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Back Bush's war strategy? Then bring back the draft

By Joseph L. Galloway

04/19/07 "
McClatchy Newspapers" -- -- Here's a question for those who still support President Bush's strategy to stretch out the Iraq War until after he's left office, and for those who think we should be prepared to continue our bloody occupation of Iraq for five or 10 more years:

Are you ready to support reinstating Selective Service - the draft - even if that means your sons and daughters or your grandchildren will have to put on the uniform and go hold the cities and towns of a nation in the middle of a civil war?

Until now, the burden and sacrifices of military service in Afghanistan and Iraq have been borne by volunteers - young men and women who in large part hail from small towns and counties of our nation.

But the volunteer military, especially the Army and the Marine Corps, has been ground down by endless combat deployments that began with the invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 and may continue for years.

The president's "surge strategy" of adding 30,000 or more troops in Iraq may be the straw that breaks the camel's back. There weren't 30,000 extra troops sitting around doing nothing when the call came.

The surge is being manned by extending the combat tour for Army troops to 15 months, with a "guarantee" of 12 months at home before going back. Soldiers who've been yanked back into combat after seven or eight or 10 months at home - resting, refitting, retraining and getting to know their children - know better than to believe such a promise.

The administration's new plan to add 95,000 new recruits to the force over the next five years is too little, too late, and it can't be achieved without big increases in the cash enlistment bonuses that recruiters wave in front of youngsters whose choices are already limited by who they are and where they live.

The demands of the wars on our troops and their aging, worn-out equipment already have pushed the annual cost of enlistment and re-enlistment bonuses above $1 billion and of recruitment advertising to $120 million annually.

It's becoming clear that the current pace of deployments cannot continue unchecked. All the cheap fixes have been used. Peter has been robbed so often to pay Paul that he has nothing left in his pockets.

Our nation for the first time in many years has no strategic reserve available to respond to a crisis elsewhere in the world. The Army division that was the tripwire in Korea has dwindled down to a brigade of 3,000 troops. The Ready Brigade of the 82nd Airborne Division is standing down after decades of being ready to parachute into a trouble spot on 12 hours' notice so that it, too, can shuffle in and out of Iraq or Afghanistan.

The brigades and divisions home from a deployment cannot be counted on in a major crisis. Most are immediately whittled down to 65 percent or 70 percent of their authorized strength upon their return home as hundreds and thousands of troops complete involuntary extensions of their enlistment or are assigned to military schools to study or teach. Most of their combat equipment, including armored vehicles, is left behind in the war zone to be used by their replacements.

The barrel has been scraped so hard and so often that it no longer even has a bottom.

On Capitol Hill this week, the subject of restoring the draft after more than three decades of the all-volunteer force was gingerly raised in a House subcommittee hearing in the face of near-unanimous opposition by the Bush administration, the military chiefs in the Pentagon and politicians afraid of the consequences of embracing an unpopular solution even if it's the only one left.

All of them know that a fairly administered Selective Service system that distributed the burden of military service to rich and poor alike, with deferments limited to physical and mental disqualifiers, would ensure that 99.5 percent of Americans would suddenly have a huge investment in any suggestion that going to war is a quick and easy solution to a foreign problem.

Does anyone really believe that the war in Iraq would have dragged on for four-plus years if draftees from all over the country were doing the fighting and dying and suffering quietly absorbed by today's volunteer troops and their families?

If you aren't prepared to invest your son or daughter in continuing this war, then it's time for you to give some serious thought to how and when it can be ended, and what the candidates for president in 2008 are saying about an open-ended commitment of other Americans' sons and daughters to a war we can't afford and can't win.

Joseph L. Galloway is former senior military correspondent for Knight Ridder Newspapers and co-author of the national best-seller "We Were Soldiers Once ... and Young." Readers may write to him at: P.O. Box 399, Bayside, Texas 78340; e-mail: jlgalloway2@cs.com.

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