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Would You Dodge the Draft in Afghanistan?

Two years after he was sacked by President Obama as the top commander in Afghanistan for suggesting to Rolling Stone magazine that the real enemy were “the wimps in the White House”, General Stanley A McChrystal has recycled a perennial chestnut: Bring back the draft – i.e. a conscripted army, not the volunteer army of today.

These days McChrystal teaches at Yale with what must be a protection unique in the annals of academic freedom. According to CounterPunch’s David Price, everything he tells his students is by contractual agreement off the record.

But he made his proposal about the draft in a public venue. McChrystal claimed:

“I think we ought to have a draft. I think if a nation goes to war, it shouldn’t be solely be represented by a professional force, because it gets to be unrepresentative of the population,” McChrystal said at a late-night event June 29 at the 2012 Aspen Ideas Festival. “I think if a nation goes to war, every town, every city needs to be at risk. You make that decision and everybody has skin in the game.”

It’s certainly true that the volunteer army is a mess. Suicides are surging among the troops. According to AP, the 154 suicides for active duty troops in the first 155 days of the year far outdistance the US forces killed in Afghanistan. The volunteer army also struggles with increased sexual assaults, alcohol abuse, and domestic violence.
 
Liberals like the idea of a draft army because they think it would curb any president’s eagerness to go to war. There are indeed sound arguments for a draft. They were put eloquently not so long ago by Bill Broyles, a Vietnam vet: “In spite of the president’s insistence that our very civilization is at stake, the privileged aren’t flocking to the flag.”

The war, Broyles wrote, is being fought by Other People’s Children. If the children of the nation’s elites were facing enemy fire without body armor, riding through gauntlets of bombs in unarmored Humvees, fighting desperately in an increasingly hostile environment because of arrogant and incompetent leadership, then those problems might well find faster solutions.

But the truth is that despite all these fine words, a draft is never going to happen. The military industrial complex needs the money – it’s why they’re cutting back troops right now.

When Obama introduced ‘the new strategy’ last year, he emphasized that the Pentagon will be getting more money not less. In the past five years the US has spent $2.59 trillion on defense. The new plans call for an allocation of $2.725 trillion between 2013 and 2017. So much for any peace dividend when the troops come home from Afghanistan.
 
As my brother Andrew Cockburn recently predicted, the budget will grow but the military will shrink. There will be no more “nation building” with its long and expensive occupations. Overall, troop levels will be cut by about 100,000 soldiers and marines. Fewer new planes will be built. America will no longer be equipped to fight two full-scale wars at the same time – an official requirement for decades.

Such was the military-cultural context for calls for the draft: huge ground forces stocked with draftees.  What we have now is precisely the opposite – robot/drone wars, with no need for suicidal soldiers or politically awkward draftee casualties. The money all goes to Lockheed and the other big aerospace companies.

Remember there’s a good reason why they abolished the conscript army. It mutinied in Vietnam and thus was a prime factor in America’s defeat. ·

The CounterPunch Auction

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Alexander Cockburn can be reached at alexandercockburn@asis.com

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Alexander Cockburn’s Guillotined! and A Colossal Wreck are available from CounterPunch.

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