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With the military stretched thin...
Are politicians planning to bring back the draft?

July 9, 2004 | Page 5

NICOLE COLSON looks at the preparations of Washington's war makers for bringing back the draft.

WILL THERE be a new call-up? Rumors that Washington wants to reinstitute the draft have been circulating for months--ever since the Pentagon last year quietly floated a call to fill dozens of local draft board positions. But now, the floundering occupations in Iraq and Afghanistan may be giving a renewed sense of urgency to the White House's draft plans.

With approximately 140,000 U.S. troops in Iraq and another 20,000 in Afghanistan, the U.S. military is seeing its occupations stretched thin on both fronts--and unable to quell the resistance, especially in Iraq. So in late June, the Army announced that it would be recalling troops from the "Individual Ready Reserve"--some 5,600 former soldiers.

People in the Individual Ready Reserve are former soldiers, who--despite the fact that they don't perform regularly scheduled training and aren't paid as reservists--can be recalled in an "emergency" because their previous active-duty stints didn't complete the eight-year service obligation in their enlistment contracts.

Now, thousands of these former soldiers will be getting notices in the mail saying they have just 30 days before they have to report for active duty--for at least 18 months. "If there was any doubt that this administration was conducting a pseudo-draft, this call-up should dispel that doubt," Rep. Rick Larsen (D-Wash.), a member of the House Armed Services Committee, told the Associated Press.

"There's going to be soldiers who, yes, will be shocked," admitted Col. Debra Cook, commander of the Army Human Resources Command. But probably not as shocked as those Individual Ready Reservists who the Army tried to threaten into rejoining the military in recent weeks.

Back in May, when the Army began looking at the available pool of people for the potential call-up, some Army recruiters contacted members of the Individual Ready Reserve--and suggested that they would wind up in Iraq unless they joined the Army Reserves or National Guard. In other words: re-enlist in the Guard, where you'll probably end up going to Iraq or Afghanistan--or we'll call you up and ship you there for sure.

The call-up of the Individual Ready Reserves comes on top of the Pentagon's "stop-loss, stop-move" order--which prevents soldiers and reservists whose time in the military is up from actually leaving the service. The Army is stretched so thin that in April it also broke a promise to some active-duty units that they would not have to serve more than 12 months in Iraq.

No wonder so many people fear that a draft will be reinstituted. The Bush administration swears that there are no plans for a new draft. They've even posted a notice on the Selective Service Web site saying that "both the president and secretary of defense have stated on more than one occasion that there is no need for a draft for the war on terrorism or any likely contingency, such as Iraq."

But why should anyone trust them? As Lawrence Korb, an assistant secretary of defense in the Reagan administration, commented to the New York Times, "People are clearly worried and figure, 'They are just waiting until the election is over to spring the bad news on us.'"

Democrats are trying to use the issue of the draft to their advantage in an election year. After the Pentagon's "stop-loss" order, Sen. John Kerry declared, "They have effectively used a stop-loss policy as a backdoor draft." Kerry is right--but his answer is to increase the size of the regular Army by tens of thousands of troops.

Other Democrats agree. Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.) used the opportunity of the call-up of the Individual Ready Reserves declare, "This is another indication of the urgent need to increase the size of the Army. The administration's assessment of the number of troops needed to occupy Iraq, fight the war on terror and maintain the nation's military commitment around the world has been woefully inadequate."

Much of the speculation about a new draft has been spurred on by legislation pending in Congress--sponsored by Democrats Rep. Charles Rangel and Sen. Ernest Hollings--that would require military or some other national service for 18 to 26 year olds. Rangel claims that his initial goal in backing legislation to bring back the draft was to stir opposition to the war in Iraq--because wealthy politicians would be less eager to go to war if their own kids were in the ranks.

In fact, Rangel's proposal highlights the reality of the U.S. military today--that while there may not be an actual draft in effect, the military relies on a "poverty draft." Every year, tens of thousands of young, poor--and often Black and Latino--kids see entering the military as the only way to get started in a career, or pay for college.

In a recent Washington Post editorial, former Nixon speechwriter Noel Koch argued that the draft during Vietnam "shattered class distinctions. It mixed high school dropouts with college graduates, rich with middle class and poor." That's garbage.

During Vietnam, the U.S. had a draft, and minorities and the poor still ended up in the lowest--and deadliest--ranks of the armed forces. The officer corps, meanwhile, remained overwhelmingly white and middle or upper class. Meanwhile, today's hawks like George W. Bush, Dick Cheney and Sen. Trent Lott managed to get "exemptions" from being drafted--or had the pull to find a cushy spot in the National Guard.

There's no reason to believe that a new draft wouldn't include similar loopholes. While legislation for a new draft looks unlikely to pass in the next few months, people are right to fear that whichever party rules the White House after November will move to shore up the military.

Actually, the Democrats seem more eager--and better equipped--to carry out this essential point on the agenda of U.S. imperialism. That's why anyone who wants to stop Washington from cranking up the size of the U.S. military machine with a new draft has no reason to rely on the Democrats.

We need to build the kind of mass antiwar movement that exposed the injustice of the draft during the Vietnam War and helped stop the killing--and we need to do it no matter which party is in office.

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