Dodging the draft

SOME CRITICS of President Bush have tried to raise fears of a return to
conscription if he is re-elected. He and his aides say it won't happen
and that they have no interest in the idea at all. Viewed from their own
perspective, there's no reason to doubt them. Defense Secretary Donald
H. Rumsfeld has made it clear that he favors a lean, mobile, skilled
Army; in an unguarded moment a few years ago, the former Navy pilot
disparaged the contribution of draftees to the Vietnam war effort.

But as we have come to realize, that White House perspective on the
world is hardly an undistorted one. The leaders of the Bush
administration may not believe in a draft, but that doesn't mean that
they won't be forced into creating one through the consequences of their
foreign policy.

The argument begins in Iraq, but it doesn't end there. The United
States has obligations around the world and, under Mr. Bush, a
confrontational approach to unfriendly nations; prudence would dictate
that the military should have the manpower to back up that approach if
it is not to invite disaster.

In the nearly 20 months since the war against Saddam Hussein was
launched, the U.S. military has been stretched beyond comfortable
limits, as everyone knows. A small army can change a regime; it takes a
big one to occupy a country. Rotations have been prolonged, the National
Guard and Army Reserve have been stretched to the breaking point, and
soldiers have been forced to extend their enlistments. Sen. John Kerry
calls this a "backdoor draft," which has some truth to it, but it
doesn't begin to compare to actual universal conscription.

The deployment in Iraq can probably be maintained -- for now. But if
war were to break out with Iran, or Syria, or North Korea, American
armed forces would be in a fix of the first order.

A conflict with any of those countries is by no means out of the
question as long as the Bush administration sticks to its provocative
doctrine of pre-emptive war, and as long as it continues to be willing
to act on the basis of false or incomplete or ideologically tinged

We are not convinced that being bogged down in Iraq makes an
adventurous strike against, say, Iran less likely; to the contrary, it
could be seen as a classic way to change the focus of the war, diverting
unwanted attention from its failings and whipping up renewed fervor
among Americans.

This is our fear: that a second Bush administration won't want a draft,
but will settle on it as the least unpalatable solution after it
stumbles into a serious conflict abroad.

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Originally published November 1, 2004
Copyright © 2004, The Baltimore Sun,1,2871057.story?coll=bal-opinion-headlines&track=rss

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