December 5, 2003

As the Iraq war escalates, so does the desertion rate: now reservists are rebelling. Can the draft be far behind?

by Justin Raimondo

We're supposed to believe that the President went to Iraq for Thanksgiving because he's such a brave guy, and just because it was The Right Thing to Do. The growing legion of Bush-haters, who see the President's every move as a calculated political ploy, frame his recent surprise trip as part of his reelection campaign, carefully planned and stage-managed by cynical handlers. There may be some truth in that, but I have an alternative theory: it's all about the skyrocketing rate of desertion.

Le Canard Enchaine, a French weekly, has the skinny on a story that the American media probably wouldn't touch with a ten-foot pole: over 1,700 American military personnel have deserted their posts in Iraq, so far. They go on leave, and, once back in the U.S., disappear, never to be seen or heard from again. In Fort Bragg, North Carolina, Col. Billy J. Buckner, spokesman for the 18th Airborne Corps, acknowledges that the number of troops going AWOL is rising, but attributes it to moral failings on the part of the soldiers involved:

"People go AWOL for a number of reasons. They may have had family problems at home and couldn't reconcile it, or they were stressed out or maybe they just didn't like the Army and are afraid of war."

At any rate, says the Colonel:

"You sign a contract that says you're going to serve the Constitution and the nation. We're not going to tolerate it."

The military may not be tolerant of deserters, but there isn't a whole lot they can do about it, especially if the numbers keep increasing. That, I believe, is a major part of the reason why the President went to Baghdad: sure, he was directly addressing the Iraqis, and every politician is always running for reelection, but his primary audience, in this instance, really was the troops. Buck up, he was telling them. Because we're with you, the American people are with you, and I'm with you.

The troops are supported and empathized with: the policy, however, is increasingly opposed by the overwhelming majority of the American people. A whopping 71 percent say the Iraq war hasn't made them safer from terrorism. Our men and women in uniform, by voting with their feet, are merely reflecting the views of the fellows, who increasingly look on the war to "liberate" Iraq as a pipe-dream founded on a lie.

While the War Party loves to point to the far-left "International ANSWER" coalition, responsible for many of the rallies, as the heart and soul of the antiwar opposition, the earliest and most effective opponents of this war were senior military officers. The military wing of the antiwar opposition, like the conservative-Old Right wing, has been less showy in its opposition, yet potentially far more subversive of the War Party's policies. People like General Anthony Zinni, retired Marine Colonel Larry Williams, former Navy secretary James Webb, retired Marine commander Joseph P. Hoar, and the most decorated soldier of the Vietnam war era, Colonel David Hackworth – all opposed the war on the grounds that an American occupation of Iraq would be a disaster.

The civilians who plumbed for an invasion didn't listen to them, nor did they listen to General Eric Shinseki, former Army chief of staff, who warned that they couldn't stitch Iraq back together again without 200,000 armed nation-builders. When Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld heard this, he went ballistic: the Pentagon's neocon-in-chief, Paul Wolfowitz, made a point of publicly attacking Shinseki's estimate as "wildly off the mark."

Now we are seeing the officers' rebellion against a policy of imperialism taking shape in the ranks, as Army reservists, called up in record numbers, are refusing to be coerced into returning to Iraq early. The case of Capt. Steve McAlpin, who was charged with "insubordination" because he insisted that the military follow the law and allow him a full 12 month break before returning to Iraq, forced the Army to allow reservists the option of delayed deployment. Although there are no official numbers, it seems from news reports that around half are choosing to stay home. Associated Press reports:

"Of the 40 or more soldiers being deployed by the 401st this week, 13 who returned from Central Asia early this year had agreed to redeploy earlier than required. But at least seven of them said they have now changed their minds."

Col. Buckner blusters:

"You sign a contract that says you're going to serve the Constitution and the nation. We're not going to tolerate it."

Buckner is talking about deserters, but the rising rate of soldiers going AWOL is perhaps due to the way they are being treated. Soldiers – American soldiers, at any rate – are not slaves. As Capt. McAlpin put it:

"We signed up to fight our nation's enemies and we are fully prepared to do that. But if they're going to usurp the laws of this country at the expense of our most precious asset, our soldiers, then I will not stand for that, not for a minute."

A dozen other officers refused to sign the waiver, and four enlisted soldiers as well. This is the fighting spirit that makes American soldiers indomitable in battle: God help the War Party if it is ever turned against them.

The horrible conditions faced by wounded reservists, and the unilateral altering of the contract by the Pentagon to pull them back into battle prematurely, are only two of the most immediate reasons for low morale in the ranks. As the lies that lured us into war are debunked, one by one, the personal and economic reasons behind the reservists' rebellion are mixed up with a more political sentiment, a general skepticism of the imperial project. It is oh-so-easy for our laptop bombardiers, the pro-war punditi, to call for "victory" and urge the President to take on Syria, Iran, and beyond. Most of these slope-shouldered, flat-footed and bespectacled dweebs have never been anywhere near the military, and, in any case, wouldn't be allowed in on the grounds of physical disability: the rest evaded the draft, and got off on various deferments. That's why we call them chickenhawks.

What is now taking place in the ranks of the military is enormously significant: it is nothing less than a soldiers' revolt against the chickenhawks. To which one can only add: Glory, glory Hallelujah! Because this is the real Achilles heel of the War Party – and Capt. McAlpin is our modern-day Paris. Guided, perhaps, by Athena herself – who, after all, personifies wisdom – McAlpin's arrow of protest has hit them in their single most vulnerable spot.

Shinseki was right: Wolfowitz was wrong. They are going to need 200,000-plus troops to keep Iraq from flying apart at the seams. But where will the reinforcements come from – and how are we going to pay for it?

The inevitability of "big government conservatism" as the only possible policy for a Republican President to follow in the post-9/11 era is a cardinal belief of the National Review crowd, as well as the avowedly neoconservative advocates of "national greatness" over at the Weekly Standard. It won't be hard for the latter to embrace the idea of conscription: after all, "national greatness" has to be about more than just building monuments, preening, and pure ostentation. It has to be about sacrifice, and nobility, and all that heroic stuff, and that means dying, dammit, lots of it.

That's the tough-guy Max Boot-Victor Davis Hanson school of neoconservative warmongering: it was Boot who bemoaned the lack of casualties in Afghanistan, infamously lamenting in the pages of the War Street Journal the loss of an opportunity to make the proper blood sacrifice to Ares. Hanson, with his references to Thermopylae, his evocation of Spartan virtues, also worships the war god, and the National Review crowd will only be able to hold out for so long against the rising necessity of a slave army to fight an unjust war.

In alliance with deranged liberals like Rep. Charles Rangel and the goody-two-shoes faction of the Democratic party, the National Review/"official" conservative movement, together with their neoconservative brethren, will either take up the cause of conscription – or else start campaigning to get us out of Iraq. It is one or the other.

The administration denies rumors that plans for a military draft are already on the drawing board. But the Defense Department didn't help quell them by posting a notice on its website last week advertising for "men and women in the community who might be willing to serve as members of a local draft board."

If I were a Democratic presidential candidate – God forbid! The dwarf look is so over! – I would start off every speech with a demand that the President solemnly pledge not to bring back the draft. But that these words will ever pass the lips of a single serious Democratic presidential candidate – and by that I mean to exclude John Kerry as well as Dennis Kucinich – is highly unlikely. General Clark may say it's unnecessary, now, and Dean has never said a thing about it as far as I can tell, but none would likely rule it out in principle. The idea of conscription, after all, embodies the liberal collectivist concept of the individual's necessary subordination to the State. It also fits in rather neatly with the racial victimology that energizes so much of the Democratic electorate.

That's why Harlem Democrat Rep. Charles Rangel told the The Hill newspaper that he is

"Researching not only a demographic, economic and ethnic breakdown of the National Guard and reservists deployed, but of those injured and killed in action. 'It's a profile of who are the National Guard people and what are their backgrounds and how fragile are their economic backgrounds. A disproportionate number of the poor and members of minority groups make up the enlisted ranks of the military, while the most privileged Americans are under-represented or absent. We need to return to the tradition of the citizen soldier with alternative national service required for those who cannot serve because of physical limitations or reasons of conscience.'"

Why can't he be a total demagogue and come right out and amend his legislation to read that only white people should be drafted? That way, blacks, Latinos, and other official victim groups can make up for centuries of oppression and discrimination by staying home and getting all the good jobs. Now that's what I call affirmative action!

The Democratic party ranks may be against the war, and even against a military draft, but who can deny that they'll be an easy sell on the concept of "alternative service," as Rangel puts it? Sending people to die in Iraq may not be a politically potent platform on which to run for President, but given the premise that we can't correct our error and get out – "cut and run," as the War Party puts it – the occupation will continue. If equity of sacrifice is the Democratic party battle cry, and that of all good liberals, then they will fall in line when the President finds it necessary to cash in his chips with the American people and call for a military draft.

As Charles Pena, of the Cato Institute, trenchantly analyzed Bush's options:

"I don't think a presidential candidate would seriously propose a draft. But an incumbent, safely in for a second term – that might be a different story. When you crunch the numbers, you understand why you hear talk about a draft. You only have to look at troop levels to realize we don't have the numbers to do the job in Iraq properly."

The idea that conservatives – and erstwhile "libertarians" – who support this war could employ a kind of "split screen" and call for tax cuts and the rollback of State power with the left side of their brains, and enthuse over the invasion and conquest of Iraq with the right lobe, was always an illusion.

Legislation like the macabre "PATRIOT" Act and the looming threat of conscription remind us of why we fight. The battle against foreign interventionism and empire-building is the key to rolling back the power of the State on the home front. Constitutional, republican (small 'r'), limited government is anathema to the idea of empire. The idea that justifies conscription – that man belongs to the State, rather than his own family – is the very heart and soul of liberal collectivism. If we add on the stipulation that his first duty is to the Empire, we can count the neocons in, too.

The socialist opponents of this war have no answer to the arguments in favor of the draft. Since state socialism embodies the idea that human beings owe their first allegiance to some government or other – as the collective embodiment of the workers' will – the various antiwar Commie and socialist outfits almost never bring up the idea of opposing conscription in principle. They just don't want this State to own you – but, once they get in power, they'll claim that same "right." No wonder they'd rather talk about Mumia Abu Jamal.

Can't you just see them all jumping on the pro-draft bandwagon? The neoconservatives, in the name of "national greatness," the liberal Democrats in the name of "equality of sacrifice," the National Review types in the name of grin-and-bear-it Spartan virtues, and George W. Bush – or whatever Democrat manages to unseat him – in the name of whatever his speechwriters can think to come up with.

That will leave us libertarians as the sole opponents of a new form of slavery, in which case we'll either be at the head of a mass movement – or in the clink as "enemy combatants." In either case, the outlook for living the good life – or even a moment of peace – in this troubled age becomes ever more unlikely.


Speaking of troubled times, on account of my column (and another article) on the subject, the Libertarian Party has been forced to respond to the demand of many of its supporters and well-wishers to disinvite the pro-war Neal Boortz as a featured speaker at their upcoming national convention. Here is the text of a letter convention chair Nancy Neale circulated:

"I was bombarded last week after Justin Raimondo's instigation. With now well over 200 e-mails on the subject, the 'vote' to 'dump Boortz' vs. 'keep Boortz' is about 50/50. Until further notice, he stays on the program.

"He's not the 'keynote' speaker or the 'main' speaker; he's not going to be billed as the official spokesperson for the LP, nor is he running for president or some other LP position (as some misguided and apparently illiterate "dump Boortz" advocates surmised!). He's an LP member with a level of notoriety who also lives in Atlanta. He's responsible for bringing a lot of people into the party and until the Iraqi invasion no one had a problem with him. He will be one of a few dozen speakers. He wasn't invited so that he could sway Libertarians to his way of thinking and the overall program will be more than balanced on the "war" issue. Let's all go to Atlanta and have a great time!"

Never mind what the LP platform says, plain as day, and what the LP's official position is on the war. Never mind that Boortz's supporters are, for the most part, not members of the LP. Never mind that party members will be giving a platform to a point of view that is hardly suffering from underexposure in this country. Never mind the complete absence of any similarly well-known anti-war personage on the speakers' platform at that convention – Nancy Neale says that the "vote" is in, it's 50-50, so Boortz is still on. And LP members who don't like it had better shut the heck up, as Ms. Neale says in the opening paragraph of her missive:

"Yes, can you guys please stop discussing Boortz and the convention on TCLP Active. Please read the beginning of my column in the December LP News."

Perhaps Ms. Neale should learn that the Libertarian Party platform is not up for repeal via an online vote by Neal Boortz's drooling redneck followers. If the pro-war fake- "libertarians" don't like it, let them get the hell out and form their own damn party.

If Boortz really is a due-paying member, then, in actively promoting and endorsing this rotten war, he has brazenly violated the statement all members are asked to sign, endorsing the non-aggression principle. He should either change his position on the war, on else be asked to resign.

Is the LP so desperate for support – from anywhere and anyone – that they'll take in a raving warmonger, even one who calls for the government to plant spies in the antiwar movement? Puh-leeze! If total opportunism and a desire for publicity are the deciding factors – and they usually are with the LP leadership – then one could easily make the argument that the LP would get more favorable publicity from expelling Boortz from the party than they would from having him speak.

Boortz headlining the LP National Convention? What's next? Will they invite John Ashcroft, on the grounds that he's against gun control?

Why, oh why do I bother? At this point, I just don't know. Maybe it's out of sentiment, for old times' sake, or maybe it's just the principle of the thing. Sure, we're increasingly living in a nightmare Bizarro World, where up is down and wrong is right – but is nothing sacred? Just asking…..

– Justin Raimondo

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Justin Raimondo is the editorial director of He is also the author of Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement (with an Introduction by Patrick J. Buchanan), (1993), and Into the Bosnian Quagmire: The Case Against U.S. Intervention in the Balkans (1996). He is an Adjunct Scholar with the Ludwig von Mises Institute, in Auburn, Alabama, a Senior Fellow at the Center for Libertarian Studies, and writes frequently for Chronicles: A Magazine of American Culture. He is the author of An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard.

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