On Native Ground
WILL BUSH BRING BACK THE DRAFT?
by Randolph T. Holhut
American Reporter Correspondent
DUMMERSTON, Vt. -- The neo-con brainiacs who gave us the ongoing quagmire in Iraq have more big plans for President George W. Bush.
In their new book, "An End to Evil: How to Win the War on Terror," Richard Perle and David Frum fret that the Bush administration may be losing its "will to win" and should instead keep working to overthrow the governments of Iran and Syria. And, for good measure, they urge a military blockade of North Korea backed up with plans for a preemptive strike on its nuclear sites if that nation refuses to immediately and completely give up its nuclear weapons program.
Now, the mullahs in Iran and the Assad family in Syria aren't going to step aside gracefully as Libya's Moammar Khadafy recently did to carry out America's wishes. And despite the recent diplomatic overtures, North Korea isn't going to roll over easily either.
Given that diplomacy has not been the strong suit of the Bush administration, military force is what will likely accomplish the goals of neo-cons as outlined by Perle and Frum.
Leaving aside the other implications of this policy, the biggest question is this: how the hell are we going to do this with the military we now have?
If you look at the numbers, the U.S. has about 135,000 troops in Iraq and vicinity - the equivalent of five combat divisions plus their logistical support units. Nearly 500 Americans have been killed and more than 3,200 have been wounded in battle since the invasion of Iraq began last March.
Then there are the non-combat injuries. According to David Hackworth's Soldiers For The Truth Website, more than 18,000 soldiers have been medically evacuated to the U.S. for non-combat injuries since last March. So, more than 10 percent of the total force in Iraq, or the equivalent of a fully-manned infantry division, have been injured.
Most of the other folks in Iraq are due to be rotated home in the Spring and will be replaced by a fresh contingent of about 110,000 troops. It will take about a year for the departing divisions to regroup, resupply and retrain before they are ready for another deployment.
The National Guard and reserves are helping to bolster those numbers, but part-time soldiers are ill-equipped to take on the job of subbing for the active duty forces for an extended period. The Army is so strapped that it has prevented the retirement or discharge of more than 40,000 active-duty and reserve soldiers in the last two years. The Army is also offering reenlistment bonuses ranging up to $10,000 to entice people to stay in, an idea that the soldiers in Iraq are now laughing at.
Thanks to the less-than-brilliant diplomacy of the Bush administration, there is virtually no chance of any other nations sending in troops in significant numbers to help lighten the U.S. load. And U.S. forces are having a hard time training enough Iraqis to take over security duties.
So again, how are you going to carry out the neo-con strategy of regime change throughout the Middle East (with a showdown with North Korea thrown in as a side dish)?
The answer is bringing back the draft.
It's something that few want to talk about, but it will be increasingly inevitable - especially if President Bush gets a second term. There is no way the "war on terror," as defined by the neo-cons who conjured up the Iraq invasion, can be carried out without a substantial increase in military manpower.
The cannon fodder for the Bush administration's neo-con imperialist adventures have to come from somewhere and you don't see many people standing in line to be a part of it. Enlistments for the military aren't up. Unless you have a death wish, would you willingly volunteer to go Iraq and face 1 in 10 odds that you're going to get hurt, perhaps seriously? Are you feeling lucky and think that the 200-1 longshot won't come in and you won't end up coming home in a body bag?
It's not like the children of the leaders of our country are rushing to Iraq. President Bush's daughters haven't enlisted. Nor have any other members of the extended Bush family. I mean, if winning the "war on terror" is critical to the survival of the free world, why aren't there any members of the Bush family in uniform?
Of the 535 members of Congress, there are only seven who have children in the military: Sen. Tim Johnson, a South Dakota Democrat, and Republican House Members John Kline of Minnesota, Todd Akin of Missouri, Duncan Hunter of California, Marilyn Musgrave of Colorado, Ed Schrock of Virginia and Joe Wilson of South Carolina. No members of President Bush's cabinet have family members in the military. And it's safe to say that if you did a survey of the upper echelon of the Fortune 500, few if any would say they have children in uniform.
When the draft ended in 1973, so did the universality of military service. The middle and upper-middle class whites have all but disappeared and it's the working-class kids that now fill the ranks. About a third of the folks in the combat arms - infantry, armor and artillery - in the Army are Latinos or African-Americans. It's always the guy without the advantages that come with growing up prosperous in America who get sent off to fight and die for their country.
It will take a vote by Congress and a presidential signature to bring back conscription. And if Bush happens to get another term, it's a pretty good bet that we'll see the draft return in 2005.
Restarting the draft wouldn't take long to do. Since 1980, federal law requires virtually all men to register with the Selective Service System (SSS) within 30 days of turning 18. The SSS has millions of names of potential draftees on file and estimates that currently 88 percent of all men between ages 18 and 26 are registered.
Even though few have been prosecuted for failing to register before age 26, there are consequences. Non-registrants can't qualify for a federal student loan or a civil service job. More than half of the states have laws that link benefits such as state tuition assistance and eligibility for state jobs to registration and 11 states won't give you a driver's license if you haven't registered.
The SSS has recently been seeking volunteers to serve on draft boards with a goal filling 8,000 draft board slots by Spring 2005. Unlike the Vietnam War era, there will be no student deferments. If you get called up, you be allowed to finish your current semester and then off you go. And fleeing to Canada won't be an option. There's already talk of sealing the borders if there is a national emergency - the sort of thing that would prompt a return of conscription.
The official denials that there is no need for a return to the draft will continue because it is an election year. President Bush will likely keep his mouth shut on the subject until after the election out of fear of scaring young voters. But if Bush gets a second term, don't be shocked if we start seeing nervous young men reporting to their local draft boards in 2005.
Randolph T. Holhut was a journalist in New England for more than 20 years. He edited "The George Seldes Reader" (Barricade Books). He can be reached at email@example.com.