Thursday, March 24, 2005

Is it Time for a Draft?

The concept of a draft as a means of manning the U.S. military is not a popular idea today. After all who wants to be forced to go and fight for their country in some far off land? Is it not better to have a professional, all volunteer military of people who want to make the military their career? So why consider a draft? The answer to that is because we do not have enough army troops to do what our leadership is attempting to do in Iraq.

The United States has occupied many foreign lands over the last half century. In Germany, Japan, Haiti, Bosnia, and Kosovo we sponsored elections and handed-off to democratic governments control of countries that were relatively stable, secure, and reasonably peaceful.
In Iraq, we have thus far failed to provide the security necessary. The newly elected Iraqi government inherits a country in which assassinations, kidnappings, suicide bombings, pipeline sabotages, and beheadings of foreigners are daily occurrences. Despite nearly two years of heroic effort, American troops and civilian administrators have failed to restore basic services to much of the central part of the country where a majority of Iraqis live. The U.S. military has not even been able to secure the 7-mile stretch of highway leading from the Baghdad airport to the Green Zone where America's own embassy and the seat of the Iraqi government are headquartered. The ranks of the insurgency have been growing faster than those of the security forces of the provisional Iraqi government. An alarming number of those government forces are secretly working for the insurgency. American-led combat operations in Ramadi and Fallujah killed large numbers of the enemy, but at the price of fanning the flames of anti-American hatred and dispersing the insurrection throughout Iraq.
How we got to this point is by now quite obvious. Even many of the war's strongest supporters admit that the Bush administration grievously miscalculated by invading Iraq with too few troops and then by stubbornly refusing to augment troop numbers as the country descended into violent mayhem after the fall of Saddam. Events have shown that, while a relatively modest American force can win a stunning battlefield victory, such a force is not enough to secure the peace. The US sent a half million troops to the first gulf war; nearly 5 times what is being used in Iraq. Before the invasion of Iraq, Army Chief of Staff Eric Shinseki and Army Secretary Thomas White advised the Secretary of Defense that 250,000 to 300,000 troops were need to secure Iraq. A RAND Corporation analysis, published in summer 2003, offered a range of estimates for what size force would be necessary in Iraq. The estimates ranged from 258,000 to 526,000 troops to secure the peace. The need for many more troops is the reason to at least consider a draft.

Argument for a professional all volunteer military

All volunteers thus no one is being forced into the military.

A professional military has more experienced troops with a higher level of motivation. Conscription has its obvious downsides. On a practical level, draftees tend to be less motivated than volunteers.

Because they serve for relatively short periods of time, any investment made in their training is lost to the military once the draftees return to civilian life. A small portion of this training investment is recovered as some former draftees join reserve units.

It is much easier for politicians to send the volunteer military to fight than it is to call for a draft.

Argument for a draft military

The USA has prided itself of the concept of the citizen soldier patriot fighting for one’s country for patriotic reasons not because of the pay and benefits.

It is easier to recruit large numbers of soldiers at lower cost. Though the political cost is high if there is not very strong support for the war among the people.

The draft spreads the burdens of war among a much larger cross section of the population. Of course that requires a fair draft that does not allow deferments as the inequitable conscription of Vietnam did. The new draft must select from all segments of the population and demand that the privileged participate.

It can be very difficult to raise large numbers of volunteer troops during war time and very expensive.

The volunteer military has required a heavy commitment of the Reserve and National Guard forces. Prolonged deployment was not the expectation of the members of the Reserve and National Guard and it places a very heavy burden on the member’s families.

Although the US has been blessed by a military that has remained out of political affairs, one of the reasons we have resisted the idea of a large standing professional military is the danger of the military becoming the tool of a tyrant or a force in political intrigue. Many countries have seen the military take over political power and it is something we must guard against.

What we really need is the capability to rapidly mobilize and deploy a half million troops to project U.S. power abroad, and to be able to sustain them indefinitely while maintaining a reserve with which to simultaneously engage other enemies. Only a draft does this fairly and at a reasonable cost.


Today, no leading politician in either party will come anywhere near the idea of the draft. This will have to change if the United States is to remain the world's preeminent power. The simple reality is that the politicians would rather see us risk failure in Iraq than risk their political career by proposing a draft.

It is my belief that if the President had said before the war that a draft was needed to succeed, he never would have received the support of the American people to begin the war.