Wednesday, October 20, 2004

Perhaps the biggest “big lie” of this vicious presidential campaign is that the Bush administration secretly plans to reinstate the military draft. The president confronted this conspiracy theory in the second debate. Yet it persists.

The left wants to conjure up the specter of conscription to equate Iraq with Vietnam. The issue has gained some traction because it is clear the U.S. Army is spread very thin by deployments in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere and needs to be rebuilt. But it does not follow a draft is necessary.

In the 1991 Gulf war, the Army had 18 active combat divisions and 750,000 soldiers. There were 196,000 Marines. The U.S. could afford to send the equivalent of eight Army and two Marine divisions to execute Desert Storm. In all, more than 665,000 American military personnel served in that war, out of a total active military of just more than 2 million volunteers.

By 2000, force levels had dropped below 1.4 million Americans in uniform, of which 479,000 were Army and 173,000 Marine — a reduction in U.S. ground forces of more than 30 percent from 10 years earlier. Rather than call for conscription, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has opposed congressional efforts to expand voluntary recruitment, preferring to call up Reserve and National Guard forces for extended duty. Not reconstituting the downsized military inherited from the Clinton administration has been a serious blunder that has weakened the war effort, but it does not argue for conscription.

There are 137,000 U.S. troops in Iraq, about a third of what was sent to liberate Kuwait. Because counterinsurgency and reconstruction will take longer, more troops have to be rotated through deployments. So the overall requirement now is similar to the earlier war, but from a much smaller base force.

The United States was able to raise forces much larger than these since the draft ended in 1973. President Reagan’s military buildup in the 1980s was accomplished without resort to conscription, creating an Army of more than 780,000.

John Kerry originally seemed to understand. Last December, he said: “If we had a need for a general mobilization in the future, then I think that’s the only fair way to do it, but I don’t think we have that need for a general mobilization at this point.”

But last month, Mr. Kerry was willing to embrace the conspiracy theory about the prospects for a new draft: “If George Bush were to be re-elected, given the way he has gone about this war, and given his avoidance of responsibility in North Korea and Iran and other places, it is possible.”

The conscription scare aims at the campus youth vote. The College Democrats Web site links to a May 31, 2004, column from the Guardian newspaper in England. The author, John Sutherland, writes “I was e-mailed by an American student friend. He too is terrified. ‘The U.S. legislature,’ he wrote, ‘is trying to bring back the draft ASAP.’ ” Mr. Sutherland then cites bill HR 163, falsely claiming it is “currently approved and sitting in the Committee for Armed Services. … with the draft to become operational as early as June 15 [2005].”

Mr. Sutherland does not say HR 163 was introduced by Rep. Charles Rangel, a New York Democrat, with five co-sponsors, also all Democrats. The bill was never “approved,” just the opposite. It was brought to the floor Oct. 5 by the Republicans in order to kill it. The vote was 402-2 against.

The College Democrats also feature a Web link to the Alliance for Security, a program of the Vietnam Veterans of America Foundation. The VVAF is headed by Bobby Muller who claims Mr. Kerry as “his close friend.” Mr. Muller contributed a chapter to Mr. Kerry’s infamous 1971 antiwar screed “The New Soldier.” Clicking through the site finds the assertion “if Congress deemed a draft to be necessary, it could pass legislation within a matter of hours.”

The Alliance for Security has used a push poll to advance the notion a draft is imminent. The Glover Park Group survey in early August found Americans think a draft is likelier if Mr. Bush wins (45 percent) than if Mr. Kerry wins (15 percent). Other results are not so favorable to left-wing hopes.

On whether those of draft age would refuse to serve if called, the poll found young women (45 percent) likelier to say they would not serve than draft-age men (20 percent). Among all respondents, 59 percent are “concerned” about the possibility of a new military draft. But again there is a marked gender gap, with 71 percent of draft-age women concerned compared to only 48 percent of draft age men.

But who put the military-service concern in women’s minds? Not conservatives, who oppose putting women in combat.

The left-wing, feminist movement has pushed for “equality” in military service. Apparently, most women do not relish the idea, but they can hardly blame Republicans or President Bush for it. The feminists are a core constituency of the Kerry campaign.

The draft conspiracy is just another example of the “big lie” tactic so common now on the left. It is so devoid of facts and logic it should destroy the credibility of anyone who indulges it.

William Hawkins is senior fellow for national security studies at the U.S. Business and Industry Council.

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