Is it drafty?

October 21, 2004

The political notion for the month is the likelihood of a new draft. Kerry and his supporters are warning about one. Bush and his supporters are denying that there is any chance of a nationwide draft of eligible young people. Both have some good points. Lets lay out the situation and see if we can figure out what is going on.

I see three major factors shaping military policy in the next few years.
1, the military is overextended.
2, the people who staff the modern career military don't want draftees
3, a draft would be political suicide in 2005, even though it could well have passed in October, 2001.

1, The military is overextended.
The first thing to point out is that the blackhorse cavalry, the designated OpFor at the national training center, has just been ordered to Iraq. As Phil Carter says, putting your training cadre into the field is a case of eating your seed corn. The military has had to rely heavily on reserves and guard units, is issuing stop-loss orders to maintain staffing, and as the Wall Street Journal reports (via Jeralyn Merritt) is struggling to reach its current recruiting goals.

Kerry says we need another 40,000 troops, half combat half support, and will add them to the army by increasing recruitment efforts. Bush says we don't need anything more than the expansion Congress already authorized, and that the military is not overstretched. Really it is not. Trust me. His thought is that if we can redeploy troops from Europe and Korea, turn parts of Iraq over to Iraqi security forces, and wind down our commitment in Iraq, we will get past this short-term hump in commitment.

Meanwhile, some of Bush's buddies are talking about Iran, Syria, or other expansions of the Bush doctrine of pre-emptive invasion of countries that are trying to go nuclear and that are friendly to terrorists. Those invasions would need a lot more warm bodies, regardless of what Rumsfield says about the value of light, quick, fast-moving forces in the modern battlefield.

2, The career military does not want draftees. Sgt. Mom is eloquent about all the ways in which career non-coms - the folks who make the military work - don't want to see a draft.

The American military establishment does not want a draft! A draft would be like kryptonite to Superman, garlic to a vampire, like Woody Allen signed to play for the San Antonio Spurs! That is, an element not only toxic but #%*#ing useless!
Her point is that the modern military expects soldiers to be in for stretches of 4 to 6 years at a time, and for the career non-coms to have several of these tours. It takes up to two years to fully train someone - basic, branch training, MOS training - and then more time for them to come fully up to speed by learning-by-doing on the job. Any draft would have to be for short terms of duty, any short-term soldier would be unable to be trained for much more than light weapons infantryman, and those folks are a small portion of the army. More than the training problem, she is worried about the ways in which a large pool of people who don't want to be there will corrupt or disrupt a military made up of dedicated professionals who do want to be there.

I agree with her second point. I am not sure about her first point. While the best solution to the security problem in Iraq would have been to keep the Iraqi army in existence after the invasion, and while the second-best solution would be an arabic-speaking military police contingent from other nations, the other possible solutions to the security problem are to flood the country with guys on the ground or turn to collective punishment the way that the British did when they occupied the country in the 1920s - bombing villages in retaliation for attacks on British soldiers. A draft - lots of people trained for a year, serving for a year, and going home - would provide warm bodies to flood the country.

3, Political costs. During the 1990s several people in Congress warned that the danger in a professional military is that there is little political cost to deploying it. The people who serve want to be there. The people who do not want to serve are not there. Most middle class (and voting) American families do not have friends or family in the service while the lower classes, which are disproportionately represented in the military, tend not to vote. Thus the political cost of intervening in Kosovo, or Somalia, or elsewhere is lower than it would be if every intervention meant that every Congress critter would have to write letters of condolence to voting constituents whose sons had been drafted and then killed. The idea was to return to a draft as a way to reign in military intervention in the third world. But that was before 9/11.

After 9/11 when we told Afghanistan that they had to either turn over OBL or face invasion, and then in 2002 when we started forcing a confrontation with Iraq, I wrote to my Congressman and asked for a formal declaration of war. Why? I was bothered by Bushes decision to follow in Lyndon Johnson's footsteps and wage war on the cheap, from a peacetime economy. My thought, simplistic though it is, is that if we care enough about this war on terror to be prosecuting it, then we should care enough about this war on terror to treat it as a real war. That means sacrifice, not "go shopping". That means a draft, not because we needed more warm bodies to invade Afghanistan, not because we needed to make the political costs of intervention higher, but because a draft is the symbolic inclusion of all Americans in a war that had been declared to a major national crisis.

Were it up to me in October 2001, I would have put through a war declaration and instituted a symbolic draft - only as many people as the career military would accept - as part of shifting to a political economy of sacrifice and service instead of a political economy of posturing and politics.

But, I care about the war on terror, and the more I see of the Bush White House the more I see that they care about winning the next election and making their contributors happy. They don't really care about the War on Terror, or at least they have not prosecuted that war in a manner that makes me think they take it seriously.

So, even if the military gets itself overextended, and even if the neocons push for an expansion into Syria, I do not see the Bush White House instituting a draft until after the midterm Congressional elections. After that, Bush will be a lame duck and all bets are off. W might find ourselves in the position that Louis XVI's France was facing in the mid 1780s, where we can not afford to have a foreign policy - in this case because we have no troops to spare rather than Louis XVI's problem of having no money to pay his troops - but we are unlikely to see a draft.

What if Kerry wins? He has proposed policy measures that would help ease the pressure on the career military. He is highly unlikely to authorize action against Syria, North Korea, or Iran. For these reasons he is less likely to face the systematic pressure for more troops that Bush is looking at. On the other hand, he has also indicated more tough bilateral and multi-lateral discussion with Iran and North Korea, and he may want troops to back his bluff. He is also more comfortable with the rhetoric of sacrifice and collective effort than Bush is.

Finally, if I held stock in the military contractors making the new Air Force fighter, Navy submarines, or Marine Ospreys, I would sell. I see those large-item procurement projects getting scrapped to pay for operating costs, recruitment, and veterans' medical care.

Still, whoever wins I think it more likely that we retain an all volunteer military, cripple it by overwork, and end up with a force of experienced, burned out, but effective soldiers. And we may or may not be able to afford future military interventions for several years while we recover from Bush's actions.

Posted by Red Ted at October 21, 2004 08:57 AM | TrackBack