The Return of the Draft, a Bipartisan Production

Barring a sudden reversal in the direction of US foreign policy, a strong bipartisan push to reinstate the draft can be expected soon after the November elections. Whether or not Bush wins is irrelevant. The logic of empire requires more boots on the ground, and conscription looks like the only way to get them.

In fact the campaign for the draft is already under way, though election-year politics have dictated a nuanced approach. Long-dormant draft boards have been quietly reactivated and restaffed — even as the Bush administration continues to claim, in the face of mounting evidence to the contrary, that current troop levels are sufficient.

Meanwhile, a consensus behind conscription is building on Capitol Hill. Senators Chuck Hagel (R-Neb) and Joseph Biden (D-Del), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, are among many prominent politicians suddenly calling for a “national debate” on the draft. Open supporters of the draft include Sen. Ernest Hollings (D-SC) and Reps. Nydia Velazsquez (D-NY), Pete Stark (D-Cal), and Charles Rangel (D-NY). HR 163 and S 89, Democrat-sponsored bills to restore conscription, are quietly working their way through committee. According to The Hill, Republicans are ready to sign on as soon as they get the nod from the Bush administration.

Because the draft is potentially a catalyst for student protest, many leftists are happy to believe that the Establishment would never dare to reintroduce it. But that view fails to take into account the tremendous post-Seattle expansion of the state’s repressive apparatus. Now that protest pens, mass arrests, chemical crowd control, and embedded journalists have become the norm at major demonstrations, the powerful may well believe that they have little to fear from free speech.

In any case, pro-draft forces appear willing to assume any downside risks involved in reviving conscription. A quick survey of the state of the empire shows why.

At this writing the US military is deeply mired in Iraq, fighting a brutal war of counterinsurgency that has stretched the 1.4-million strong, all-volunteer military to the limit. The Army has 10 active-duty divisions; nine of these are either in Iraq or Afghanistan, have just returned, or are about to be deployed there.

Hundreds of enlistees are killed or wounded every month. Tours are being extended and enlistments prolonged. Troops are even being transferred to Iraq from strategically critical US bases in South Korea. The 138,000 US soldiers officially stationed in Iraq have been quietly supplemented with at least 10,000 private military contractors; i.e., mercenaries. Even so, as recent events in Falluja and Najaf make clear, all these bodies are not nearly enough to sustain the occupation.

While conceding that the Iraq war has been a military and political disaster, the US power elite — ranging from George Bush, to the New York Times editorial board, to Presidential candidate John Kerry — agree that we must “stay the course” in Iraq. In plain language, that means crushing resistance to the occupation. To subdue a population that wants us to leave, and is increasingly willing to fight for independence, will require many more troops — as many as 500,000, according to pre-war Pentagon estimates. Despite the machinations of Lakhdar Brahimi and Kofi Annan, Europe has so far shown little inclination to augment US troop strength with its own soldiers.

Moreover, our West Asian wars are only a part of the equation. Under cover of the “war on terror,” the US has increased its military presence across the globe: at least 176,000 troops are now deployed in forward bases and “peacekeeping operations” overseas.

Official US policy calls for waging “pre-emptive war” and effecting “regime change” wherever threats to American power and security are perceived. Any new war — with or without an escalation of the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan — would require many thousands of new soldiers. No President will long tolerate an inability to wage war as and where he sees fit.

The math isn’t hard to do. The empire needs bigger battalions. Enlistment is barely sufficient to maintain current troop levels. Only draftees can fill the gap.

Would President Kerry make any difference? There’s no reason to think so. Kerry has scrupulously avoided taking a position on the draft, but his approach to foreign policy is virtually indistinguishable from that of George Bush. A member of the hawkish Democratic Leadership Council (DLC), he supports escalating the war in Iraq and further enhancing US military presence worldwide. A Kerry administration would therefore be subject to the same imperial logic that guides Bush — and, on a purely pragmatic level, the former war hero and Vietnam protester would be a far more credible advocate for conscription.

Kerry calls military service “the highest form of national service.” Not coincidentally, a proposal for universal “National Service” is available on his campaign web site. The proposal closely resembles a recent DLC policy blueprint (Magee, From Selective Service to National Service: A Blueprint for Citizenship and Security in the 21st Century, 1993) that antidraft advocates see as a stealth plan for staged reintroduction of conscription.

Kerry’s plan does not mention a military draft — yet — but incenting youth to join the armed forces is manifestly at its heart. The proposal would require draft registration for women and appears to makes financial aid for college contingent on two years’ national service beginning at the age of 18. Even without a draft as such, Kerry’s program represents a massive militarization of young people that provides ample opportunities for “patriotic” indoctrination, along with near-coercive incentives to join up.

The draft can still be stopped, but only if we act to prevent it. Although most Americans oppose the draft, public opinion alone is rarely enough to stop measures demanded by a consensus of the powerful. Historically, when US elites see a need to pass unpopular legislation (tax increases, benefit cuts, etc.) bipartisan action is taken early in the term and swiftly, before the people have a chance to register their displeasure.

That means we need to start organizing, educating, and speaking out — right now. It is time to launch a preemptive strike of our own.

JACOB LEVICH is a founding member of People Against the Draft. He can be reached at: jlevich@earthlink.net


More articles by:

Jacob Levich is a university administrator and independent researcher who tweets as @cordeliers.


June 19, 2019
Matthew Stevenson
Requiem for a Lightweight: the Mayor Pete Factor
Kenneth Surin
In China Again
Stephen Cooper
Abolishing the Death Penalty Requires Morality
George Ochenski
The DNC Can’t Be Allowed to Ignore the Climate Crisis
John W. Whitehead
The Omnipresent Surveillance State
William Camacaro - Frederick B. Mills
Guaidó’s Star Fades as His Envoys to Colombia Allegedly Commit Fraud With Humanitarian Funds for Venezuela
Dave Lindorff
What About Venezuela’s Hacked Power Grid?
Howard Lisnoff
Try Not to Look Away
Binoy Kampmark
Matters of Water: Dubious Approvals and the Adani Carmichael Mine
Karl Grossman
The Battle to Stop the Shoreham Nuclear Plant, Revisited
Kani Xulam
Farting in a Turkish Mosque
Dean Baker
New Manufacturing Jobs are Not Union Jobs
Elizabeth Keyes
“I Can’t Believe Alcohol Is Stronger Than Love”
June 18, 2019
John McMurtry
Koch-Oil Big Lies and Ecocide Writ Large in Canada
Robert Fisk
Trump’s Evidence About Iran is “Dodgy” at Best
Yoav Litvin
Catch 2020 – Trump’s Authoritarian Endgame
Thomas Knapp
Opposition Research: It’s Not Trump’s Fault That Politics is a “Dirty” Game
Medea Benjamin - Nicolas J. S. Davies
U.S. Sanctions: Economic Sabotage that is Deadly, Illegal and Ineffective
Gary Leupp
Marx and Walking Zen
Thomas Hon Wing Polin
Color Revolution In Hong Kong: USA Vs. China
Howard Lisnoff
The False Prophets Cometh
Michael T. Klare
Bolton Wants to Fight Iran, But the Pentagon Has Its Sights on China
Steve Early
The Global Movement Against Gentrification
Dean Baker
The Wall Street Journal Doesn’t Like Rent Control
Tom Engelhardt
If Trump’s the Symptom, Then What’s the Disease?
June 17, 2019
Patrick Cockburn
The Dark Side of Brexit: Britain’s Ethnic Minorities Are Facing More and More Violence
Linn Washington Jr.
Remember the Vincennes? The US’s Long History of Provoking Iran
Geoff Dutton
Where the Wild Things Were: Abbey’s Road Revisited
Nick Licata
Did a Coverup of Who Caused Flint Michigan’s Contaminated Water Continue During Its Investigation? 
Binoy Kampmark
Julian Assange and the Scales of Justice: Exceptions, Extraditions and Politics
John Feffer
Democracy Faces a Global Crisis
Louisa Willcox
Revamping Grizzly Bear Recovery
Stephen Cooper
“Wheel! Of! Fortune!” (A Vegas Story)
Daniel Warner
Let Us Laugh Together, On Principle
Brian Cloughley
Trump Washington Detests the Belt and Road Initiative
Weekend Edition
June 14, 2019
Friday - Sunday
Michael Hudson
Trump’s Trade Threats are Really Cold War 2.0
Bruce E. Levine
Tom Paine, Christianity, and Modern Psychiatry
Jason Hirthler
Mainstream 101: Supporting Imperialism, Suppressing Socialism
T.J. Coles
How Much Do Humans Pollute? A Breakdown of Industrial, Vehicular and Household C02 Emissions
Andrew Levine
Whither The Trump Paradox?
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: In the Land of 10,000 Talkers, All With Broken Tongues
Pete Dolack
Look to U.S. Executive Suites, Not Beijing, For Why Production is Moved
Paul Street
It Can’t Happen Here: From Buzz Windrip and Doremus Jessup to Donald Trump and MSNBC
Rob Urie
Capitalism Versus Democracy
Richard Moser
The Climate Counter-Offensive: Secrecy, Deception and Disarming the Green New Deal