Considering the Draft

President Bush's hand-picked White House War Czar, Lt. General Douglas Lute, said this week that "it makes sense to consider" a return to the military draft. He quickly added the administration has no plans to propose such a thing. The fact that he didn't automatically and instantly rule it out is surprising, though. This suggests that people at high levels are at least thinking about the idea.

The chances of a draft actually happening are zero, even if Bush wanted it. Congress will never go along, nor would the wealthy Republican donors whose children and grandchildren who might find themselves drafted. I would be against it as well, mainly because the volunteer Army we have right now is far more professional and effective than any conscript force could ever be - recent morale problems notwithstanding.

Nonetheless, there would be a bright side to the draft. It would result in a broader cross-section of society going into uniform and give those who serve a new perspective for the rest of their lives. More important, the draft would make it close to impossible for any president or Congress to keep the country in an unpopular war for very long. If we woke up tomorrow and to find the draft was restored, the U.S. would be out of Iraq so fast your head would spin. "Support the troops" only goes so far.

Right now the U.S. is, for the first time in history, trying to fight an extended foreign war with an all-volunteer force. The Army keeps raising bonuses and lowering standards and still struggles to meet recruiting goals. What happened to all the post-9/11 patriotism? I don't think Americans are any less patriotic. If the military were engaged in, say, defending America instead of nation-building in the desert halfway around the world, there would be plenty of volunteers. People will sacrifice for a worthy cause. When the cause is, at best, questionable, which is certainly the case with our Iraqi adventure, people would rather pay someone else to do the dirty work. So we end up with a force that is partly dedicated professional and partly mercenary. I wish there were a better word I could use, but it's the only one that fits.

The Roman Empire faced a similar challenge in its waning years, as the wealthy class found it easier to fill its Legions with foreigners than send their own sons into battle. Ultimately, their hired hands turned on them and the Empire collapsed. I'd like the think the U.S. can be spared a similar fate. But I'm not so sure.

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