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Saturday, November 15, 2003

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Home Sweet Home: Finally, something other than the draft. Next week, the mayor of St. Louis will be announcing a major anti-car-theft initiative for the city. This week, his car was stolen.

(One centerpiece of the initiative: leaving cars out on the street as "bait.")

 

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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."

 


Friday, November 14, 2003

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Selective Quotation, part II: Prof. Brian Leiter of the University of Texas comments on the post below:

As all right-thinking folks know, governments never lie. And when they do, they can count on clever Americans in Oxford to cover their tracks.

Point taken. When I was told about the 20-year terms for draft board members by Selective Service public affairs specialist Dan Amon, I had no guarantee that he was telling the truth. So how good is the evidence that he's lying? Let's look to Lexis, and my own hometown paper:

St. Louis Post-Dispatch (Missouri)
December 3, 2000, Sunday, FIVE STAR LIFT EDITION
SECTION: METRO, Pg. D8
LENGTH: 1375 words
HEADLINE: DRAFT BOARDS FACE AN EXODUS OF MEMBERS IN THE YEAR AHEAD; TERMS OF THOSE APPOINTED IN 1981 ARE SET TO EXPIRE

BYLINE: William Lamb; Of The Post-Dispatch

BODY:
The nation's draft boards, including 20 in the St. Louis area, are still on the lookout for recruits more than 25 years after the draft was suspended.

But it's not battle-ready young men they're after these days. It's draft board members - volunteers whose job it would be to weigh deferments for inductees if a crisis were to prompt Congress and the president to resurrect the draft.

Selective Service officers say it can be hard to staff boards that most Americans believe no longer exist. Next year, they will face the added challenge of filling 3,300 or so seats, including about 18 in the St. Louis area.

The vacancies are coming up because of a law limiting board members to 20-year terms. President Jimmy Carter signed the law when he reinstated Sel ective Service registration in 1980 after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. About a third of the nation's 9,900 board members were among the first appointments in 1981.

Area Selective Service administrators say they have been preparing for the wave of retirements and have already started drawing from a network of current board members and local civic groups to find replacements.

Note that this article was published while Clinton was still in office. See also the Rochester (N.Y.) Chronicle and Democrat of July 2, 2001:

After a hiatus in the 1970s, President Jimmy Carter ordered the boards to re-form in 1980 to be prepared in case of war.

Because of a 20-year term limit, turnover is expected to be greatest in the next couple of years. Between 2001 and 2002, 25 percent of the country's 2,300 local board members are expected to retire, said Alyce Teel-Burton, a spokeswoman for the Selective Service System.

In other words, if the government is lying about the 20-year term statistic, they've been doing it for a remarkably long time. Other references to the Selective Service's search for draft board volunteers can be found in the Courier News (Bridgewater, N.J.) (March 2, 2001); the Belleville (Ill.) News-Democrat (Aug. 6, 2001), the Hartford Courant (Nov. 4, 2002), the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer (Dec. 10, 2002), the Tulsa World (Feb. 12, 2003), the Bergen County (N.J.) Record (Feb. 16, 2003), etc.

At this point, any claim that the recruitment drive is related to troop needs in Iraq--or anything having to do with the Bush administration, actually--strikes me as woefully implausible. All of these articles should have been easily accessible to a reporter trying to verify the government's claims. So unless Leiter is next going to accuse the government of hacking Lexis, I'm willing to give Amon the benefit of the doubt.

UPDATE: The blog "Federal Review" noted last week that the October 2000 version of the Selective Service's "local boards" page is almost exactly the same as the current version. In fact, there are similar pages from August 2000 and even July 1997, though they lack an online application form.

UPDATE: See further post above.

 


Thursday, November 13, 2003

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Selective Quotation: Thursday's Harvard Crimson contains some of the most surprising news I'd seen in a while: that the Pentagon is planning to revive the draft. In the lead editorial, headlined Draft Strategy, Not Youth, the editors announce:

For the first time in decades, the Pentagon has begun to lay the groundwork for a potential return of the draft--at least according to a page discovered last week on the Defense Department’s web site...

The obscure Defense Department page, which has since been deleted [Google cache here --ed.], was an announcement of an effort to recruit new members to fill the many vacant seats on community draft boards nationwide--boards that have sat by idly with no function since the end of the Vietnam War. "Serve Your Community and the Nation," the announcement urged, "If a military draft becomes necessary, approximately 2,000 Local and Appeal Boards throughout America would decide which young men... receive deferments, postponements or exemptions from military service."

The editors go on to link the "Pentagon's actions" to "the glaring urgency of the situation in Iraq"; with the troop levels in Iraq so "grossly inadequate," the military was clearly preparing to start calling lottery numbers and shipping our youth to Baghdad.

The reason the editorial surprised me--well, one reason--was that the only people in Washington who've expressed any interest in the draft are Democrats, such as Rep. Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Fritz Hollings (D-S.C.). Their proposal was publicly belittled in January by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. ("We're not going to reimplement a draft. There is no need for it at all.") In fact, as is typical for Rumsfeld, his remarks were so harsh that he was subsequently forced to apologize. I was also surprised because reinstating the draft would take an act of Congress, which is pretty much impossible to imagine.

So I checked it out, and called Dan Amon, a public affairs specialist with the Selective Service (703-605-4100). It turns out that the current system of local boards was established in 1979, and many individuals had volunteered for 20-year terms. As a result, the military faced a number of vacancies at the turn of the century, which it's tried in the intervening years to fill. The same thing was reported by the Associated Press, which notes that "hiring replacements has been going on for several years."

Although the Selective Service System wasn't responsible for placing the ad, the site in question (DefendAmerica.mil) contains links to a number of different volunteer opportunities, like the Red Cross and the Coast Guard Auxiliary. Whoever posted the notice undoubtedly wanted to help out by circulating the application to volunteer.

But that's not how it looked to freelancer Dave Lindorff, who started the media furor with a Nov. 3 piece in Salon entitled "Oiling up the draft machine?" On "an obscure federal Website devoted to the war on terrorism," Lindorff reports, "the Bush administration quietly began a public campaign to bring the draft boards back to life." Lindorff portrays the draft as the natural response to troop requirements in Iraq, as well as potential future conflicts in Syria, Iran, and North Korea. Although he cites the Pentagon's complete denial that a draft is on the way, Lindorff replaces their language with his own, far more suspicious, formulation: "Recognizing that even the mention of a draft in the months before an election might be politically explosive, the Pentagon last week was adamant that the drive to staff up the draft boards is not a portent of things to come." (Question: isn't this a statement of fact, that the military recognizes the political explosiveness of a pre-election draft? And if Lindorff didn't get a quote from the Pentagon mentioning the election, isn't he just lying?)

Lindorff's piece is a study in how to generate ominous clouds of doubt from even the most mind-numbingly obvious set of facts. For instance, he emphasizes the uniqueness of the recruitment drive, writing that "Not since the early days of the Reagan administration in 1981 has the Defense Department made a push to fill all 10,350 draft board positions and 11,070 appeals board slots." Hmm, that must mean that the administration is really serious about restarting the draft, huh? Or maybe it just means that they only started filling the boards in 1979. No wonder they haven't needed to fill them since Reagan--most people serve for 20-year terms!

Why does the 20-year statistic never appear in Lindorff's article? Since Lindorff obviously spoke to Amon (incorporating a bland quote as the last line of the story), I can't imagine he heard anything different from what Amon told me. Or maybe Lindorff just decided to leave out that snippet of inconvenient information. Far be it from me to accuse Lindorff of political bias--but then again, I've never begun an essay by asking "Is George W. Bush another Hitler?" (His answer: "George Bush is not Hitler. Yet.")

After the publication of Lindorff's article, the pseudo-story was picked up by the Guardian (natch), the Toronto Star (reinterviewing Lindorff's sources without attribution), the Age (Australia), the Oregonian, the Hamilton (Ontario) Spectator (no link), the Chicago Daily Herald, and PBS's "NOW" with Bill Moyers, before the AP finally stepped in to settle the dispute. (The Crimson, alas, jumped in three days later.) The draft myth has also got a strong Internet following--see here, here, here--and has even inspired a truly awful poem on Counterpunch (yes, the same publication where Lindorff's Bush-Hitler piece appeared).

It's a sad testimony to the current state of mass media, when an Internet rumor spread by politically-motivated journalists can become accepted fact without even the slightest suspicion. It's like a game of telephone; errors are passed from story to story without anyone checking to see where they came from. (Many of the print articles followed the Guardian to the letter, reporting that the boards were 84 percent vacant instead of 84 percent full.) It's especially sad when one phone call could have clarified the entire thing. For crying out loud, people! One phone call!

It also testifies to the growing influence of a perpetual-conspiracy mindset, in which the government's next move can only be revealed on an "obscure federal Web site." To someone like Lindorff, American military policy is always better represented by random pages on semi-official PR websites than by explicit and repeated statements from everyone who occupies any position of authority. The fact that the page was deleted must mean that the story was true, not that the website's operators realized it was being grossly misinterpreted and decided to take it down. (Question: if the Bush administration needs to fill the draft boards before moving forward with its evil plan, wouldn't taking down the page mean that the campaign is over?)

I've written about this conspiracy mentality before, but it's frustrating to see it so widespread. It reminds me of the Guardian's "Wolfowitz said it's about oil" fiasco; reporters heard a story that confirmed their political worldviews, and they ran with it without pausing to find out whether it was true. Newspapers have vast resources and teams of dedicated reporters; they should never be missing facts available to anyone with an Internet connection and a telephone. But no one has time to make the call before rushing to publication--especially when the story's as juicy as a return to the draft.

UPDATE: See post above.

 


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