Magazine article The American Conservative

Feeling a Draft?

Magazine article The American Conservative

Feeling a Draft?

Article excerpt

The question of reviving military conscription in the U.S. recently made a fleeting reappearance in the American national debate, with curiously little reaction.

Lt. Gen Douglas Lute, named in June as President George W. Bush's "war czar," gave his first interview on Aug. 10 to National Public Radio. But his remarks seem to have vanished into the void of news Washington does not want to hear.

Questioned about manpower constraints in the two wars he oversees, General Lute said that future personnel demands, in given circumstances, might make it necessary to resort again to the draft, last used in the Vietnam War and ended by Richard Nixon in 1973. "I think that it makes sense certainly to consider [conscription]."

After a television rebroadcast of his remarks, a correspondent speculated that this might have been a Pentagon trial balloon. A couple of passerby interviews followed, one of them negative, a second person saying, in effect, "Well, if that's what it takes to win..."

But as far as public debate is concerned, General Lute's remarks have been treated as misspoken or even unspoken, as if politicians and the press feared making any comment. Congressman Charles Rangel called some time ago for reinstating the draft (as a way to end the war), but he remains a man alone.

Obviously the draft is political dynamite, for the administration and the Democrats as well. What politician wants to be questioned by voters about reinstating it? Any presidential candidate who spoke honestly would instantly be blown away. Even a candidate who said that under his or her leadership the U.S. would never revive the draft would be in danger: "Why is he talking about the draft? What are we not being told?" the public might ask.

The general's comment seems lethally impolitic in today's Washington but was the truth-and was possibly a deliberate inauguration of a discussion that has to take place soon. Everyone knows that the Army and Marine Corps are tightly stretched, with some units on their fourth or fifth combat rotation to Iraq or Afghanistan, a pace unheard of in Vietnam, where GIs did a year and that was that. Today, soldiers and their families are cracking under the strain, as General Lute indicated.

This can't go on, but what are the alternatives? The administration promises Army and Marine Corps enlargement, as do the leading Democratic presidential candidates. …

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