Deflecting Draft Demagoguery

The House Republican leadership decisively quashed a shameful Democratic whisper campaign Tuesday night, voting en masse against a bill that would reinstate the draft. Hoping to put this rumor to rest, House Republicans shot down H.R. 163 by a vote of 402-2. A pair of “liberal” Democrats cast the two affirmative votes.

For months, the fever swamps of the Left have claimed President Bush stood at the cusp of conscription, but in recent weeks this claim had found its way into John Kerry’s campaign rhetoric. As recently as Tuesday morning, campaign official Rep. Harold Ford Jr., D-TN, told Fox News that more troops were needed on the ground in Iraq. He instructed, “One way to do that, short of instituting the draft” is to implement John Kerry’s plan and enlist the French. (Unfortunately, the French and Germans have declared, President Kerry or nein, they’re not sending troops.)

Last month, overwrought Vietnam veteran and Kerry surrogate Max Cleland told Colorado college students “America will reinstate the military draft” during a second Bush term. “Pay attention…to what you’ve got going on in Iraq. That, ladies and gentlemen, is Vietnam. I’ve seen this movie before.”

Reading from the same script, Howard Dean told an audience at Rhode Island’s Brown University, “I think that George Bush is certainly going to have a draft if he goes into a second term, and any young person that doesn’t want to go to Iraq might think twice about voting for him.”

(The MSNBC story detailing both these quotations also includes a harsh criticism of Bush’s foreign policy by Michael O’Hanlon of the Brookings Institution. Teresa Heinz Kerry is “on a leave of absence” from Brookings’ board of trustees and lavished nearly $2 million in grant money on the “non-partisan” think-tank from 1998-2002 alone. The full story is in my newest book, 57 Varieties of Radical Causes: Teresa Heinz Kerry’s Charitable Giving.)

In the first presidential debate, John Kerry even accused the president of implementing a “backdoor draft” – by calling on reservists to do their duty.

However, the only ones plotting to reinstitute the “blood tax” are Kerry partisans on the Left.

In December 2002, Rep. Charlie Rangel, D-NY, voiced his support for drafting America’s youth– saying his goal was to erode support for the war in Iraq. The gravel-voiced Harlem Democrat stated the sons – and, thanks to Bill Clinton’s military social engineering, daughters – of Congressmen should be forced to fight, as that would temper militarism. (Michael Moore later employed the same argument in Fahrenheit 9/11.) “I think if we went home and found out that there were families concerned about their kids going off to war, there would be more cautiousness and more willingness to work with the international community than to say, ‘Our way or the highway,’” he said. Rangel introduced H.R. 163 on January 7, 2003.

Rangel’s 14 co-sponsors – all Democrats – included “Baghdad” Jim McDermott, Jim Moran, Jesse Jackson Jr., John Conyers, Sheila Jackson-Lee, John Lewis, and Pete “I said you are a fruitcake” Stark. None of them, including Rangel, voted for the bill when it came up for final passage this week.

When Sen. Fritz Hollings, D-SC, introduced his sister bill in the Senate, he repeated the Rangel/Moore rationale, saying, “One way to avoid a lot more wars is to institute the draft. You’ll find this country will sober up, and its leadership, too.” The United States launched World War II, Korea, and Vietnam while it had a peacetime draft. Hollings, the segregationist governor of South Carolina and 1984 Democratic presidential hopeful, would later say President Bush precipitated the Iraq War “to win Jewish votes.”

Democratic enthusiasm for conscription runs deep. During the first Gulf War, liberal hero Mario Cuomo advocated reinstituting the draft.

Conservatives – and not coincidentally, military leaders – find themselves united in favor of an all-volunteer Army.

Military brass almost universally oppose the draft, stating the quality and reliability of recruits suffer under a conscripted army. Conscription also drives up military costs, with higher turnover and its attendant mandatory training investments. A Reagan administration report published 22 years ago noted reinstating the draft would raise military costs by $1 billion a year in 1982 dollars. Commanders also viewed the precipitous decline in military discipline as a by-product of the draft.

If the Left has mischaracterized George W. Bush’s position on the draft, it has not been due to a lack of clarity on his part. He has repeatedly stated he has no intention of reviving forced service. “We don’t need a draft,” Bush has said. “We need high-quality recruits.”

Nor has anyone in Bush’s cabinet lent credence to this “urban legend.” Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has also declaimed in no uncertain terms – as recently as yesterday –  he is intractably opposed to the draft. “I don’t know anyone in the executive branch of the government who believes it would be appropriate or necessary to reinstitute the draft,” he told an audience in April. In fact, as a member of the House of Representatives in the 1960s, Rumsfeld introduced a bill to do away with the draft.

The Selective Service System debunks the draft myth on its website, saying, “Notwithstanding recent stories in the news media and on the internet, Selective Service is not getting ready to conduct a draft for the U.S. Armed Forces – either with a special skills or regular draft.” Selective Service spokesman Dan Amon, who says he has received “hundreds” of calls on this issue, describes these suggestions as an “urban legend.” “If the White House is planning a draft, you’d think they might have told us about it,” he recently told reporters.

Indeed, it appears more troops will not be necessary, since the Bush administration seems to be settled on withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq next year.

In the interim, the nation’s armed forces need high quality, educated students to volunteer for duty. John Kerry and partisans on the Left would have the opposite effect on enlistment.

The way to attract more, high-quality recruits is not to belittle military service – particularly that of National Guardsmen – nor is it productive to tell potential recruits they are applying to fight in a “profound diversion,” signing up for “the wrong war in the wrong place at the wrong time.”

To put it in language John Kerry would understand: How do you ask a man to be the last man to die in Iraq? How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?

This story originally ran as the lead story on Thursday, October 7, 2004, on FrontPage Magazine.