View Full Version : A Draft in the Air

05-09-2005, 09:39 PM
A Draft in the Air

Rolling Stone (http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/story/_/id/7287915?pageid=rs.Politics&pageregion=single2&rnd=1115573604515&has-player=true&version=

What do you get when you combine nose-diving military enlistments with a bleak assessment from the Pentagon's top brass that the ongoing Iraq-tastrophe hampers U.S. military readiness -- leaving the nation perilously short handed in the face of North Korean and Iranian provocation?

The answer: A lot of nervous-twentysomethings.

There's a draft in the air. And the longer the Pentagon clings to the notion that the All-Volunteer Army can just soldier through, the more likely it's going to provoke a crisis that will only be solved through conscription.

Consider the following: The manpower crisis among the branches of the Armed Forces actually responsible for fighting the wars of the Bush era (i.e. the Army and the Marines) is deepening (http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/story/_/id/7287915?pageid=rs.Politics&pageregion=single2&rnd=1115573604515&has-player=true&version=

The active-duty Army has missed its recruiting goals for three straight months and is running 10 percent behind for the year. In the words of its own commander the Army Reserves is degenerating into a "broken force.? While not releasing figures for the National Guard, the Army acknowledged that its band of "weekend warriors" hasn't hit a recruiting target since October. The Marines, meanwhile, have missed their enlistment marks for four months running.

Despite having been empowered with record-breaking financial incentives, recruiters continue to scrape the bottom of the manpower barrel, and have now resorted to signing up grunts straight from the funny farm (http://www.nytimes.com/2005/05/03/national/03recruit.html?ex=1115265600&en=839c1e880647a6ce&ei=5070), helping high school dropouts cook up fake high school diplomas (http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2005/05/02/eveningnews/main692497.shtml), or teaching druggies how to detox before their urine tests.

"The problem is that no one wants to join," one recruiter told the New York Times (http://www.nytimes.com/2005/05/03/national/03recruit.html?ex=1115265600&en=839c1e880647a6ce&ei=5070). "We have to play fast and loose with the rules just to get by."

Not only is this lack of manpower threatening our operations in Iraq -- forcing the repeated redeployment of exhausted units, and necessitating the widespread use of "stop loss" to prevent troops from retiring once their contracts are up -- now we hear that the Pentagon's ability to back up the President's threats to Iran and North Korea has become severely constrained.

Bush has repeatedly said all options are "on the table" in dealing with the other points on the Axis of Evil. But this week, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Richard "See No Evil" Myers presented a classified report to Congress warning that the Armed Forces may buckle under the strain of enforcing the Bush Doctrine.

According to the Los Angeles Times (http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/nation/la-050205myers_lat,0,46401,print.story?coll=la-home-headlines), Meyer "stated that the military is at 'significant risk' of being unable to prevail against enemies abroad in the manner that Pentagon war plans mandate."

Instead of conceding the realities of this manpower crunch and addressing with the kind of candor it would take to head off a true crisis, the latest bad news has driven our Secretary of Defense to wild, Rumsfeldian hyperbole: "I think the only people who could conceivably be talking about a draft are people who are speaking from pinnacles of near-perfect ignorance (http://www.cnn.com/2005/US/04/27/pentagon.budget/index.html)."

That would include General James Helmly, the commander of the Army Reserves who warned back in January -- before this latest round of recruiting shortfalls -- that the Army had pulled out all the stops to shore up its numbers. If financial inducements didn't work, he said (and they haven't) it could ?force the nation into an argument? about reinstating the draft.

Another ignoramus in Rumsfeld's book would include a former member of the Joint Chiefs. "The Army's maxed out here," retired General Merrill McPeak told me for a piece I reported for Rolling Stone (http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/story/_/id/6862691?rnd=1115227140756&has-player=true) earlier this year. "The Defense Department and the president seem to be still operating off the rosy scenario that this will be over soon, that this pain is temporary and therefore we'll just grit our teeth hunker down and get out the other side of this. That?s a bad assumption."

McPeak, who served as Air Force chief of staff under the first President Bush, also told me that Rumsfeld & Co. have pursued a strategy that may make a draft inevitable: "The force that's in there is too large to be sustained but too small to get the job done. If you and I were sitting around a kitchen table saying, 'OK, let's dream up the dumbest strategy we could?' That's what we're doing in Iraq."

If reconsidering a draft really isn't on the table, as Rumsfeld claims, then neither are all of our military options. And don't think our enemies haven't noticed. Iran and North Korea have lately seemed emboldened by our continuing misadventures in Iraq. They may have concluded what renowned military sociologist Charlie Moskos believes: "I think our manpower constraints will determine our military policy rather than vice versa."

In the meantime, Moskos says, we're going to continue to see, "dropping standards and more civilian contracting, and something else may develop -- which is hiring non-Americans to enter the military. I understand a lot of Filipinos are banging at the door of the U.S. Embassy."