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Saturday, November 15, 2003


Selective Quotation, part III: Prof. Leiter updates his post as follows:

A reader asks: "Do you really think they made up the 20-year thing for the draft boards?" This took me by surprise. I wrote back: "The 20-year terms of draft board members isn't the issue, though I suppose it's worth noting that if board members started those term in 1981, it's a bit odd that it's only in late 2003 that the Defense Department is rushing to fill their slots. (Why not in 2001, or 2000 in anticipation?)

In my view, the 20-year term is precisely the issue, in that it undercuts any judgment that the Pentagon is actively "oiling up the draft machine" (to cite Lindorff's headline). It shows that there's a perfectly innocuous and far more plausible explanation for the call for draft board volunteers. And, as I've noted below, a quick Nexis search shows the defense department was trying to fill the slots "in 2001, or 2000 in anticipation."

Leiter continues:

But put that aside. The real question is who in their right mind assigns any credence to statements by Secretary of War Rumsfeld [as the department used to be called in more honest days] saying they won't reinstate a draft? Given the military staffing problems we're now confronting--which was the main point, I thought, of the Salon article--it seems plausible that the chicken hawks in the current administration are thinking about a draft as one alternative--after election day, of course. What was utterly childish about the posting in question was the quotation of governmental officials denying any such intent as though that were probative, conjoined with the failure to consider the logistical considerations that make a need for more men in uniform apparent. Even the absurd OxBlog folks are commenting on the need for more troops, confident, no doubt, that their blood won't be shed."

I suppose I should have been more clear in my initial post. There are two claims in Lindorff's article: first, that the Pentagon is anticipating a revival of the draft, as represented by its push to fill draft boards; and second, that regardless of the Pentagon's current plans, manpower requirements may force a draft in the near future. My main criticism of Lindorff in the two posts below was that he immediately assumed the first claim, when a much better explanation of the call for volunteers could have been discovered with a little research. This was clearly the most salient claim of the article (which, again, ran under the headline "Oiling up the draft machine?"), and it was this claim that was repeated by other newspapers and that created the media controversy. Moreover, without the evidence from local boards, nothing in Lindorff's article demonstrates a "willingness" on the part of the Pentagon to "tune up the draft machinery."

However, that still leaves the second claim, that the need for troops will force the Pentagon's hand. In assessing manpower requirements, I'll defer to those with more knowledge of military affairs, but I should note that the possibility of a draft strikes me as somewhat unlikely. If you remove from Lindorff's article all the discussion of "the draft machine," what's left are the opinions of four military experts, three of whom (Charles Peña and Doug Bandow of the Cato Institute, and Dartmouth professor Ned Lebow) think a draft is a likely possibility and one of whom (Rand analyst Beth Asch) disagrees. Yet there's no evidence that anyone with any pull at the Pentagon is in favor of such a move, even in light of the potential need for manpower. Lindorff recognizes that the military establishment is strongly opposed to a draft: "Most military officers understandably prefer an army of volunteers and career soldiers over an army of grudging conscripts; Rumsfeld, too, has long been a staunch advocate of an all-volunteer force." And a draft would go against everything Rumsfeld has ever said about the "revolution in military affairs," which seeks a leaner, meaner military with highly-trained soldiers using high-tech equipment.

Now, maybe future troop requirements will force the military to change its tune. But the evidence that Lindorff presents seems somewhat unconvincing. Even if Peña is right, and we'll need as many as 480,000 troops in Iraq, the U.S. was able to field a total of 540,000 troops over several months in 1990-91 without needing to revive the draft. Moreover, restoring the draft would be so unpalatable, both from a social and a military-effectiveness perspective, that the military can be expected to fully exhaust its other options before abandoning an all-volunteer force. While those options may seem unpleasant (extending tours of duty again, redeploying troops from Europe to other theaters, calling up more reservists, etc.), none of them are nearly so unpleasant as a draft. Nebow discounts the possibility of raising salaries to recruit new soldiers because it would increase the deficit, but I'm certain that the Bush administration, even after the election, would rather see a larger deficit than a return to conscription. (After all, they don't seem overly concerned about the deficit we've got now.) And surely "antagonizing that whole section of America that has family members who join the Reserves" is less of a concern than antagonizing everyone in America with a male friend or relative between 18 and 25.

Furthermore, it's not clear that the military would seek a revival of the draft even if we were unable to meet our need for troops. Rumsfeld's objection to the draft wasn't just that it's unpopular, but also that in today's military, the cost of training an unwilling conscript is greater than the benefit one extra soldier would bring. If this accurately reflects the opinions of our senior military planners, I'd expect that we're more likely to pull out of Iraq than to stay in at the cost of a draft.

That said, if Leiter or others can find good evidence that the military would be willing to entertain conscription as a solution to our manpower needs, I'd be happy to accept their judgment. But given that the only piece of evidence Lindorff and others had relied on was the call for draft board volunteers, it doesn't strike me as a significant concern.

UPDATE: The Selective Service System has added a disclaimer to its front page: "Selective Service continues to invite interested citizens to volunteer for service on its local boards that would decide claims from men if a draft were reestablished. This invitation for board members has been ongoing over the past 23 years, although there has not been a military draft in over 30 years. There is NO connection between this ongoing, routine public outreach to compensate for natural board attrition and current international events."




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