‘Progressives’ for Slavery

The inside-the-Beltway debate over the size of the military is about how to increase the number of troops by 100,000, not whether to do so. At a recent debate on the draft sponsored by the Center for American Progress (CAP), the views ranged from reinstating the draft to enhancing economic incentives for enlistment.

Rather than questioning the administration’s policy of preemptive strikes or the vast size of the military industrial complex, or urging cuts in the wasteful, redundant defense budget, which consumes half the federal budget’s discretionary spending, the inside-the-Beltway crowd’s analysis assumes that the U.S. needs a larger military to achieve its foreign policy and economic agenda.

Both the neoconservative Project for a New American Century and the "progressive" CAP are calling for adding 100,000 new soldiers. During the presidential campaign, Senator John Kerry also called for adding tens of thousands more troops to the military services.

At the forum sponsored by the CAP, the debate spanned from a former captain, Phillip Carter, who is currently an international contracts lawyer and an advocate of the draft, to Lawrence Korb, a former assistant secretary of defense under President Reagan, also a retired captain and a senior fellow at the CAP who advocates expansion of the military by 100,000 soldiers through an improved incentives program. However, Korb has also said that if the United States invades Iran, he would favor a draft.

The Center for American Progress describes itself as nonpartisan, but its executive director is John Podesta, the former chief of staff to President Bill Clinton. Materials handed out at the event described the Center as copying the strategy of Republicans – creating think tanks, in order to "save the Democratic Party." The handout, an article by Matt Bai of The New York Times, describes how Podesta is caught in the "treacherous crosscurrents" of the Democratic Party – the left and center wings personified by Howard Dean and Senator Joe Lieberman. The "divide" may not be as treacherous as Podesta believes, as Howard Dean has not challenged the military-industrial complex and has been silent on Iraq since being chosen to lead the Democratic Party. In fact, during the presidential campaign, Dean criticized Rep. Kucinich for calling for cuts in defense spending.

On the military manpower issue, the CAP summarizes its position as follows:

"First, they must add at least 86,000 soldiers to the Army. These additional soldiers will allow the army to add two peacekeeping and stabilization divisions to the force, double the size of the Special Forces, and add more military police, civil affairs personnel, and engineers to the active component. Second, they should amend back door draft policies by reducing the military service obligation to four years of active service and modifying stop loss so that no solider is extended more than once. Third, the administration needs to give higher priority in the defense budget to quality of life issues. Fourth, the Congress must repeal the unworkable don’t ask, don’t tell policy, which forces the Army to discharge individuals with critical skills for fighting the war on terror."

Compare this to the right-wing Project for a New American Century, which wrote Congress on Jan. 28, 2005 calling for an increase in troop strength: "While estimates vary about just how large an increase is required, and Congress will make its own determination as to size and structure, it is our judgment that we should aim for an increase in the active duty Army and Marine Corps, together, of at least 25,000 troops each year over the next several years." When you get into the details, the differences shrink further.

Phillip Carter called for a draft based on pragmatism, not equity or fairness. He said the U.S. military is in a "pretty bad spot," and described the shortfalls in recruiting especially in the Army and Reserves and how more and more recruits are non-high-school graduates. He acknowledged that the Iraq occupation is driving recruitment needs and problems. Further, he argued that we sent too few soldiers to Iraq, compared the number of troops used in recent military efforts (e.g., Kosovo) during the Clinton years, and said that we needed "258,000 to 576,000 soldiers to pacify Iraq."

Carter said U.S. foreign policy requires a large military. In a matter-of-fact way – almost like saying the sun rises every day – he described how every 10 to 20 years the United States sends 600,000 to 2 million soldiers overseas to support our foreign policy. His thesis was that the United States can remain the world’s superpower, or it can maintain an all-volunteer military – it can’t do both. He recommended a national service plan, including military service, for anyone who wants to attend a four-year college.

Lawrence Korb criticized the Bush administration for not planning the war better and for ruling out a return to the draft during the presidential campaign. He demonstrated their failed planning by highlighting how they expected to have reduced the number of troops to 30,000 by the end of 2003 and be out of Iraq by the end of 2004. Instead, more than 135,000 U.S. troops remain in Iraq.

Regarding the draft, Korb argued that the Bush administration "provides a textbook case on how to destroy the all volunteer force." He said he was concerned about the draft because there are always loopholes that allow people, especially the wealthy and the politically connected, to escape serving. Even at the height of the Vietnam War, only one out of six eligible for the draft actually served. But he criticized President Bush for saying he would never allow a draft because that should be something a president keeps as an option. He asked, "Why do you think people are required to register with the Selective Service?"

Rather than a draft, Korb said he favors changes to make recruitment easier, e.g., for every year a soldier serves active duty abroad, he or she should get two years at home; National Guard and Reserve should have 30 days notice before being mobilized and should serve no more than one year out of every five on active duty; troops deployed to hostile areas should spend no more than one year in the combat zone. He also said he favors ending the "backdoor draft" by modifying stop-loss orders so that no soldier is extended more than once. He also wanted to see more money, benefits, and lifetime healthcare provided to soldiers. Finally, he said he wants the "don’t ask, don’t tell" policy repealed and women allowed in combat. With all of this, he said, we could increase the size of the Army by 100,000 people, and we could pay for the increased personnel costs by cutting the F-22 fighter, the Virginia class submarine, and the V-22 Osprey, as well as by slowing down the deployment of the unproven national missile defense system.

Both speakers saw the crunch hitting at the end of 2006, but acknowledged that the longer the Bush administration waits to ratchet up the size of the Army, the more difficult it will be. Some might think that the Democratic Party’s position is only a tactic – taunting Bush to make the political error of reinstating the draft. Whether a ploy or a sincere effort, it was obvious from this discussion that those who oppose the draft will not be able to rely on the Democrats to stop it – unless their spine is stiffened by the grassroots antiwar base. It is time to get organized now or risk being stampeded into the reinstatement of the draft.

Voters should be demanding that their elected officials oppose expansion of the Army, support the end of the Iraq war and occupation, and oppose the draft. Urge your representative to hold a public meeting where he or she should be required to publicly state their opposition to a draft, including a draft disguised as a national service plan. Make them put their view on the record in public so they can be held to it when the issue develops. The time to act is now.

More importantly, as a paradigm shift in U.S. foreign policy, we need to move away from a foreign policy based on maintaining the United States as the world’s only superpower. This approach will weaken us by sapping our strength – financial, moral, and human. It is time to confront the military-industrial complex, not kowtow to it.