November 11, 2003
Would a Second Bush Term Mean a Return to Conscription? Why Dodging the Draft Would Be Trickier Than You Think
by Maureen Farrell
One week following the World Trade Center and Pentagon attacks, former deputy assistant secretary of defense Kurt Campbell explained why a reinstatement of the draft would be highly unlikely. "It's very hard to imagine a military operation on the scale of Desert Storm," he told ABC News, adding that "the real challenge for us is to avoid situations where we would need to use large numbers of people in a large, on-the-ground effort."
Michael O'Hanlon, of the Brookings Institution, tried to be equally reassuring. "Even if one imagines a major ground war against Iraq or Afghanistan," he said, "these are the sorts of things that we've been planning to do with our active duty force for a long time." O'Hanlon added that the only scenario under which a draft might occur would be if the US were to occupy another country for an extended period of time. "If we had a five-year occupation ... and needed to help shepherd in new governments before we could withdraw -- just as we did in Germany and Japan after World War II, then conceivably you would get into the kinds of manpower requirements that would advise in favor of a draft," he said, on Sept. 18, 2001. [LINK]
At that time, chances are neither men were privy to Donald Rumsfeld's reported decision to "go massive" and "sweep it all up, things related or not" just hours after the attacks. And in those post-911 days of patriotic fervor, it seemed unlikely that despite a threefold increase in advertising, recruitment attempts by the US military would fail to attract additional enlistees. "I hope President Bush doesn't expect to have a lot of people in the armed forces in the near future with all of these long deployments. I wanted to join the Army so bad, especially after Sept. 11, 2001. But now I donít know," Tyrice Hudspeth wrote in Stars and Stripes, which recently conducted a poll showing how widespread his sentiments are.
"Stars and Stripes morale survey (Oct. 16-22) found that nearly half of soldiers questioned donít plan to re-enlist," Michele Winter wrote, adding, "If troop letters to Stripes, to Lt. Col. David Hackworth and to various national newspapers are any indication, the U.S. Army can expect a hemorrhaging of its noncommissioned officer ranks. . ." Saying that a proposed $5,000 reenlist bonus proposed by the Department of Defense did little to impress, Winter reminded, "If the passage of concurrent receipt doesn't improve morale and repair damage done to recruitment and re-enlistment, anticipate the draft." [LINK]
So now that occupation "ifs" have become reality, concerns that the US military is stretched too thin are being voiced regularly. And news that the Pentagon is advertising for personnel to staff draft boards has notched up speculation. "This is significant," Dartmouth presidential scholar and former professor of strategy at the National War College in Washington Ned Lebow said. "What the department of defense is doing is creating the infrastructure to make the draft a viable option should the administration wish to go this route." Meanwhile, the Guardian openly wondered "why the Pentagon decided at this time it was necessary to fill staff bodies which had played no function since the early 1980s." [LINK]
As early as last November, however, red flags were being raised. The Journal News in New York state, for example, featured an article regarding New York's Selective Service System need for draft board members in case "a military draft would ever become necessary." And Rep. Charles B. Rangel's Dec. 31 op-ed piece in The New York Times entitled "Bring Back the Draft" caused considerable uproar, especially as it was accompanied by legislation introduced by Rangel and Sen. Fritz Hollings to do just that.
"The experts are all saying we're going to have to beef up our presence in Iraq," Rangel said in the Nov. 3, 2003 edition of Salon.com. "We've failed to convince our allies to send troops, we've extended deployments so morale is sinking, and the president is saying we can't cut and run. So what's left? The draft is a very sensitive subject, but at some point, we're going to need more troops, and at that point the only way to get them will be a return to the draft." [LINK]
As most point out, however, any mention of conscription would be ill-advised before the 2004 election. "A number of analysts said yesterday that while any public suggestion of a draft would be politically suicidal for U.S. President George W. Bush in an election year, he could find himself with few other options if he is returned for a second term and the fighting in Iraq is still raging," the Toronto Star recently reported. "I don't think a presidential candidate would seriously propose a draft," the Cato Institute's Charles Pena added. "But an incumbent, safely in for a second term -- that might be a different story." [LINK]
Moreover, though a recent Newsweek poll should that only 44 percent of American voters would like to see a second Bush term (vs. fifty percent who would not), as concerns over voter roll-scrubbing, black box voting irregularities and other election oddities raise questions about our democracy, itís naïve to imagine that next yearís presidential election won't involve some of the same shenanigans we saw in 2000. And given the radical direction the Bush administration has taken this country since barreling into power, can you imagine what four years of Bush would be like if reelection wasn't a consideration?
And so, folks could do a lot worse than to wager that a GOP victory in 2004 would mean a return to conscription. They would, however, run into trouble gambling on ways US citizens might successfully dodge the draft. Many Americans, remembering the Vietnam-era loopholes, still erroneously believe that college and Canada are options, without understanding the differences between then and now. They are:
1) No college deferments:
In the 1960s, a young man could procure a deferment, provided he was a full-time student and was making satisfactory progress towards earning a degree. Reforms aimed at making the draft more equitable, which were enacted in 1971, are still in effect -- and should the draft be reinstated, students would not be allowed to defer service for four or more years. Underclassmen would now only be able to postpone service until the end of their current semester, while seniors would have until the end of the academic year.
2) Smarter borders:
In Dec., 2001, Canada and the US signed a "Smart Border Declaration," which, in addition to keeping terrorists out of America, could also be used to keep would-be draft dodgers in. Signed by Canada's Minister of Foreign Affairs John Manley and US Homeland Security director Gov. Tom Ridge, the declaration involves a 30-point plan which implements, among other things, a "pre-clearance agreement" of people entering and departing each country. Designed to identify and manage security risks, this plan calls for the sharing of "advance passenger information" and the development of a jointly held immigration database and programs for "joint removals of deportees."
3) Uncle Sam has your car keys
Young men have long been required under Federal law to register with selective service when they turned 18. In May, 2000, however, Delaware became the first state to enact legislation linking drivers' license applications to Selective Service registration and by Aug. 2003, 32 states, two US territories, and the District of Columbia had followed suit.
Though failure to register has always been considered a crime punishable by up to five years in prison and/or a fine of up to $250,000, the government has rarely prosecuted offenders, but opted instead to permanently ban them from government perks such as student loan eligibility and Federal employment.
Uncle Samís control over driving habits, however, is having an effect. As the Selective Service System's (SSS) site reports, "Although driver's license legislation is having a significant impact on improving compliance rates in those states that require registration in order to receive or renew a license or identification card, it is having minimal impact on improving compliance in states, such as Texas, which make the link with SSS registration optional."
Of course, speaking of Texas, it was just three short years ago that many Americans bought the media's depiction of George W. Bush as an affable, moderate galoot and took his election "victory" in stride. "What harm can he do in four short years?" we asked, unaware that Dick Cheney, Paul Wolfowitz and the other folks at the Project for a New American Century had already decided that America's "core mission" would be "to fight and decisively win multiple, simultaneous major theater wars," while using our troops as "the cavalry on the new American frontier."
Unfortunately, our soldiers are now paying the price for our fatal innocence.
But if the draft is reinstated, one thing is certain: The rest of our
children will pay that price, too.
Maureen Farrell is a writer and media consultant who specializes in helping other writers get television and radio exposure.
© Copyright 2003, Maureen Farrell