How and Why the Draft Will Come Back --page 2

IV

The responses thus far have come on several fronts.

– Recruitment. Military pay has been raised and various benefits sweetened. Congress has also given recruiters new and virtually untrammeled access to student records for recruiting purposes.

– Privatization. In late 2002 Rumsfeld announced a plan to replace more than 200,000 uniformed military positions to industry. That would obviously reduce the pressure for more troops by a sizeable chunk.

– High-tech weaponry. The Predator drone aircraft, surveilling wide stretches of the Middle East without a human crew, controlled by operators thousands of miles away, could well serve as the archetype of the administration’s plan for minimizing the need for "boots on the ground." The Air Force is testing an even longer-range unmanned plane, the RQ-4A Global Hawk, which can fly almost halfway around the world to deliver its payloads.

– Outsourcing: hire foreigners to do the grunt work. An overseas variation on the privatization tack, this applies especially to the "peacekeeping:" and "nation-building" functions, which the Rumsfeld-Bush circle scorn as beneath the dignity and attention of the US military.

– And as mentioned before, the "speedup" pressure on existing forces: more frequent and longer deployments, more time away from home and families, "stop-loss" orders which prevent soldiers and reservists from leaving the services when their regular enlistments expire.

To some extent, each of these responses could currently be said to be "working." The military reached its recruitment goals in 2002, and the two years before that. In early November 2002 a Predator drone fired a Hellfire missile at a car in Yemen, killing all six occupants, who were said to include high-level Al-Queda operatives. And reports indicate there are troops from a number of countries on "peacekeeping" duty in Afghanistan, and there have been calls for expansion of the international force there, and in Iraq.

Yet each of these also has important downsides.

The bureaucratic and political struggle over Rumsfeld’s privatization plan is just getting underway as this is written, and promises to be fierce: it’s unclear whether he can pull it off. (Signs of it are already showing up: locally, in the fall of 2003, private security guards replaced the soldiers checking IDs and searching cars at the gates of Fort Bragg.) And while unmanned drones can fly over and launch missiles in a place like Iraq, it will still take many "boots on the ground" to occupy it, and places like it; not to mention guarding the domestic "critical infrastructure."

And foreign peacekeeping forces – don’t even think of calling them "mercenaries" – can be tough to manage (It’s so hard to find good help these days). For instance, reports from present and former UN experts speak of the need for serious efforts to crack down on massive theft, rapes, prostitution rings and other kinds of corruption and abuses among some of its peacekeeping forces.

Even worse from the White House perspective, foreign troops, unlike American GIs, can quit and go home.

Then there is recruiting. True, the army made its goal in 2002. But they did so just barely, and only a few days before the deadline. Military recruiting remains a tough and thankless job, dogged by reports of widespread deception of recruits. There was no great rush to enlist after the September 11 attacks, nor has there been since. Moreover, it is still the case that of this batch of new "volunteers," fully a third will not complete their tour of duty. Attrition remains a chronic problem, especially for the Army. (It also keeps us busy at Quaker House.)

The same goes for retention. If GIs cannot "quit" their jobs, they can decline to re-enlist when their terms expire (or the stop-loss orders are lifted), and alarms about the adverse impact of the current pressures on retention are already sounding..

Viewed close up, the military balance of supply and demand looks like a constant, see-saw struggle. When this was written, Rumsfeld & Company seemed to be keeping all the balls in the air, barely. Yet my prediction is that over time, this balancing act will become increasingly hard to sustain.

Maybe not in Rumsfeld’s term, but as the new imperial project unfolds – and especially if there are more major attacks on US territory – the gap between those lines on the chart will yawn widely enough that the masters of the Pentagon will be driven, against their better judgment, to think radical and heretical thoughts about how to close it:

A draft.

V

But what kind of a draft?

Here there’s an easy answer and a more complex one.

The easy answer is what can be called the Instant Draft, or as I like to put it, the Draft-In-A- Box.

What’s that? When Congress reestablished Selective Service registration in the early 1980s, it told the Selective Service bureaucrats to design a model draft system – forms, regulations, procedures – and keep them on the shelf within easy reach, for use when Congress (not the president alone) gave the word.

The differences between these two versions of the Draft-in-A-Box are mainly matters of timing: one is supposed to be ready to go in about two weeks; the other in six months. (Neither model, by the way, has many deferments, nor do they offer much to those who would hope to be conscientious objectors.)

The Selective Service system's website notes that this is the scenario "according to current plans."  Thus, the easy answer to the question of what kind of a draft is: One of the off-the-shelf models. This is what many of my GI and draft counselor colleagues expect to happen.

But I don’t. Instead, I look to the second, more complex draft Scenario: Congress says Yes to the draft, but not until after it has tinkered with the Draft-in-a-Box, so that what comes out has some significant differences from the off-the-shelf model.

Different how? Mainly with lots of new deferments and exemptions, aimed primarily (but covertly) at protecting the sons of the upper middle and upper classes, the main constituency of both parties.

This forecast is based on two related considerations:

First, along with our draft-dodger administration, we also now have a draft-dodger Congress.

And second, the track record of this congress has been consistently one of providing and protecting special benefits and privileges to the well-heeled. This observation, by the way, applies across party lines.

Think about it: after giving the affluent and near-affluent huge tax breaks, exempting them from estate levies, and handing them other bennies too numerous to mention, will our solons really turn around and force-march their darling boys away from the prep schools and name-brand colleges to boot camps and actual war?

My view is: Not while they can still spell "soccer mom."

Thus, if and when we get a new draft, I expect it to be riddled with much the same range of loopholes which helped make the last one so odious to so many of its less-privileged subjects.

These loopholes will be repackaged, of course, and carefully camouflaged. Charlie Rangel and Nick Smith will likely be gone by then, and their successors mere gadflies who are easily marginalized. Congress can count on the support of the beneficiaries of these perks, and the Members know well enough that large chunks of the target population won’t remember the Vietnam draft, and don’t vote anyway.

One possible form a new class-sensitive draft could take was prefigured in Rep. Nick Smith’s bill. HR 3598: it proposed to set up two tracks of service; a one-year, "army camp" option, whose members would mainly do guard duty around sensitive installations within the US. The others would be steered by the usual bag of recruiting incentives (promises, often not kept, of college money, technical training etc.) to take the other track, into the actual combat arms, heading overseas and into harm’s way. Other military scholars have argued along similar lines. Is it necessary to spell out how such an arrangement would dovetail with class interests?

VI

So what’s the upshot here? Will we have a new draft?

Here’s how it looks to me:

On the one hand, a miracle could happen: America’s imperial pretensions could be substantially scaled back, along with the military, and the "war on terror" replaced with an internationally credible, multilateral law enforcement campaign.

I believe in miracles, but am not very sanguine about seeing that one come to pass.

Otherwise, as the demand pressure on the current "volunteer" military continues to build up as relentlessly as it has, and the supply stays as flat as it has, a return to forced enlistment, sooner or later, seems almost inevitable.

And if this comes to pass, the burden will fall, as it always has before, largely on those who lack the power and skill to avoid it.

The more things change, the more they remain the same.

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