's disinclination to face questioning from a hostile Congress. More troops must come from somewhere, and hence a few lonely but principled conservatives have previously come to the logical conclusion that a draft is necessary :
It is enough to note that we cannot plausibly threaten another nation should we need to (Iran, Syria and North Korea come to mind); that our Reserve and Guard units are tapped out at a rate previously envisioned only for a third world war scenario; that our existing formal and informal commitments (to South Korea, to Taiwan, to Israel, to Europe) are now mostly hypothetical or Navy/Air Force affairs; that recruiting is, as has been well-documented, suffering badly; and that many units and personnel are on their third battlefield rotation in two years. Against this is usually stacked the factual point that retention is going unexpectedly well -- stop-loss helps, no doubt -- and the crackpot point that we don't need more troops in Iraq anyway. Silver linings everywhere.
We have few good options left in Iraq and we're running out of time to choose which path we will follow. Put succintly, our choices are to "go big, go long [or] go home" -- that is, send in more troops to pacify and secure hostile areas, maintain or decrease troop levels but be prepared to stay for a long and drawn-out conflict, or leave and let the Iraqis fight it out. Personally I think the first option holds the highest likelihood of leading to a stable and reasonably friendly Iraq, but decisive action is required. If a draft is to be at all relevant to the outcome in Iraq it must be held quite soon, given the length of training required before a teenager can be responsibly sent into a war zone set in a landscape of complex cultural and religious conflict. The political climate in the US being what it is, I just don't see a draft happening anytime soon. That means additional troops for this "one last push" will need to be diverted from other areas, and this is clearly unacceptable in the long term; consequently, the window to achieve stability in Iraq is short. Bush does not have the luxury of waiting to decide which course of action he will pursue in Iraq much longer.
Regardless of what happens in Iraq, I think the conversation about requiring a short period of service (military or otherwise) from youth is something that deserves serious consideration. Many countries have such requirements , and as a Heinlein fan I have to confess to a certain sympathy with the view that citizenship is a responsibility and not just a privilege: "Ask not what your country" and so forth. On the other hand, I certainly do agree that one of the reasons our military forces are extremely good at what they do is they undergo extensive training, and a group of kids who got drafted, don't really want to be there, and haven't had years of training can't really be expected to perform at the same level, although they would still be useful in situations where sheer numbers and blunt force are needed. I also wouldn't want kids who opted out of the military service to waste a year doing meaningless work that doesn't really help anyone, so my support would depend on the exact nature of the program. There are pros and cons on both sides: what do you folks think?