Given that next year is an election year, it is probably unlikely that a serious effort to reinstitute conscription — a military draft — will happen anytime soon. But a number of circumstances make it a possibility once the election is finished. Those who value freedom and an effective national defense should be aware of the dangers.
Recent events in Iraq, including the attack on convoys in the town of Samarra that led to deadly firefights, suggest that U.S. occupation forces face something like a classic guerrilla war.
If that turns out to be true, it matters little whether the guerrillas are Baathist remnants of Saddam loyalists, foreign jihadists or locals who have become disillusioned with the American occupation. It also matters little whether the guerrilla command is centralized or radically decentralized. What is important is that military doctrine suggests that defeating a guerrilla force requires overwhelming numerical superiority — some say 10-1, some say 20-1.
If U.S. forces have to fight a guerrilla war, then, much larger numbers of troops — who will not be available for policing, supporting democracy or reconstructing infrastructure — will be required. Considering normal rotation schedules, three times that larger number (some training in the States, some preparing to deploy, some preparing to return home) will have to be assigned to Iraqi operations. Nobody knows what effect this will have on enlistment and re-enlistment rates, or morale, but the effects over the next year or so could be substantial.
Add the fact that the United States still maintains troops in more than 120 countries and that people up to Defense Secretary Rumsfeld have worried, albeit guardedly, that U.S. forces may be stretched too thinly to accomplish all their missions, and you can see an attraction to conscription.
A bill, HR 163, to establish universal national service, for both men and women in military or alternative service, was introduced earlier this year, sponsored by Rep. Charles Rangel, D-Harlem, but it didn’t go anywhere.
There’s a pattern. Columnist and Cato Institute senior fellow Doug Bandow said mostly Democrats talk openly about restoring a draft (or a compulsory national service system), but an increasing number of Republicans are quietly urging them on.
According to a Nov. 8 article in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, the Selective Service System early in November put a notice on its Web page noting that “(i)f a military draft becomes necessary, approximately 2,000 Local and Appeals Boards throughout America” would have to be formed and invited applications. A couple of days later the notice was eliminated without explanation.
The SSS Annual Performance Plan for 2004 includes more ambitious plans than the system has had in decades, including conducting an Area Office Prototype Exercise to test the Selective Service activation process. Although the House wanted to increase its annual budget to $28 million from $26 million (those frugal Republicans), the Senate didn’t go along with the budget boost.
Compulsory service of any kind should be anathema in a free country. The military, after initial apprehension, now prefers a volunteer system in which it has a chance to properly train people who want to be there. And policy makers remember that anti-Vietnam War opposition almost disappeared after the draft was stopped.
However, there have always been people in government who hanker after conscription, and events in the next year or so could begin to make the idea of compulsion rather than recruitment look attractive.
Just a heads-up — for now.