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Wednesday, July 19, 2006 01:00 am

Does anyone feel a draft?

Despite troops' being stretched to the limits, politics stands in the way of conscription

U.S. Rep. Charles Rangel pushed for the draft before the Iraq invasion
Richard Michael Pruitt/KRT

In a story that barely made a ripple in the press, save for a handful of military publications, the U.S. Army upped its maximum age for recruitment last month from 40 to 42, according to Army Times, to avoid “a repeat of last fiscal year’s recruiting shortfall.”

In January 2005, Rolling Stone magazine reported on a memo from the Selective Service System, the federal agency in charge of conducting the military draft, which discussed a possible draft of certain “critical-skills personnel,” such as medical professionals.

Reinstatement of the draft came up briefly during the 2004 presidential campaign. Young people had became increasingly unenthusiastic about joining the ranks of “the few, the proud” or becoming an Army of one, and both major-party candidates — President George W. Bush and U.S. Sen. John Kerry — vowed that they wouldn’t bring back the draft.

Before the March 2003 invasion of Iraq, U.S. Rep. Charles Rangel, D-N.Y., introduced a bill to reinstate the draft to ensure equitable representation of all Americans among the people making sacrifices for the war effort.

But with the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hezbollah, exhausted U.S. troops battling an Iraqi insurgency, and North Korea lobbing test missiles into the Sea of Japan, the blogosphere is once again muttering about the possibility of the draft’s return.

Nobody has proposed the idea — yet. But Rangel may have been onto something: A draft would be the only way to level the battlefield in this case.

This war is becoming a leading cause of death for poor kids from farm towns and ghettoes. The sons of such hawks as Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and White House political adviser Karl Rove would be candidates for Selective Service if the draft came around again.

For that reason alone, it’s unlikely that we’ll see the return of the draft.

Imagine the political fallout if draft-dodging neocons Cheney and Bush were even to hint at a need for a military draft while, presumably, their own kids and grandchildren were kept out of harm’s way.

“It would be very, very difficult to bring the draft back at this juncture,” says Christopher Z. Mooney, professor of political studies at the Institute of Government and Public Affairs at the University of Illinois at Springfield.

The draft, Mooney says, carries particularly negative connotations for baby boomers who came of age during the Vietnam War.

John Allen Williams, professor of civil-military relations at Loyola University Chicago, believes that although America does need to beef up the Army, this will probably occur as a result of more aggressive recruitment or some form of national service in which individuals agree to serve in exchange for Uncle Sam’s footing the bill for college.

Williams says that the United States has already cut back on its commitments in Iraq, North Korea will be held in check by regional powers, and the most recent Mideast crisis is mostly Israel’s problem and won’t require U.S. troops.

“In the bottom analysis, if the country needs people, they’re going to get them,” Williams says, though he says that his sources tell him that a draft isn’t anywhere on the radar.

To see a return of the draft, Williams says, “Things would have to get unimaginably worse. You’ll win the Illinois Lottery before you get drafted.”

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