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The Specter of the Draft


Stan Goff

© Copyright 2005, From The Wilderness Publications, All Rights Reserved. This story may NOT be posted on any Internet web site without express written permission. Contact May be circulated, distributed or transmitted for non-profit purposes only.

[Predicting the behavior of the permanent warfare state is a bit like predicting the weather. There are too many variables for a solid computation, but you know that sooner or later you're going to get soaked. Here Stan Goff reports on the gathering storm and finds a new anti-war movement inside the unofficial culture of the military; falling recruitment numbers and unmet targets; and a rising level of desperation in Washington's addled decision-making - even as the administration smiles for the camera, cakewalking into a cesspool of its own making. Ink on their fingers, blood on their hands. Judging from the establishment press, there's no shortage of ink. -JAH]

In January, Congressman Charles Rangel's office announced his intention to reintroduce a bill reinstating the draft. The same bill, then entitled HR163, was summarily introduced and voted down in October last year, when the Democrats began to see it as an election year liability for John Kerry. Rangel is a Democrat, and a stubborn one by the looks of it, who seems honestly to believe in his draft/national service scheme, contrary to the speculation (which I shared last year) that this was merely a partisan ploy to point up contradictions about the war and occupation in Iraq. Rangel seems to agree with former South Carolina Senator Fritz Hollings that having a draft would make it more difficult to achieve consensus in the United States in support of military adventures.

Oddly enough, Donald Rumsfeld agrees with them.

But Rangel and Hollings now have a rather strange bedfellow: the Project for a New American Century (PNAC), whose alumni include key members of this administration, including the vice prez. PNAC is as well known for it failure to foresee the consequences of the mad actions it continually promotes as it is for its naked geopolitical ambition. When PNAC calls for something, even if it is a spectacularly bad idea, we should take this as an ominous sign… because they have the ear of this administration.

Let's revisit the background for this issue - which FTW covered last year in its two-part series, "Will The US Re-open the Draft?"

Death has a tendency to encourage a depressing view of war.
                                                                    - Donald Rumsfeld

February 14, 2005, PST 0900 (FTW) -- The first and only time I ever met Gary Luck, the general Donald Rumsfeld just hauled out of retirement to end-run his prevaricating Centcom commanders by sending Luck on a fact-finding mission to Iraq, was at Bennigan's, a stand-up bar on McPherson Church Road in Fayetteville, NC. He was manifestly drunk as all of us were, us including my commander at the time, Major David Grange, who now does content-challenged military 'analysis' for CNN. Luck was between commands, already a general, and would in about three more years take over the Joint Special Operations Command. That evening, he was grabbing people at random as they passed his seat and putting them in painful headlocks. Luck was a serious weightlifter and strong as an ape. He did it to me as I walked past at one point, and I took my one and only opportunity to grab a general by his balls and squeeze as hard as I might. He let me go, and then chuckled in his inebriated macho way, signaling - I suppose - that we'd bonded.

Luck's reputation was of the 'eat your dead and drive on,' blood-and-guts variety, but I am always suspicious of this kind of rep for those who advance to the top, because whether the military acknowledges it or not, advancement into the ionosphere of four stars pretty much guarantees that somewhere along the way, there were big piles of shit to eat, even if they were eaten discretely.

It's pretty interesting to me that Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld chose Gary Luck to drag back out of retirement, precisely because of the reputation, deserved or not. There is a symbolic dimension to his selection that says, "We're getting serious, now." Which, of course, implies that up until now we haven't been, and if I were John Abazaid right now, I'd be updating my resumes and preparing my retirement speech.

Luck's trip to Iraq last month in the run-up to the recent gunpoint elections also signals that the real expectations of the election are decidedly different from what was peddled to the U.S. population.

Given Cheney's belligerence toward Iran, we can rule out that the U.S. wants to allow Sistani followers to establish an independent Iraq that will embrace its Persian neighbor as its main partner in the region, and they can arrange an oil bloc that would push both countries back to the front of the world stage (see the FTW series, "Persian Peril").

And given that the administration has even acknowledged, however elliptically, that the elections would not stand down the insurgency, then we can safely assume that this was not the real objective of the elections. In fact, I think we can go one further, and say that the elections - no matter how much credit is being taken for them by Cheney's Legionnaires in Washington - were not the Bush administration's idea. They were Sistani's idea, and his demand after he took the controls and hauled the U.S. out of a dangerous downward spiral when the Sadr rebellion broke out.

And unless we are going to claim that the entire apparatus is on mescaline, we have to acknowledge that they know what any of us with the attention span of a Redbone pup already knows: that these elections have dramatically increased the probability of civil war in Iraq.

Now a civil war is a very serious thing, and all the more serious politically if one is bossing an occupying military force for which he has claimed the mission of liberation and democratization. So we have to assume, at least I have to assume, that after assessing the inevitability of an election in the wake of the disastrous (for the U.S.) Sadr interlude (the U.S. boasted throughout this fiasco about how they were going to bring Sadr out feet first or in flex cuffs), the U.S. settled on a revised plan to pursue the same strategy. If not, why would Bush appoint a cabinet that clearly reflects his intention to follow the path defined by William Kristol, Scooter Libby, Paul Wolfowitz, Dick Cheney and all the other PNAC boys? That goal is to establish a permanent U.S. military presence in Iraq, and so I am assuming that the higher post-election likelihood of civil war now serves as a reason to 'stay the course,' even should the Shia electorate that showed up for their ration cards at the polling places in January (this is true) decide that they will ask their newly elected officials to show the truculent Anglo-American squatters the door.

So for the sake of argument, I am positing the premise that the administration intends to stay, come hell or high water.

That's premise one.

Premise two: the armed forces of the United States are not adequate in their current numbers - if all things remain equal or get worse - to pacify Iraq to the point where these bases will be viable over the long term, or to send the ever more unconvincing message to others around the world that they could face the wrath of an invincible American military if they don't behave as directed.

This is questionable even if we limit Iraq to the Southernmost Shia-majority areas where a good deal of the oil is. But if we note that Sadr still controls vast areas of the capital, that he still maintains contact with both secular and Sunni forces, and the guerrilla formations in the North seem nowhere near exhaustion… and if we further note that allowing a split Iraq - which Condi Rice just reassured the Turks will never happen - will probably result in further subdivision in and around Iraqi Kurdistan, then the picture for the mere 130,000 U.S. troops, their 11,000 Anglo-Saxon allies, and the 20, 000 or so high-dollar mercs, is very dismal indeed.

The troops will be setting up betting pools on the next IED [improvised explosive device -Ed.] deaths, just as we set up betting pools in Somalia for mortar attacks.

Third premise: it's getting a lot harder to keep the numbers they currently have in the military, and the strain is showing.

On February 2, UPI reported that the Army intends to extend again the tours of duty for Reserves and National Guards currently serving in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"The Army initially planned to use 16 brigades to win the Iraq war," said the article ("Reserves may get extended deployments," by Pamela Hess), "11 to maintain stability by December 2003, and expected to drop to four to five brigades sometime in 2004. The insurgency caused a sharp change in plans: There are 20 brigades in Iraq."

In yet another personnel shell game reminiscent of Stop Loss, the backdoor draft that now arbitrarily extends service members beyond their discharge dates, the Pentagon is now planning to change the rules for reserve mobilization that allow 24 months of cumulative mobilization to 24 months of consecutive mobilization. Vice Chief of Staff Richard Cody testified to Congress that this will "reset the clock," allowing the Pentagon to extend Reserves and National Guards in combat now past their current 12-18 months. After five years, said Cody, the military can come back again for an additional 24-month mobilization. This new policy is a reaction to the failure this year of Reserves to meet recruiting targets.

The Reserves aren't the only component that are having difficulty meeting recruiting goals. For the first time in over a decade, the Marine Corps missed its numbers. The Marine Corps has blamed their failure to meet their quota on parents.

In an AP article written by Robert Burns on February 4 ("Marines: Recruit shortfall pegged to parents"), he quotes Major David Griesmer of the Marine Corps Recruiting Command.

"It's a natural reaction in a time of war that a mother and father are going to have concerns, and so they are putting on the brakes," said Maj. Dave Griesmer, spokesman for Marine Corps Recruiting Command.

The 17-year-olds in high school who are a prime target of Marine recruiters cannot sign up without parental approval. Griesmer said that increasingly, parents are making their sons and daughters wait until they are 18, but that has not stopped recruiters from putting in extra effort.

"What we're doing is working with the parents more," he said. "Whereas before it may have taken one visit and they would accept, now it may take a recruiter two, three, four" visits.

While there is no doubt that parents are concerned, that concern goes far beyond the parents that Major Griesmer wants to cajole into giving up their children. There is resistance to the war developing among the families who have already watched their children join the armed forces, and among spouses, and among a growing group of those families whose loved ones were killed and maimed in the war.

Military Families Speak Out has become a major antiwar force on the American political scene, and from them has emerged an even more emotionally potent antiwar military family bloc, Gold Star Families for Peace, composed entirely of families who have lost loved ones in Iraq. Combined with the growing groups of veterans themselves who are organizing against the war, including Vietnam Veterans Against the War, Veterans for Peace, and Iraq Veterans Against the War, they have launched a campaign for unilateral withdrawal of Anglo-American forces from Iraq, called Bring Them Home Now.

This incursion directly into military communities by the antiwar movement is further exacerbating the Pentagon's institutional crisis in Iraq. It reflects a high degree of dissatisfaction and dissent among significant numbers of troops as well, who are deserting and refusing to deploy in record numbers.

Darryl Anderson, a Purple Heart recipient who just publicly decamped to Canada, saying, "I thought I was defending my country, but that is not what I was doing," is just the latest among approximately 2,600 U.S. military desertions since October 2003.

While there has been speculation that Canada will not serve as a viable refuge because interpretations of the U.S.-Canadian "Smart Border Declaration" (SBD) might lead to extradition of American military political refugees, those who have fled to Canada so far have not triggered extradition requests from the United States (eager to avoid any mention of military resistance at all), and the status of Jeremy Hinzman - a military political refugee in Canada now - will be decided by a Canadian court this month (February, 2005). Moreover, Prime Minister Paul Martin announced last December (2004) that Canada would definitely not seek the forced repatriation of American service members who fled the armed service.

Kevin Benderman, a combat veteran of Iraq with the 3rd Infantry Division from Fort Stewart, Georgia, who has been in the Army for nine years, is only the latest in a series of high-profile American soldiers who have flatly refused to return to Iraq. Benderman is seeking Conscientious Objector status and facing court martial for "desertion," even though he never left Fort Stewart.

According to the GI Rights Hotline, the National Lawyers Guild Military Law Task Force, and the Fayetteville, NC-based Quaker House, requests for information on applying for CO status, as well as questions about consequences for deserting or refusing, have skyrocketed in recent months. While the military has cracked down hard on public commentary from troops in theater about their conditions and their morale, these indices help us to infer the reality of how this war is grinding down the overstretched troops in Iraq.

Already, the social costs are being felt, too. An article dated February 8 in the Christian Science Monitor, by Alexandra Marks ("Back from Iraq - and suddenly on the streets"), reports that Iraq and Afghanistan vets are now showing up in homeless shelters in sharply increasing numbers. Rising housing costs and poorly paying jobs are partly to blame, according to Marks, but two other factors are contributing as well: the inability of the Veterans Administration in these Bush-lean times to expeditiously process benefits requests, and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Almost one in five Iraq vets is suffering from PTSD according the conservative estimates from the New England Journal of Medicine, but only one out of five of those vets seeks assistance, fearing the stigma of mental illness and clinging to the military ethos of 'toughness.' These emotionally damaged veterans have difficulty holding jobs or maintaining interpersonal relationships.

These various stress indicators can be traced to the inability of U.S. forces to adequately control the situation in Iraq in order to pursue their real agenda. While the moral and political challenges of the war are very significant in this failure, these are not dimensions of the conflict that the U.S. administration is in a position to rectify. The one dimension of this crisis that they can exercise some control over - but which is also fraught with political mines - is the number of troops operating in theater, and by extension the number of people under arms in the United States Armed Forces.

In one retrenchment after another to avoid the "C" word (conscription), the administration has initiated Stop Loss, accelerated troop rotation cycles, expanded Reserve and National Guard call-ups, and now plans to extend Reserve tours through manipulation of contract language. But they are fast approaching the bedrock that will break their entrenching tools, unless there is some kind of miraculous transformation of the situation in Iraq.

Without using the word 'conscription,' the architectural think-tank of the Iraq War, Project for a New American Century, recently reversed their original position on expansion of personnel numbers in the military (they originally thought that Iraq would be a "cakewalk."). In a new memo, PNAC suggested the indefinite expansion of ground forces (Army and Marine Corps) gross numbers by 25,000 a year. Said PNAC, "it should be evident that our engagement in the greater Middle East is truly...a 'generational commitment.'"

Now while this document scrupulously avoided using the words 'draft' and 'conscription,' it doesn't require Robert Oppenheimer to connect the dots here. We might easily dismiss this latest memo as the raving of a mere think-tank, except that most pronouncements from PNAC have shown the ability to morph into national policies.

Given that Rolling Stone recently reported ("Return of the Draft," Tim Dickinson, January 27) that the U.S. government has committed as much to new recruitment package incentives, including a $30,000 sign-up bonus for the Marines whose numbers are still retreating, as they spent on disaster relief for the tsunami, it seems safe to assume that we are reaching some kind of threshold.

"The Army's maxed out here," says retired Gen. Merrill McPeak, who served as Air Force chief of staff under the first President Bush. "The Defense Department and the president seem to be still operating off the rosy scenario that this will be over soon, that this pain is temporary and therefore we'll just grit our teeth, hunker down and get out on the other side of this. That's a bad assumption."

A Selective Service memo in February of last year to the Pentagon stated, "Defense manpower officials concede there are critical shortages of military personnel with certain special skills, such as medical personnel, linguists, computer network engineers, etc…. [the high cost of] "attracting and retaining such personnel for military service [leads] some officials to conclude that, while a conventional draft may never be needed, a draft of men and women possessing these critical skills may be warranted in a future crisis." This was written last year. The situation has since them deteriorated badly. When we see the "skills draft," we may safely assume that the camel's nose is in the tent.

All that's required now is an 'emergency.' Iran and DPRK should be very afraid.

The cost issue of incentives for recruitment, aside from not seeming to work, is rapidly adding to the economic woes of the war for the Bush-Cheney regime. Pentagon correspondent for UPI, Pamela Hess, again reports:

The Pentagon unveiled a $419 billion budget request for 2006 on Monday [February 7], a 4.8 percent increase over the 2005 budget even as the White House is trying to cut the annual deficit in half by 2009. Combined with "emergency supplementals" for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Pentagon budget has increased by 41 percent since 2001, according to Defense Department comptroller Tina Jonas.

The massive and rapid increases have led to accountability scandals that now plague the Department of Defense, including the recently reported apparent 'loss' by the Coalition Provisional Authority of $9 billion.

In its every dimension, the invasion and occupation of Iraq is deteriorating. That's why the public crowing about the 'election success' at the end of January is ever more strident. These success stories are designed to reinflate the flagging optimism of the American people. No one else is fooled by them. And no one in the administration is mentioning that these elections were an event that Sistani arranged and dragged the occupation bosses into by their nostrils. Now they are faced with a heightened prospect of civil war (which while a great excuse to stay, can not be 'managed' by a mere 130,000 U.S. troops) and a 'government' they want to legitimate that will tilt toward that other nemesis, Iran.

Which was my first premise - the U.S. intends to stay.

Donald Rumsfeld told Face the Nation on February 6 that the administration had not the least intention of reinstating the draft. His personal opposition to a draft has never been a secret. He fears a conscripted military, seeing that as the linchpin of the U.S. failure in Vietnam (another example of the depth of his capacity for self-delusion).

In fact, my own belief is that the administration believes what they are telling the rest of us, that Iraqis will be able to take over the business of carrying out the U.S. occupation by proxy, relieving the majority of the burden on U.S. forces and leaving them to run their lily pad bases. This is a desperate belief, like the belief of a compulsive gambler that the next one is going to hit. And given that Iraqi soldiers and police are still abandoning their posts like the ballroom dancers off the Titanic, it will not likely play out.

So this draft issue has painted them into yet another corner, which means that the lies will become thinner and more audacious, the stories more fantastic, the need for press complicity more dire, and the disengagement of half the American public from any interest whatsoever in the welfare of Iraqis more essential. Because as long as they cling to their commitment to stay, the inevitability of a draft will increase.

That PNAC is making the call is a very ominous sign indeed. Without conscription, there are four futures I see (though reality is always infinitely more complex than this!): (1) get out of Iraq, (2) grind away toward a slow and painful political defeat, (3) conscript, or (4 )open up a hi-tech and genocidal offensive against the Iraqis and perhaps even the Iranians. The latter will require a pretext.

Prepare the dogs. They will be wagged. And send your children to vacation in Manitoba.

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