With the presidential election coming down to
the wire, the possibility of a revived military draft is looming as a potentially
decisive factor in the outcome.
While President George W. Bush and his fellow Republicans vehemently reject
any suggestion that a draft, which was eliminated by former President Richard
Nixon during the last years of the Vietnam War in the 1970s, is on the way,
indications that it may have to be renewed are growing and, with Democratic
challenger Senator John Kerry's help, forcing their way into the campaign.
The issue is clearly having an impact on younger voters between 18 and 29,
who would naturally be the most vulnerable to any new draft. That demographic
group, which was already the most pro-Kerry in the general voting population
before the latest rumors and reports, is also considered the most unpredictable.
Younger voters historically have abstained from voting in greater proportions
than other age groups, but, aided by special campaigns such as the star-studded
Rock the Vote effort, and
the recent Vote for Change tour led by superstar Bruce Springsteen, that may
not hold true this year. Both campaigns have cited the military draft as reasons
to come out to vote.
As noted by New York Times columnist Paul Krugman, the Republican National
Committee (RNC) is beginning to panic over the issue. Last week, it sent a threatening
letter to Rock the Vote complaining bitterly about its use of the draft question
to turn out young voters.
It came just a week after the Republican leadership of the House of Representatives
hastily brought up a two-year-old Democratic proposal to reinstate the draft
in order to defeat it overwhelmingly, hopefully to put the issue to rest. But
because the vote was essentially meaningless in legal terms, it did not have
"This urban myth regarding the draft has been thoroughly debunked," the RNC
letter to Rock the Vote said, citing Bush's continuing declarations that the
"all-volunteer Army is working."
That, of course, may be his opinion, but, as noted by more than one columnist,
the president has also insisted that the war in Iraq is going just fine and
that the massive fiscal deficits he has piled up in his three and a half years
in office can be cut in half over the next few years.
In fact, the evidence that the military is overstretched and needs significantly
more manpower is growing virtually by the day.
Kerry has argued for weeks that the military has become so overstretched that
the administration has resorted to a "backdoor draft" in the form of involuntary
extensions of tours of duty for both career soldiers and reservists, measures
that have caused rising discontent among them and their families and have reportedly
contributed to declining re-enlistment rates.
Indeed, the National Guard reported just a few days ago that enlistments fell
some 10 percent short of their 2004 goal.
Suggestions that a draft may once again be in the cards were boosted significantly
late last month when the Defense Science Board, a panel of mainly right-wing
and Republican national-security advisers to Pentagon chief Donald Rumsfeld,
concluded, "inadequate total numbers" of troops mean that the United
States "cannot sustain our current and projected global stabilization commitments."
It noted that, given current plans and commitments, Washington is likely to
be engaged in significant military interventions involving some stabilization
function every other year, on average.
The board further found that Rumsfeld's plans for reorganizing the Army to
create more combat brigades which he has assured Congress should solve
the manpower problem were "important, but partial, steps toward
enhanced stabilization operations."
The report, which the administration tried to keep under wraps, appeared to
confirm the already widespread notion that U.S. forces, particularly the Army
and Marines, were stretched too thin to be sustainable.
This conclusion has been bolstered as well by the growing consensus, particularly
within the military, that the administration made a major strategic error by
underestimating the number of troops needed for the mission in Iraq a
judgment that goes to the heart of Rumsfeld's views about military "transformation."
A major Army survey taken last spring and released this week also found that
reservists and members of the National Guard were increasingly unhappy with
their "military way of life," and that their readiness to go to war
had "significantly declined" over the past year a finding that
put in greater context last week's refusal by one 19-man reserve unit to obey
orders to carry out a dangerous supply mission in Iraq's so-called "Sunni
That incident, which drew major attention from the U.S. press with major
newspapers editorializing at length about the overextended state of the military
has clearly added to the impression that something needs to be done.
In recent days, several newspapers have also published investigative articles
that have raised serious questions regarding the repeated assurances by Rumsfeld
and Bush that they have sent all of the troops that military commanders on the
ground in Iraq requested.
Echoing former Army chief, Gen. Eric Shinseki, who was summarily retired for
estimating the number of troops needed to stabilize post-invasion Iraq at "several
hundred thousand," unnamed brass have recently been telling reporters that
they also warned of the need for more troops, but were either ignored or intimidated
into silence by their superiors.
The Times reported Monday that the Selective Service, which is charged
with overseeing the military draft, began updating its contingency plans for
the draft of doctors, nurses and other health-care workers in the event of a
national emergency just last summer.
In reacting to the report, Pentagon Spokesman Larry Di Rita repeated the Bush-Rumsfeld
mantra that, despite the plans, "it is the policy of this administration to
oppose a military draft for any purpose whatsoever."
All of these reports, however, have contributed to the widespread impression
that the military is indeed overstretched and that something will have to be
Democrats and some Republicans in Congress have been lobbying hard for adding
as many as 40,000 troops to the Army, a proposal the administration has fiercely
resisted, particularly because it once again puts in question Rumsfeld's ideas
about military "transformation," which calls for doing more with far
Kerry, who also opposes the draft, has proposed increasing the size of the
Army and of doubling the number of Special Operations Forces (SOF) while, at
the same time, abandoning Bush's doctrine of "preemptive" war against
countries that do not pose an imminent threat to the United States.
It is that strategic doctrine, as well as the notion that the U.S. military,
rather than NATO or the United Nations, should act as the ultimate guarantor
of global stability, that, in Kerry's view, is imposing impossible burdens on
the armed forces.
A new, more modest, and more multilateral strategic approach, in his view,
would put all of the current concerns and speculation about a military draft
Meanwhile, Bush's conviction that preemption and unilateralism are the only
way to ensure U.S. security in the 21st century could well provoke a strong
turnout by younger voters to preempt a military draft and turn him out of office.
(Inter Press Service)