Consider the draft

In a radio interview earlier this month, the new war czar floated a trial balloon for restoring the military draft. Lt. Gen. Douglas E. Lute told National Public Radio that the draft remains an option and that it "makes sense to certainly consider it."

The context had to do with fulfilling recruitment goals, and Lute indicated it was difficult to get high school graduates to volunteer these days. We all know why.

Even though monthly goals are being met (barely), the growing disapproval of the war in Iraq is making things that much tougher. The services do not talk much about whether they are lowering their criteria, so it's hard to quantify.

Reviving the draft is a political matter, a "major policy shift" in Lute's words that is essentially above his pay grade.

On the eve of a presidential election year, it's highly unlikely the major candidates would embrace a draft for they would risk losing significant votes. But it's one of those truth-telling issues that you might expect John McCain to endorse.

While the volunteer Army has succeeded in the past three decades, the forces are stretched and depleted to the point that we couldn't go to war elsewhere if we had to. Returning to Afghanistan to refight the Taliban in force is problematic as a result.

This week The Washington Post disclosed that more than 90% of new Army recruits this summer have taken a $20,000 "quick ship" bonus to leave sooner for basic combat training. One can only wonder if they're as well trained as they should be when they get to the war zone.

A nascent move is afoot to revive the draft. It differs from previous drafts by including women and providing an option for public service. A national draft would give them an opportunity to serve their country in either sector while providing tens of thousands of troops for defense.

America has grown soft on service, giving up little time or talent while others sacrifice their lives. Just as nothing concentrates the mind like a hanging, the draft would inspire young people to get more engaged in their government and its policies.

You might be surprised to learn that the draft law is still on the books, for men aged 18-25. Reviving it would take quite a debate in Congress and throughout the country. I would suggest leaving college deferments in place, but without lame exceptions exploited by Bill Clinton, Dick Cheney and Karl Rove.

Rep. Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.) has reintroduced draft legislation that is gender neutral, with a public service component, and which would be applied far more equitably to avoid frontloading African-Americans, as happened with Vietnam. That was the so-called "poverty draft."

At the end of the political argument, extended tours of duty in Iraq and increased dependence on state National Guard units commend revival of the draft. Gen. Lute is facing a crisis of manpower.

Next time you're out walking around town, take a look at the war plaques inside Matthew Whaley School or the Wren Building. There is no asterisk for who was drafted vs. who volunteered, but they all served by giving "the last full measure."