December 2, 2003
by Alan Bock
return over the weekend to something like a set-piece battle in
Iraq, though conducted in the context of a guerrilla conflict rather
than the usual army-vs.-army context, could heighten what is still
a looming threat to American liberties: a draft.
House press secretary Scott McClellan recently responded with a
quick and emphatic "no" to the question of whether a reinstitution
of the draft is being contemplated. However, as Charles Pope reported
in the November 8 issue of the Seattle Post Intelligencer,
"military observers and some members of Congress say that the
notion of a possible military draft is gaining traction." The
traction is coming from some interesting places.
American soldiers who reportedly killed some 46 guerrilla attackers
in a guerrilla-style ambush in the Iraqi city of Samarra, near Saddam
Hussein's home town of Tikrit, demonstrated that when it comes to
set-piece battles for which they have had occasion to prepare, the
American military is virtually unsurpassed in today's world. The
Americans suffered only five wounded, while reportedly killing 46
of the guerrillas. They also wounded 18 of the attackers and captured
American display of force, apparently used because similar convoys
had suffered ambushes in the recent past, can be viewed as part
of Operation Iron Hammer, the increased focus on taking the war
to the enemy that became US policy a couple of weeks ago. In light
of the increasing number of attacks on US, coalition and civilian
targets, the US military is becoming more aggressive in trying to
seek and destroy pockets of resistance or operations. This convoy
had heavier armament than had been the case in the past, and it
dealt more destruction than it suffered.
the numbers had something to do with this shift in tactics. Some
81 Americans were killed in November, compared to 73 in April, the
month of the actual invasion. Instead of becoming more peaceful
(although there are surely areas that are an exception to this rule)
Iraq is becoming a more dangerous place for the troops of the foreign
power occupying the country. The increasing emphasis on military
rather than civil-oriented or "peacekeeping" operations
reflects a recognition of this reality.
almost everybody I have interviewed in the last six or eight months,
from President Bush's former troubleshooter in Afghanistan to experts
from think tanks of varying ideological persuasions, has emphasized,
the first task of an occupying army is security. Anything resembling
normal daily life, from rebuilding infrastructure to farming to
running marketplaces is more difficult when people are worried about
whether they might catch a stray bullet, or a bullet aimed at them
precisely because they are trying to go about life in a relatively
normal way and in cooperation with the American occupiers.
it is too early to say definitively that the United States is now
involved in a classic guerrilla war in Iraq. The insurgents in Iraq
seem to come from a variety of groups, from old Baathist Party loyalists
who still pine for the return of Saddam (or perhaps Baathist domination
without Saddam) to foreign Islamist extremists to ordinary Iraqis
who might have welcomed the Americans at first but have become disillusioned.
Given the perfunctory character of American intelligence in Iraq,
including the necessity of relying on locals who may or may not
really be loyal to US interests to gain the kind of information
that can only come from speaking the language and being able to
"blend in," it is almost impossible for those on the ground
let alone those of us thousands of miles away to know for sure
how many people out there are willing to take up arms against the
military officials have estimated that there are perhaps 5,000 guerrilla
fighters, and have speculated that there may be a centralized structure
providing financial resources and broad orders (subject to abandonment
if the guerrilla band on the ground thinks conditions are not right).
But they have to acknowledge that their information is sparse. Nobody
knows for sure if a few key strikes that kill relatively large numbers
of guerrillas at once will lead to disenchantment among other would-be
guerrillas or serve as an effective recruiting tool for would-be
guerrilla leaders, malcontents and the personally or ideologically
seems certain, however, is that if there is a bona fide guerrilla
insurgency developing, more American troops will be needed. Classic
military doctrine holds that conventional troops need a significant
numerical advantage in order to defeat a guerrilla insurgency. You
can get arguments over whether the required advantage is 10-to-1,
20-to-1 or even 50-to-1, but guerrilla insurgencies fought against
by people who are not either natives of the area or can fairly easily
disguise themselves to look like natives seldom succeed without
overwhelming numerical superiority.
need for such overwhelming numerical superiority might be counterbalanced
somewhat by the use of special forces trained in counterinsurgency,
penetration, infiltration, intelligence and strategic killing. But
if the goal is to defeat a guerrilla insurgency militarily, more
troops than are presently in Iraq will probably be required. And
US doctrine, at least for now, is to use the military against the
usual rule is that to keep 100,000 troops actively in the field,
you need 300,000 troops available, to keep replacements coming,
give those on the front lines an opportunity to return home for
a while, and prevent disillusionment and serious morale problems.
Unlike, for example, some British troops in the 19th
century, American troops have not been prepared logistically, tactically
or psychologically for the idea that they might have to garrison
imperial outposts for years at a time, or even spend most of their
lives overseas. Perhaps that mindset could be changed, given a more
honest statement of long-term imperial ambitions, but that would
military newspaper Stars and Stripes has run several articles
that suggest that, contrary to the more optimistic reports, there
are serious morale problems developing among the military in Iraq
(even discounting for the fact that Americans, bless 'em, consider
it their birthright to gripe and grumble about their superiors).
There are also lots of National Guard personnel in Iraq, performing
duties significantly more stressful than going out for maneuvers
with your buddies one weekend a month.
upshot is that it is entirely possible we won't know for months,
perhaps for many months that the US military will experience serious
recruiting problems in the wake of our excellent adventure in Iraq.
Today's gripes about extended stays in Iraq could translate into
people deciding not to re-enlist when their current terms are over,
or serious reduction in the number of new recruits, especially for
the National Guard.
is hardly surprising, then, that we're starting to hear rumbles
about conscription. The Defense Department early in November placed
a notice on its Web site asking for "men and women in the community
who might be willing to serve as members of a local draft board."
Elaborating, the notice on the Selective Service System Web page,
explained: "If a military draft becomes necessary, approximately
2,000 Local and Appeal Boards throughout America would decide which
young men, who submit a claim, receive deferments, postponements
or exemptions from military service, based on federal guidelines.
Positions are available in many communities across the Nation."
Defense Department didn't comment on the notice and pulled it from
the Web site without explanation. Unofficial explanations revolved
around the "we don't contemplate a draft but it's only prudent
to plan for every conceivable contingency" line.
contingency or not, however, that Web site notice marked the first
time since 1973 that an official or quasi-official source made a
formal or semiformal comment about reestablishing draft boards.
That's an important development.
the mysterious appearance and disappearance of a reference on the
SSS Web page, there's the matter of an increased budget next year
for the Selective Service System. I'm still trying to confirm the
figures for myself, but a website run by Democrats has a link to
the SSS Annual
Performance Plan for FY 2004, along with the statement that
the Selective Service budget for 2004 has been increased by $28
million. Is this actually an increase of $28 million or is that
$28 million for the Strategic Goals for 2004? One poster said the
budget for 2003 was $26 million, so if it's been boosted by only
$2 million that might not be all that significant. I'll find out
for sure and report back. But the strategic goals outlined in the
performance plan sound like an agency gearing up to go into action
after decades of dormancy.
are the strategic goals and budget allocations in the plan:
the effectiveness and efficiency of the Manpower Delivery Systems
(Projected allocation for FY 2004 - $7.942 million)
overall Registration Compliance and Service to the Public ($8.77
external and internal customer service ($10.624 million)
the system which guarantees that each conscientious objector is
properly classified, placed, and monitored ($955,000)
goals are further broken down into subgoals that suggest serious
retooling. They are (paraphrased in some cases): 1) Develop an Area
Prototype Exercise to test the Health Care Personnel Delivery System;
2) Redefine Agency infrastructure; 3)Prepare and conduct an Area
Office Prototype Exercise to test the activation process from SSS
Lottery input to issuance of the first Armed Forces Examination
Orders; 4) Ensure that 90% of people tested are capable of implementing
activation procedures; 5) Ensure that 95% of predefined readiness
objectives are attained in an Area Office Prototype Exercise; 6)
Train 90% of assigned State Directors and Reserve Force Officers
(RFOs) on HCPDS and Timed Phased Response functions; 7) Attain a
92% or higher compliance rate for men aged 18-25; 8) Attain and
appoint Registrars in 85% of the Nation's high schools; 9) Obtain
75% of registrations electronically; 10) Maintain an average change
request time of 39 days; 11) Maintain customer satisfaction level
of 87%; 12) Have telephone call completion rate of 93%; 12) Answer
correspondence in less than 10 days; 14) Train 90% or state directors
and RFOs on Alternative Service plans and procedures.
are other objectives, including:
Ensure a mobilization infrastructure, including state offices, 442
area offices and 1,980 local boards to be operational within 75
days of an announced return to conscription.
Improve registration compliance. The document indicates that 88%
of 18-25-year-old men registered in 1999, but in 2000 only 65% of
18-year-olds registered. That figure isn't broken out in subsequent
years, but the document claims overall (18-25) compliance was increased
to 91 percent in 2002. The 2003 goal was 92 percent. Among the strategies
the agency plans to employ to improve compliance are lobbying states
to pass laws requiring SS registration as a precondition for a driver's
license or state ID card, along with special mailings and media
Selective Service System is supposed to report on March 31, 2005
how it has done in meeting these goals.
of this may be bureaucratic boilerplate, the kind of verbiage bureaucrats
are skilled at turning out to conceal the fact that they aren't
really doing much of anything. But as I read the plan there's a
certain sense of gearing up. In 2003, under goal 2.1, for example,
the agency was supposed to develop an Area Office Prototype Exercise
to test the activation process. In 2004 it is supposed to conduct
an exercise to make sure it can actually do it. The section on dealing
with conscientious objectors is quite detailed, although to be fair
it appears that groundwork has been laid for several years.
deep in the vaunted "No Child Left Behind" act which substantially
increased the federal government's power and control over most aspects
of the educational system (another Constructive Republican Alternative
Proposal, no doubt), is Section 9528, which states in part:
educational agency receiving assistance under this Act shall provide,
on a request made by military recruiters or an institution of higher
education, access to secondary school students' names, addresses,
and telephone listings." That act does include a provision
to the effect that a student or parent may request that the student's
name not be released without prior parental approval, but notification
to parents of this right is spotty or buried in acres of fine print.
So military recruiters are going after high school students fairly
might make such aggressive recruitment unnecessary or plant the
seeds for a future rebellion against conscription. It is worth noting
that active college campus protests against the Vietnam war came
to a virtual end when the draft was repealed back in 1973. It is
hardly a denigrating comment to note that college students facing
imminent conscription to fight and die for Uncle Sam tend to be
more activist than those for whom the fighting is either something
seen on television or something done by kids who couldn't or didn't
get into college.
SSS bureaucracy may not be posting provocative suggestions on its
website any more was that a trial balloon to see if anybody would
notice and whether there would be any initial protest or activism?
but it is gearing up bureaucratically. And you hear the occasional
legislator suggesting that it might be time to reconsider conscription,
what with the way things are going in Iraq and all. Hardly anybody
uses terms like "providing permanent garrisons for imperial
outposts," but that's certainly in the air as well.
people I talk to in Washington (not a representative sample, perhaps,
but a sample nonetheless) hear conscription talk mostly from moderate
liberal Democrats of the sort who have always had a tender spot
for the draft as a way of "equalizing" society by providing
a common experience and forcing people to perform a variety of unpaid
or underpaid service to the state.
they tell people quietly is that plenty of moderate to conservative
Republicans are urging them on, but don't want to be seen as in
the forefront of calling for conscription. Whether this is because
they don't want to get out ahead of the administration (an especially
craven but typical attitude for GOP legislators when somebody with
an "R" behind his name occupies the Oval Office) or because
they want to maintain a semblance of credibility when it comes to
being for limited government (while undermining it with almost every
vote, especially on budget matters) I do not claim to know.
upshot is that conscription is starting to look like a possibility.
It would be just like this administration to stay quiet or deny
during an election year and then spring it in 2005. The Shrub seems
to have the presidential weakness for loving surprises and quick
"dramatic" action to an unusual degree. (To be fair, there
were a couple of instances when LBJ decided not to take certain
actions when rumors leaked, so it's hardly unique to Dubya.) Another
way of putting it, of course, is keeping the people in the dark
until the president decides the time is right for his latest masterstroke
the speculations have any validity, there will be some time to refresh
ourselves on all the substantive arguments against conscription
before a draft is imminent. However, there's better evidence for
the imminence of a draft than there ever was for the imminence of
a real threat from Saddam Hussein to the United States, so it's
probably justifiable to prepare for a preemptive strike against
the resumption of conscription.
most fundamental argument, of course, is that conscription is a
form of slavery. Even if "alternative service" is offered,
its essence is to tell a young man that he belongs to the government
rather than to himself, and that the government has a claim on the
entirety of his life quite literally, because the essence of conscription
is placing young men in the position of being required to kill or
be killed to serve the greater good of the State.
argument that we abolished slavery so conscription is unconstitutional
has never been tested in court these things tend to get appealed
during wartime, which is when courts truly faithful to the founders'
vision should be especially suspicious of overweening executive
claims of inherent power, but when in fact (because there's a war
on, you know) courts tend to cut the executive a little more slack
than usual. But whether or not it's unconstitutional as validated
by a court or not, conscription is slavery, the very negation of
freedom. That's a powerful and valid argument that should be used
again and again. In the old days we used to call it the Selective
also the practical argument that a volunteer military tends to provide
an effective test of whether a foreign policy is sensible enough
to command functional assent. If a policy does not lead to a shortage
of recruits or leads, as some war party folks have predicted,
to increased enlistments then whatever its wisdom to some of us
more inclined than average to be critical, it is popular enough
to stand without promoting outright rebellion (which to some extent
is what happened in the 1960s). If a policy leads to declining recruitment,
that's an important signal for policymakers to be able to receive.
This is a rough-and-ready test of policy, to be sure, and it might
not be as effective a test as it could be given that for some young
men in a flat economy the military is the most attractive option
out there. But it's still an important potential check on imperial
people in the military contend, often with some vehemence and with
a fair amount of documentation, that having a volunteer military
has led to having a more effective and sophisticated military. Officers
are dealing with people who have decided they want to be there rather
than with people who don't want to be there and are likely to be
troublemakers or slackers for the two years they're forced to serve.
I'm not in a position to judge the contention that having a volunteer
force has contributed to having a better force, better able to cope
with the increasingly technological demands of today's military
than a bunch of surly draftees would, but it's certainly a plausible
hope we won't find ourselves in the position of having to make these
and other arguments any time soon. But there are enough portents
that it would be prudent to be prepared.
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