Tuesday, July 18, 2006

The Cure For War? A Conscription Prescription

Rolling Stone has an article up on its site discussing the possibility of the draft being reinstituted in the United States (Link's giving me problems; will update later. S.Sam). The draft was formally ended after the Vietnam war, largely due to the political consequences of conscription. I believe that is one of several reasons I believe it won't be reinstituted anytime soon.

The first reason I believe a military draft is politically unlikely is its lack of popularity with the American people. According to Angus-Reid Consultants, fully 85% of folks polled are against the draft being reinstated. This essentially makes calls for a draft impossible to pass through Congress, as they would rightly be seen as political suicide. Whether this says anything about the nature or necessity of conscription, instead of the spinelessness of the Rubber Stamp Republican Congress, is certainly up for debate. Given the Republican Party's heart-on-sleeve support of all things symbolically military, it seems more likely the politics, and not the mechanism, of the draft is its biggest political stumbling block.

The other reason a draft is politically unfeasible is it would finally get the American people involved in Bush's Iraqi folly. While a majority of Americans do not support the war in Iraq, the anti-war effort has failed to make many waves. This is due to the relatively limited involvement of the average American. Our all-volunteer military insures that only a select few, who overwhelmingly tend to be poor and minority, plus their families, are really paying the price for the neo-conservative cause. We other Americans haven't even been asked to support the war with our tax dollars, especially those few who are in the wealthiest 1%. Bush and his Republican Congress have been all too willing to borrow the costs of this war, pushing the financial burden onto succeeding generations, rather than face any political consequences for their actions today. It's a cowards war; supported by cowards and enabled in a cowardly fashion.

So does a draft make sense from an operational perspective? Maybe. On the one hand, it is almost certainly the case that our all-volunteer military is better equipped, better trained and likely better capable of waging our wars. While the National Guard or Reservists may have a case to make for being the surprised recipients of a war assignment, those in the active military have no such lack of expectation. The United States has been running military missions around the globe almost non-stop since WWII. Further, the casualty count is likely much lower in Iraq because the all-volunteer force has a higher degree of professionalism.

On the other hand, a distinct lack of boots on the ground has been one of the chief reasons the Iraq nation-building mission has gone so completely off the rails. Multiple tours of duty in a hostile area are taking a tremendous toll on our troops, and some of that could be mitigated by a steady stream of fresh soldiers. While it seems ever more unlikely that there is a military solution to the Iraqi civil war, it is certainly the case that a fresh fighting force could do much to at least bolster the morale of our military there. Bush has been clear that he is intent on passing off responsibility for Iraq onto the next President, which gives our military at least several more years of occupation to handle.

As much as I hate to see other people's children (or myself) thrown into the chaos of Iraq, I have to say that I tentatively support a military draft being enacted. The main reason is because I think it may be the only way we'll ever get a substantive debate on our foreign policy. Most of the Republicans and too many of the Democrats are unwilling to make the tough political decisions required to bring an end to U.S. involvement in Iraq. And with the American people too disengaged to get motivated behind an anti-war effort, there simply isn't enough political pressure in Washington to change that "protect the incumbency at all costs" mentality.

A draft could change all of that. No longer would Iraq or Afghanistan (Syria? Iran?) be wars that only the poor and powerless are consigned to fight. No longer would the wealthy, the politically connected, be exempt from partaking in Bush's glorious crusade. A draft could galvanize opposition to the neo-conservative agenda and force the difficult decisions to be made. It could rewrite the political calculus that makes a stance against the war dangerous for continued government employment.

At the end of the day, there is also a fundamental question of fairness. The cost of the draft would be high to America, but then it already has been to those wearing our uniform. It's only right that all Americans help bear the burden of this war. And if, as I do, we find the burden of war too heavy to bear, then we can work so that we all may set that burden down together.

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