The United States' uneven record in Iraq has kindled a small but persistent
push to reinstitute the military draft, a politically charged idea that hasn't
been seriously considered since the end of the Vietnam War.
Yet despite denials
from the White House that a draft is under consideration, and despite the obvious
political fallout of such a move during an election campaign, talk of a draft
has heated up in recent days.
Asked this week if the president is considering
reinstituting the draft, press secretary Scott McClellan gave a quick and emphatic
answer. "No," he said, moving to the next question.
But military observers
and some members of Congress say that the notion of a possible military draft
is gaining traction, in part because of questions from Democrats in Congress about
the conduct of the Iraqi reconstruction, from retired military officers who are
worried that the force is too small to accomplish such a big and difficult job
-- and because of the administration itself.
The Defense Department fueled
the debate this week when it 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
The notice, which appeared on an official Web page for the Selective
Service System titled "Defend America," 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."
The Pentagon wouldn't comment
on the notice, and by yesterday it had been pulled from the Web site without explanation.
Federal officials, falling in line behind President Bush and his official position,
say there are no specific plans to bring back the draft but it's only prudent
to have the plans and some of the people in place if it becomes necessary.
those explanations, the public notice by the Pentagon marked the first formal
request to re-establish draft boards since the draft was abolished in 1973.
or not a draft is reinstated, debate about troop strength and the commitment to
Iraq will continue. The United States has more than 130,000 soldiers serving in
Iraq and Afghanistan, a deployment that has virtually drained the Army of its
troops. One division remains in the United States.
Bush, Defense Secretary
Donald Rumsfeld and senior military officials have consistently said that the
military is not stretched too thin and that there are enough soldiers to meet
all responsibilities both domestically and overseas.
The Pentagon sought to
underscore that point Thursday by announcing that it will send 85,000 new Army
and Marine combat troops to Iraq to replace soldiers ending one-year tours. The
Pentagon also alerted 43,000 National Guard and Reserve support troops that they
may be sent to Iraq as well.
Taken together, those decisions constitute the
largest rotation of U.S. troops since World War II.
In an added twist, the
Army announced that soldiers in every unit designated for deployment to Iraq next
year -- whether active duty or reserve -- will be prohibited from leaving the
service during a period beginning 90 days before their departure to 90 days after
Ironically, if the White House and Pentagon decide to reinstitute
the draft they will earn support from some senior Democrats. Sen. Ernest Hollings
of South Carolina and Rep. Charles Rangel of New York have both said that the
country should bring back the draft.
Without a draft, they say, the current
force will be overly dependent on National Guard and reserves. That fact, coupled
with the yearlong tours required of Reserve forces, has sustained demands that
a draft be considered.
Rangel and Hollings each sponsored legislation that
would re-institute the draft. The identical bills call for mandatory national
service in either the military or some other national service of all men and women
between the ages of 18 and 26.
Rangel argues that poor and less-educated Americans
suffer a disproportionate number of deaths and injuries in an all-volunteer force.
"In Iraq, minorities represented a disproportionate 32 percent of the deaths
among combat-related specialties and 40 percent of those among the non-combat
ranks," Rangel said.
"I do deplore the fact that Americans and Americans-to-be
of their socioeconomic positions make up the overwhelming majority of our nation's
armed forces, and that, by and large, those of wealth and position are absent
from the ranks of ground troops," he said.
"The point is that, under a draft,
every economic group, every social class, men and women, would be given the opportunity
to contribute to the defense of their country," he said.
While some -- even
many -- members of Congress privately accept Rangel's logic, no one expects Congress
to publicly embrace the draft.
Rep. Norm Dicks, D-Wash., who is one of the
authorities on the military in Congress, opposes bringing back the draft, said
his chief of staff, George Behan.
"He certainly doesn't think that an all-volunteer
force is insufficient," Behan said. "We've been meeting all the recruiting goals
and performance standards."
Not surprisingly, neither Hollings' nor Rangel's
bill has gone anywhere this year.
And few expect Bush to take a step that would
surely be politically unpopular, if not suicidal. Nor is Rumsfeld likely to push
for the draft. He has consistently said that the all-volunteer force has performed
well and meets all strategic demands.
VOICES ON THE DRAFT
22, waiting for a ride at the University of Washington: "It's one of those scary
things. People our age haven't grown up with war being something we really think
of as a possibility. It's not in our reality," Myers said. He's not worried, however,
because he says he has a ticket out: "Color-blindness. I have a very mild red/green
colorblindness. It runs in the family." Carl Sheasley, 17, a member of the UW
College Republicans, wearing a Bush/Cheney '04 sticker while attending a rally
in opposition to a rally for Democratic presidential candidate Dennis Kucinich:
"I would go right now. I will unilaterally support this country," he said, adding
that military service isn't his first choice, but that he'd serve if his president
asked him to. "I believe that the Iraq war was a just conflict."
21, riding his mountain bike near the UW's Red Square: "Aren't college students
exempt?" he asked first, before explaining that he's not opposed to the draft,
just the administration. "If I was more for the cause -- I mean, we all live here.
You've got to pay your dues."
Eric Solorio, 19, buying a ticket to see "The
Matrix Revolutions" at the Bay Majestic theater in Ballard:
"He (Bush) better
not ever. That's not me. It won't happen -- I'd have to leave the country. My
mom has three boys, so we'd all have to go."
Solorio, who once contemplated
enlisting in the Air Force, said he's not opposed to military service.
just opposed to him (Bush) forcing me to fight. I don't like him."