- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 22, 2004

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld yesterday dismissed the notion of reinstating the military draft, saying that the Pentagon, if needed, can dig deeper into Reserve and National Guard forces to relieve troops deployed in the war on terrorism.

“I don’t know anyone in the executive branch of the government who believes it would be appropriate or necessary to reinstitute the draft,” Mr. Rumsfeld told a Washington gathering of members of the Newspaper Association of America, the American Society of Newspaper Editors and the Associated Press.

Using a metaphor to explain that the military already has a huge pool of personnel from which to draw, he likened the increased wartime demand on military forces to a spigot and the available pool of troops to a keg full of water.

Presently, the spigot is “too high” or does not reach very deep into the keg, Mr. Rumsfeld said. “We need to lower the spigot. We don’t need to get a bigger barrel.”

Including the total Reserve and Guard force, there are about 2.3 million people “in this universe of the water keg,” he said. “At the present time, we’re only accessing a very small portion of the 2-plus million men and women in the active force and the Reserves in our current deployments.”

In addition to troop commitments in Bosnia-Herzegovina, Kosovo, South Korea, Haiti and Liberia, “all we’re trying to do is sustain 135,000 in Iraq,” he said, adding that the number of deployments required by the war on terror can been met easily through better management of the current level of 1.4 million active-duty troops.

“It simply requires changing the rules, changing the requirements, changing the regulations in ways that we can manage that force considerably better,” he said.

In addition yesterday, White House spokesman Scott McClellan told reporters that a draft “is just not something that’s under consideration at this time.”

Mr. Rumsfeld’s remarks came during a question-and-answer session after his address to the national gathering of newspaper editors.

Afterward, a senior defense official said the defense secretary’s “water-keg” metaphor was “meant to address the longer-term problem of how our active and Reserve forces are organized and where the specialties lie.”

“Too many needed specialities are in too few places, and too many of them are in the Reserves,” the defense official said, adding that each of the military’s branches is in the process of identifying how best to “rebalance” the mix between active forces and reservists so “we don’t have to mobilize and remobilize people to sustain a long-term operation such as we are now.”

Although he noted that the “system is out of balance right now” and acknowledged that the Pentagon is “stretched” trying to maintain troop levels in Iraq, the defense official said the water-keg metaphor was unrelated to the immediate situation in Iraq, other than the fact that the situation “highlights the seriousness of the problem and gives urgency to solving it.”

Some members of Congress have raised questions recently about whether the long-term nature of the war on terror might present the need to reinstate the military draft, which was abandoned in 1973 in favor of the all-volunteer system.

Sen. Chuck Hagel, Nebraska Republican, raised the possibility this week that compulsory military service might become necessary. According to the Associated Press, Mr. Hagel said the nation is engaged “in a generational war here against terrorism,” which is “going to require resources.”

“Should we continue to burden the middle class who represents most all of our soldiers, and the lower-middle class?” he said. “Should we burden them with the fighting and the dying if in fact this is a generational — probably 25-year — war?”

Democrats in both chambers — Rep. Charles B. Rangel of New York and Sen. Ernest F. Hollings of South Carolina — have introduced bills calling for the reinstatement of the draft.

Mr. Rangel, who strongly opposed the Iraq war, said during the months leading up to it that it was apparent that “disproportionate numbers of the poor and members of minority groups compose the enlisted ranks of the military.”

“If our great country becomes involved in an all-out war, the sacrifice must be shared,” he said in December 2002, during the runup to the war to oust Saddam Hussein.

Meanwhile yesterday, Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican, referred to the Iraq war as “truly the test of a generation.” In a speech to the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington, he said the United States needs at least another full division — about 10,000 troops — for the effort.

Still, Mr. McCain added his voice to those who said no draft is likely soon, calling it “unnecessary” and saying on NBC’s “Today” show that it “would pose huge problems.”

As of yesterday, 105 U.S. troops had been killed during the surge in violence in Iraq since April 1. President Bush has said a large number of troops will be committed to maintaining security after the promised June 30 transition to sovereignty to an interim Iraqi government.

Noting that “we can succeed” and “we must succeed,” Mr. McCain said in his Washington speech that “if we leave, violence will fill the vacuum as groups struggle for political power, and we risk all-out civil war.”

“At the very least, scores will be settled, warlords will reign, and the violence we see today will pale in comparison to the bloodletting,” he said.

But “if we succeed, we send a message to every despot in the region that their day is done; that no people will tolerate forever leaders who deprive them of liberty,” Mr. McCain said.

Rowan Scarborough contributed to this report.

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