Feeling A Draft

A lot of people have been wondering lately if the United States might have to re-instate the draft. Pentagon producer Mary Walsh looks at how that idea is playing in the Pentagon. – Ed.
(Getty Images/Tauseef Mustafa)
When Gen. John Abizaid, the 4-star who runs Central Command, he has "not precluded the notion of more troops coming into Iraq,"there's a lot of heartburn in the Pentagon about how hard it would be to find fresh troops to meet the demand. Abizaid himself admitted as much recently when he told the Senate Armed Services committee " we can put in 20,000 more Americans tomorrow...but when you look at the ability to sustain that commitment it's simply not something we have right now with the size of the Army and the Marine Corps."

Fighting wars in Iraq and Afghanistan with an active duty army of 600,000 is like fighting World War II with "the tiniest army we've had since 1939," retired General Barry McCarffrey said in a speech to the Military Officers Association.

So that means the Pentagon is ready to embrace Rep. Charles Rangel's proposal to bring back the draft, right? Wrong.

"It won't happen," McCaffrey said. "There won't be a draft, period, until the country's survival is at stake."

"It's a terrible idea," Bernard Rostker, author of a new book, I Want You! The Evolution of the All-Volunteer Force. A draft, he said, "would compromise the quality of the military."

Conscription would weaken the volunteer Army, they argue, not strengthen it. No one can figure out why the Army would want to bring in teenagers – who really don't want to be there – and spend an enormous amount of time and money training them for a short 2-year enlistment.

Rostker also believes a draft would not come close to addressing the issues of social and economic equality Congressman Rangel raises. One million American men turn 18 and every year – Rostker believes there's no way the Army can fairly draft 80,000 of them.

Yet there is serious concern – inside and outside the Pentagon – how the Army is seen by the rest of America. "There is a glaring disconnect between the all-volunteer military and the rest of us," Kathy Roth-Douquet and Frank Schaeffer say in their book AWOL: The Absence of America's Upper Classes from Military Service and How It Hurts Our Country. "This is not a Democrat-versus-Republican issue. It is a class issue – small down, religious, and middle-class Democrats or Republicans are more likely to have someone in the military . . . than wealthy partisans for either party. Why don't the elites serve? They probably never ever consider it."

Several members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff say "AWOL" is one of the most important books they've read recently and it makes some interesting points, among them:

- In 1956 Princeton University graduated 750 students – 400 of them joined the military. In 2004 nine joined the military – the highest number of any Ivy League School.

- Lyndon Johnson was last president with a child (or son-in-law) in the military.

For McCaffrey and Rostker it's not just the fact that the Bush twins haven't joined up, it's that the President has not used his bully pulpit to urge military service. "One of the biggest problems we've got," McCaffrey said in his speech, "is that I have not heard the Commander in Chief, any governor, any mayor any member of Congress ever stand up in front of a TV camera and ask the country, America's families, to send their boys and girls to fight with us."

General McCaffrey may not want to go back to the days of the draft, but he does think the Army and the Marines aren't big enough for what the Defense Department is now calling 'The Long War" and he's blunt about how he see it: "The problem is the armed forces are too small, under resources, over-extended, committed to combat on multiple tours with a political leadership in the country that has not stepped forward and told the American people they're in a war with 25,000 killed and wounded. That's the problem."