A military draft in 2006?

One reason you may soon hear the words "Iraq" and "Vietnam" again being uttered in the same breath: the return of the draft.

Published April 1, 2005 8:52PM (EST)

One reason you may soon hear the words "Iraq" and "Vietnam" again being uttered in the same breath: the return of the draft.

The mounting recruitment and retention problems of the U.S. military are well known at this point; both the Marines and the Army -- the latter responsible for the majority share of military manpower in Iraq -- have fallen well short of recruitment goals in recent months. Still, just last week Secretary of the Army Francis Harvey said that a reinstatement of the draft couldn't be more out of the question.

"The 'D' word is the farthest thing from my mind," Harvey said during a Pentagon press briefing on March 23. "I don't see any need to do it."

But some military analysts see a serious need on the horizon -- as soon as a year from now. Cox News Service, reports from a symposium on the draft held Wednesday in Washington: "With recruitment lagging and no end in sight for U.S. forces in Iraq, the 'breaking point' for the nation's all-volunteer military will be mid-2006, agreed Lawrence Korb, a draft opponent and assistant defense secretary in the Reagan administration, and Phillip Carter, a conscription advocate and former Army captain."

The panelists also pointed to the chasm of perception between the American public and those serving in the war.

"Korb, assistant secretary defense for manpower from 1981 through 1985, said the current rotation is unfair to the 'patriotic' men and women who volunteered for military service and are stuck on a cycle in and out of Iraq. Since only a tiny segment of the populace is sacrificing, there is no political pressure to change the system, he said. 'If you had a draft right now,' he added, 'I think you'd be out of Iraq.'

"The American society 'hasn't gotten the message that we're at war,' agreed Carter.

"'Those at peril are completely divorced from those in power,' said Mark Shields, a syndicated columnist and TV commentator who moderated the symposium. 'It's "Patriotism Lite" -- you put a sticker on your SUV.'"

Carter also contributed an article on the subject to the March issue of Washington Monthly. "America's all-volunteer military simply cannot deploy and sustain enough troops to succeed in places like Iraq while still deterring threats elsewhere in the world," he writes. "America has a choice. It can be the world's superpower or it can maintain the current all-voluntary military. But it probably can't do both."

By Mark Follman

Mark Follman is Salon's deputy news editor. Read his other articles here.

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