Socialist ViewPoint and analysis for working people

July/August 2005 • Vol 5, No. 6 •

Does anybody feel a draft?

By Joaquín Bustelo

I will admit to having believed a year ago that by now, no matter who won the White House raffle, the capitalist propaganda machines would have been working overtime to push reinstituting the draft. And the fact that it hasn’t happened should lead us to reflect as to why. Clearly, it isn’t because the military doesn’t need more troops.

It does. All the evidence suggests that the generals, if they had their druthers, would put another 100,000-plus troops into Iraq in a heartbeat. The occupation force has been quite transparently unable to take apart the resistance networks, and carrying out a really major operation like Fallujah, which required many thousands of troops, meant creating opportunities for the insurgency in many other areas.

And even if the generals decided for some reason that the current force level in country is right, the recruitment and retention problems should be enough to argue for a return to the draft. There is nowhere on the horizon even the faintest glimmer of a possibility of reducing the force in Iraq, every downturn in insurgent attacks (such as after the elections) have been followed by a sharp re-escalation (as has happened now). Those units just returned from Iraq a few months ago are now facing the prospect of going back in a few more months, in what must come across to the troops as a demoralizing Russian-roulette cycle with no end in sight.

A draft could mean a return to the Vietnam-era norm of only one tour of duty in the war zone. I discount the capitalist propaganda about how a mass draftee army is inherently less capable than a mass army recruited through economic pressure. So the refusal to even talk about a return to the draft at this stage is of significant political import. The window on Bush being able to propose this in the most favorable political circumstances is drawing to a close—if it hasn’t already.

Whatever extra credibility and authority he got from actually winning the election this last time he chose to spend on trying to undermine social security, which looks more and more like quixotic tilting at windmills.

He and his people know that the best time for him proposing reintroduction of the draft is drawing to a close; but they have decided to stumble along as best they can rather than changing course. Part of the reason for this has to be the fear of a political reaction, and not so much to the draft as such, but to what the draftees are used for. A draft would make the Iraq war a burning issue for everyone with a teen-aged son, daughter, grandchild, nephew, niece, or sibling. I think their calculation is, “we’re having a hard enough time with the public on this war as it is, why make it harder?”

The other possibility, not to be discounted, is that the administration is self-delusional on the need for a draft; that they honestly and sincerely believe it is completely unnecessary. That may seem hard to swallow from our point of view, but remember, these guys think their vision of a world ruled by American capitalism has been ordained by God. I believe this latter factor, ideological bloody-mindedness, plays a very big role with this crew, making any prediction as to what the administration might do very difficult. That’s why I don’t think a reinstitution of the draft can be discounted.

Tomorrow morning may bring a new divine revelation. But as for now, I think clearly, through whatever reasoning, this administration has decided no; and the ruling class as a whole, again, for whatever reasons, has decided to back Bush and really not make an issue of this—nor anything else for that matter. There’s no other easy way for me to understand the stance of the Democrats in Congress, circling their wagons around the issue of preserving the segregationist filibuster and then capitulating.

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