April 30, 2004
Senator Hagel's FlashbackBy Douglas Hanson
Some months ago, when Representative Charles Rangel (D) NY, first made the call to restart conscription, most people rightfully understood it as a political ploy designed to undermine President Bush in the conduct of The War on Terror. It was a lame attempt to conjure up all of the old '60s memories of Vietnam anti—war protests and burning draft cards, while conveniently providing plenty of video footage to the media showing how divided the US was about the war.
What was particularly sleazy about Rangel's efforts, was that he brought out the old class and race cards to resurrect the notion that the current fight in Iraq was not that much different than in Vietnam, where blacks (supposedly) and other minorities, and the lower class in general, took a disproportionate share of the combat casualties.
All of Rangel's arguments have been thoroughly debunked, of course. All one has to do is peruse B.G. Burkett and Glenna Whitley's outstanding book Stolen Valor, or simply go to one of the many websites of Vietnam casualty figures to see that all of these class and race myths have been demolished by the demographic data.
Despite the plethora of myth—busting facts available to the public, an ally to Rangel in this effort to restart the draft has come forth from an unlikely corner of the political spectrum: Republican Senator Chuck Hagel of Nebraska. In a Ministry of Truth (Washington Post) article, Hagel says that he 'wants the United States to consider reviving the draft as part of a broader effort to ensure that all Americans 'bear some responsibility' and 'pay some price' in defending the nation's interests.' Later, at a committee meeting, the report equivocated a bit and said that 'he is not advocating reinstatement of the draft, although he added that he is 'not so sure that isn't a bad idea.'"
So here is a conservative Republican Senator, who voted for the war in Iraq, who apparently is now having thoughts of a 'shared burden' for American society in the conduct of the war. He acknowledges President Bush's warning of almost three years ago that the War on Terror will be long and, at times, tough. Yet, he only now seems to have a clear understanding of the length of commitment and the human capital involved in such an effort. Coming from a Vietnam combat veteran who was an infantry squad leader in the 9th Infantry Division, and therefore a person who should understand the meaning of the President's warning, Senator Hagel's newfound concerns are puzzling.
He also mentioned that '40 percent of the ground troops in Iraq come from the National Guard and reserves, and recruitment and retention will be a problem.' This last statement deserves some special attention, especially since the good Senator's first term started in 1997, while the US Armed forces were at the height of the drawdown, and Guard units were increasingly assuming the duties of active units.
That 40 percent of the ground troops in Iraq come from the National Guard should not be at all surprising to the Senator, given that this ratio of active component units to National Guard units is very similar to that envisioned in decades—old NATO contingency plans. During the Cold War, many active duty divisions had National Guard 'round—out' brigades, which provided one—third of the divisions' combat power. In some cases, an active component corps would be augmented by an entire National Guard division. Most National Guard units then were established as combat formations designed to integrate into active duty divisions, and would deploy to fight in Central Europe against the Warsaw Pact.
If Senator Hagel thinks that the European battlefield would have been less casualty—intense, or that a NATO—Warsaw Pact war would not have had the potential to become a drawn—out conflict, as has the War on Terror, he is sadly mistaken. Therefore, his concerns about the National Guard reflect either an uninformed opinion, or a deliberate propaganda ploy. And by the way, a Nebraska National Guard unit recently returned from a deployment to Bosnia, where the National Guard has now assumed 100 percent of the mission. I imagine Gen. Abizaid could have put that unit to good use in CENTCOM.
This is not the first time the Guard has been integrated politically and militarily into the national security framework. The Senator forgets the critical role the Guard played in the enactment of the modern selective service laws. In 1940, when President Roosevelt was trying to convince a reluctant Congress to pass the first peacetime conscription law, he used the National Guard in a rather underhanded fashion in order to gain passage of the Selective Service Act of 1940. Knowing it would go down to certain defeat without a clear—cut threat on the horizon, FDR and his cohorts concocted one of the most amazing feats of legislative legerdemain ever seen. The September 1940 version of the act essentially drafted men as individuals to be integrated with National Guard units. The kicker was that in the previous month the President had already ordered the National Guard into federal service for 'extended training.' Even with this convoluted wording, designed to appease the anti—draft members of Congress, the act barely won passage.
Further in the WaPo article, Hagel goes on to say that the country 'is making commitments for future years that we cannot fulfill.' But he does not elaborate on what the shortfalls will be. Currently, the Army and Marines are meeting or exceeding all recruiting and reenlistment goals, so the Senator must be referring to total end strength. On this point, many would be in agreement that an increase is necessary, because the US has had to accept a higher degree of risk than desired in other areas of the globe. However, Hagel does not explain how the US Army maintained an end strength of about 765,000—plus volunteers for almost 17 years before the drawdown, yet cannot now increase its end—strength to at least that number without enacting a draft.
So, Senator Hagel's three main concerns about the draft have been addressed: The race and class warfare statistics have been debunked in grand fashion by accurate demographic studies; the National Guard deployments are certainly not out of the realm of established planning factors; and, the US had in years past far more troops under arms than we have now without a draft.
Therefore, what is Senator Hagel's real issue?
Simple: money. Or more appropriately, the lack of will on his part, and the Congress' reluctance to confront our very real wartime needs, and then prioritize the budget accordingly. The Congress and the American people need to face the reality of the past, and the tough decisions required for victory in the future.
The reality is the drawdown produced no 'peace dividend.' The taxpayer money 'saved' went not only to increased spending on social programs, but also to military 'social' programs. And, in spite of funding from other sources, supplemental budget money also had to be devoted to increased deployments, primarily due to peacekeeping and stability and support operations. Forays into Bosnia and Kosovo started off as 'home by next Christmas' operations. Yet, nine years later, we're still there. And despite the increased appropriations for the War on Terror, the Army is barely keeping pace with its operational tempo requirements, much less looking to add personnel.
In 2000 the active army's budget costs have gone from about $67 billion to a little over $90 billion in 2003: an increase of 25 percent with a commensurate active duty end strength increase of only four percent. The Army National Guard has seen a growth of 25 percent of its budget, but the Guard has actually been decreased by 1000 soldiers! The Army Reserve has had an increase in budget of about 26 percent from 2000 to 2003, but end strength has gone up by only 3 percent. The trend is clear: the increased Army budgets are funding the War on Terror and other secondary operations around the world, while only maintaining the status quo level of soldiers.
Senator Hagel and his colleagues on both sides of the aisle are facing a series of grave decisions that will impact future operations in the War on Terror and the survival of this nation. Unable to make those tough decisions without decreasing the funds going to special interest and entitlement programs, the Senator and other legislators have put forward the notion of reinstituting the draft. They understand that 52 percent of the active Army is married, and so the draft would be the 'cheap solution' to bring more soldiers on board without the family member 'baggage.' In addition, recruitment and other ancillary costs could be drastically cut from the budget.
In the end though, reinstitution of the draft would only lead to more expenditure of materiel and would cost more soldiers' lives. Even if the nation were not thrown into disarray by the reenactment of conscription, the successes of our current professional force could not be duplicated by an Army composed of a greater number of short—termers of all ranks. It takes years to grow the professional senior NCOs and officers we see daily leading our forces into battle in Iraq and Afghanistan. A draft would only shut down this developmental pipeline with people of questionable enthusiasm for a long—term commitment. Surely, a former infantry squad leader who served in Vietnam would understand this.
Douglas Hanson is our military affairs correspondent