Fear of Military Draft a Growing Factor
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 that effect.
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."
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
fact, the evidence that the military is overstretched and needs
significantly more manpower is growing virtually by the day.
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.
the National Guard reported just a few days ago that enlistments
fell some 10 percent short of their 2004 goal.
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."
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.
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."
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.
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."
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 Triangle."
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
of these reports, however, have contributed to the widespread impression
that the military is indeed overstretched and that something will
have to be done.
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 fewer troops.
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
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.
new, more modest, and more multilateral strategic approach, in his
view, would put all of the current concerns and speculation about
a military draft to rest.
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.
Lobe is Inter Press Service's correspondent in Washington, DC.
© 2004 Inter Press Service