On its editorial page Monday, the Union-Tribune sought to dispel rampant, Internet-propelled rumors of an impending military draft, but in doing so, the writer of the editorial was incomplete in his or her argument and, therefore, misled the paper's readers.
First, the editorial made the point that John Kerry and John Edwards, when questioned about whether or not they think President Bush would reinstate the draft, should have carefully explained that Bush and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld have stated unequivocally that they're in favor of an all-volunteer military. The U-T noted that Kerry's answer was, “Is it possible? I can't answer that.” The editorial then argues that Kerry's statement exploits the fears of young American men and women.
Kerry's running in a dead-even race for president. Is he supposed to campaign for Bush, too? Why should Kerry go out of his way to reassure people that his opponent would never reinstate the draft? If someone wants to know what Bush would do, they should ask him. Kerry's answer that he doesn't know what Bush might or might not do seems reasonable to us.
Second, the U-T says the Democrats are the only ones who are calling for a renewed draft. The editorial notes that there are companion bills alive in Congress, sponsored by Democrats, that seek to reinstate conscription. While that's true, the editorial missed the whole point, failing to mention the true intent of the legislation, which is to focus attention on the inequality surrounding American military service.
Congressman Charlie Rangel, one of the Democratic authors of the draft legislation, has explained over and over again that his intent was to shine light on the fact that military enlistees are disproportionately poor and minority. To make the kind of across-the-board sacrifice Bush repeatedly calls for, the military would have to include more people of privilege, and that ain't gonna happen without mandatory military service. Rangel and his cohorts know those bills have no chance of passage-they were simply making a political statement, which is what elected officials often do.
Instead of quibbling over which side is responsible for how much fear-mongering (as if Bush wasn't the clear winner, what with all the colored alerts and warnings of imminent attacks by all manner of “evildoers”), it might be more useful to question the Bush administration about how exactly it expects to deploy a ready military force the next time it's needed when our “all-volunteer” military is stretched so thin by our outrageous invasion and occupation of Iraq.
We put “all-volunteer” in quotes because Kerry has actually leveled a salient critique of the Pentagon's “stop-loss” program, which allows the branches of the military to suspend all rules and regulations governing the handling of military men and women, as well as reservists and members of the National Guard. Suspending the rules means having the authority to keep these enlisted folks, against their will, beyond the duration they contractually agreed to, and send them to their possible deaths in Iraq.
This is what Kerry is talking about when he refers to Bush's “backdoor draft.” Many of these folks-the Pentagon says 20,000 people are affected by stop-loss, but other estimates go as high as 100,000-say they had no idea this sort of thing was possible when they signed on the dotted line.
These people are needed because the U.S. military doesn't have enough volunteers. Meanwhile, there is no end in sight to the Iraq occupation (unless Bush plans a massive pullout if he wins the election, which, of course, would leave millions of Iraqis engulfed in a civil war of the U.S.'s making), and now Bush is talking tough at Iran. If he's stupid enough to invade Iran, where will he get his soldiers?
The answer: If there's no draft-and there likely won't be, because our military leaders are smart enough to know it wouldn't work-the soldiers will come from Barrio Logan and City Heights, not La Jolla and Rancho Santa Fe. That was the point of the legislation the U-T failed to fully explain.
We had a draft in the 1960s because we got bogged down in an unnecessary war, and the wounds it created have yet to heal. Now Bush has us in another unnecessary war, and it alone is the reason we're arguing about the possibility of a draft. The only way to avoid needing a draft is to change our foreign policy, which is what will hopefully happen on Nov. 2.