Draft may be needed in a year, military analysts warn
WASHINGTON - If American forces aren't pulling out of Iraq in a year, a draft will be needed to meet manpower requirements, military analysts warned Wednesday.
With recruitment lagging and no end in sight for U.S. forces in Iraq, the "breaking point" for the nation's all-volunteer military will be mid-2006, agreed Lawrence Korb, a draft opponent and assistant defense secretary in the Reagan administration, and Phillip Carter, a conscription advocate and former Army captain.
"America's all-volunteer military simply cannot deploy and sustain enough troops to succeed in places like Iraq while still deterring threats elsewhere in the world," Carter concluded in the March issue of "Washington Monthly."
Korb is a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank, and a senior adviser to the Center for Defense Information. Carter is attorney who writes on military affairs for Slate.com and other media. They debated at a symposium on the draft Wednesday.
While conceding that the Army, Marines, National Guard and Army Reserve -- the branches serving most in Iraq -- face recruitment difficulties, military officials have denied any plans to revive the draft, which was replaced by an all-volunteer force in 1973.
"The 'D-word' is the farthest thing from my thoughts," Army Secretary Francis Harvey said at a Pentagon press briefing last week. He said the all-volunteer force has proven its value and applauded the performance of soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan.
"When you get over there, there's no difference between the active, the Reserves and the National Guard. The quality is high across the board. ... It's seamless," he said.
During his re-election campaign, President Bush declared flatly that he would not reinstate the draft. And there is little support for conscription on Capitol Hill.
"Today, no leading politician in either party will come anywhere near the idea -- the draft having replaced Social Security as the third rail of American politics," wrote Carter.
However, the analysts said that the all-volunteer army is on the verge of "breaking" under current circumstances. The 3rd Infantry Division based in Fort Stewart, Ga., and the 4th Infantry Division based in Fort Hood, Texas, are among the units that are being sent back for a second tour in Iraq.
The National Guard and Reserves historically depend on men and women leaving active duty to fill their ranks, Carter pointed out. But they're not going to join if it means they will be sent right back to Iraq in an activated unit, he said.
Military men, women and machines are all suffering from repeated deployments.
"What keeps me awake at night is what will this all-volunteer force look like in 2007," Richard Cody, the Army Vice Chief of Staff, told the Senate Armed Services Committee on March 16.
Korb, assistant secretary defense for manpower from 1981 through 1985, said the current rotation is unfair to the "patriotic" men and women who volunteered for military service and are stuck on a cycle in and out of Iraq. Since only a tiny segment of the populace is sacrificing, there is no political pressure to change the system, he said.
"If you had a draft right now, I think you'd be out of Iraq," Korb said.
The American society "hasn't gotten the message that we're at war," agreed Carter.
"Those at peril are completely divorced from those in power," said Mark Shields, a syndicated columnist and TV commentator who moderated the symposium. "It's 'Patriotism Lite' -- you put a sticker on your SUV."
"America has a choice," wrote Carter. "It can be the world's superpower or it can maintain the current all-voluntary military. But it probably can't do both."