In a recent Newsweek poll, 38 percent of respondents thought President Bush would reinstitute the draft if reelected. In a Time poll, 42 percent expected a draft. Both polls were taken before John Kerry raised the issue.
The president has adamantly denied the draft story. He has even asserted that reelecting him is the best way to prevent a new draft. Bush is speaking out of both sides of his mouth on the issue, however: He portrays himself as more intent on prosecuting the war in Iraq than Kerry, which would logically make a draft more likely.
Are Bush's campaign promises credible?
In the 2000 campaign George W. Bush said that he would support allowing Americans to buy prescription drugs from Canada, he would not raid the Social Security Trust Fund, and he would veto temporary storage of nuclear waste at Yucca Mountain. He broke all three promises.
In the same campaign Bush said that he would not only balance the budget but pay down a record amount on the national debt. He also claimed he opposed government intervention regarding same-sex marriage. He said the nation would have a $5.6 trillion surplus and that he would have a humble foreign policy. Does anybody remember those whoppers?
In the 2000 campaign, Bush said that he opposed nation-building, that he would end partisan bickering in Washington, and he blamed Bill Clinton for high oil prices. Whom would he blame for $55-per-barrel oil today?
Now Bush says that he plans to fight the war in Iraq with an all-volunteer force. This sounds like a faith-based, or maybe hope-based, policy.
It's common knowledge there aren't enough troops to maintain security in Iraq, much less to reverse the military deterioration. Two-thirds of U.S. servicemen polled by the Annenberg Public Policy Center recently said they believed President Bush "had underestimated the number of troops needed in Iraq." In other words, count on more troops -- after the election.
The Army has 33 combat brigades. Typically, two-thirds are stationed in the States and one-third overseas. Because of Iraq the situation is reversed and two-thirds are now stationed outside the country. All have been rotated into combat in Iraq or Afghanistan at least once, and some have served two tours there already. Reserve and National Guard units have been used to make up the shortfall, constituting almost 40 percent of the troops on the ground at present.
The manpower shortage is sufficiently acute that thousands of Guard and Reserve soldiers have been prevented from leaving the supposedly all-volunteer force when their enlistments are up. This is a "back-door draft," the administration's stopgap solution, at least until after the election.
Such coercive policies, predictably, are driving retention rates down. This makes a draft even more likely. The Army Research Institute projects that only 27 percent of Guard and Reserve soldiers intend to reenlist -- an all-time low. The Army National Guard fell nearly 10 percent short of its 2004 recruiting goal of 56,000 enlistees. In addition, many former soldiers mobilized under a special program have refused to report; they've been to Iraq and don't want to go back. The pool of young people who have committed to join the Army next year is only 18 percent of the total required.
The United States maintains troops in 130 countries, including 146,000 combat troops in Iraq and 9,000 in Afghanistan.
We also have 119,00 military personnel in Europe, 43,000 in Japan, 37,000 in Korea and other forces elsewhere. To maintain these commitments while continuing to rotate troops out of Iraq every 12 months stretches our forces to the limit. The present level of combat in Iraq is unsustainable with our current forces.
Maybe Bush sees a light at the end of the tunnel.
The head of the Selective Service told CBS News that he could start drafting people quickly. "I think we could do it in less than six months if we got the call," said Selective Service Director Jack Martin.
Bush says there won't be a draft to fight the war in Iraq while he is president. Unfortunately, his credibility on Iraq is no better than his record on campaign statements.
Anyone who can read now knows that the administration's claims about WMD and about Saddam Hussein's ties to 9/11 and Al-Qaida were false. The assurances that we would be welcomed as liberators and could use Iraq's oil money to finance reconstruction were patently absurd. It is public knowledge that the administration used forged documents and phony intelligence to claim Saddam was pursuing nuclear material from Niger and specialty aluminum for centrifuges.
Vice President Dick Cheney continues to claim that Saddam protected Abu Nidal, supposedly proof he supported terrorists, even though Saddam had had Abu Nidal assassinated well before the U.S. invasion. To make the same point, the administration routinely claims that Abu Musab al-Zarqawi was working with Sadddam even though the evidence is that Al-Zarqawi came into Iraq after the invasion.
The administration's litany of misrepresentations and outright falsehoods on Iraq is so pervasive that nothing it says can be taken at face value.
Yes, George Bush says there will be no draft while he is president, but don't bet your life on it.
Tom Maertens' writing on national security issues can be seen at www.tommaertens.com.
© 2004 Star Tribune