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Bush's backdoor draft another sign of strain

Palm Beach Post | August 26, 2006

The country did away with the draft 33 years ago, but President Bush has brought it back - without the trappings of debate or conscription - through the White House back door.

Last week, the president authorized the Marine Corps to recall as many as 2,500 inactive reserves at a time to reinforce the 138,000 troops in Iraq, and also those in Afghanistan. About 14,000 inactive Army reservists already have gotten the involuntary call-up notice. As recently as two months ago, Pentagon leaders were talking about drawing down U.S. forces and beginning to turn over control to the Iraqi army. Like so many other of the administration's plans for the Iraq War, reducing the U.S. military presence hasn't gone anything like it was supposed to go.

The involuntary call-ups will affect people who believed they had completed their military service. Many of them will leave families and careers behind for at least a second time because of the Bush administration's miscalculations. Also, the Pentagon's implementation of stop-loss policies will keep at least 10,000 soldiers in Iraq indefinitely. U.S. forces are stretched to the limit to serve in the cross hairs of a civil war that the White House never saw coming and has no strategy for quelling. A telling indicator of how poorly things are going in Iraq is the administration's inability - despite a desperate desire to win political points - to bring home token numbers of troops to stem criticism before the November election.

The switch to the all-volunteer military three decades ago was predicated on the theory that the nation would fight short wars using overwhelming force. There was no contemplation of a large-scale occupation as in Iraq. Neither was there contemplation of using the Army for nation-building or separating factions in a civil war. The country turned to the all-volunteer military believing we had had our Vietnam, learned from it and would not have another. President Bush and his neoconservative civilian policymakers missed that lesson.

The president's backdoor draft will take a toll on recruiting quotas and invite misconduct from rogue recruiters whose strong-arm tactics and abusive behavior have drawn congressional attention. The House Armed Services Committee is considering tougher penalties for sexual misconduct by recruiters after finding out the Pentagon disciplined 80 of them last year for abuses against potential enlistees.

Americans thought they'd never see their military more stressed than it was after leaving Vietnam. But President Bush seems intent on turning the clock back 30 years.




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