Multiple deployments, extended tours, flagging enlistment and retention rates—all are signs of a military that is over-extended.
The challenges presented to America's downsized military in Iraq and Afghanistan raise serious questions about our future capacity to engage in other parts of the world where our national interests are at stake. Opportunists abound, and there are a number of nations (Iran, North Korea, China and Russia, to name a few) who are capable of, and likely to create, mischief while our attentions are focused on fighting terrorism in Iraq and Afghanistan.
These concerns inevitably give rise to questions about the adequacy of the size of America's military. There are legitimate questions about our existing strength levels that we simply must come to grips with. Failure to deal with these issues could be disastrous. One reason we continue to avoid the subject, however, is because such questions invariably lead us to another question that most politicians do not want to confront—whether there is a need to resume the draft.
From a political standpoint, the draft is like social security. It is the third rail of politics. Touch it and you die. That's why Congressman Charley Rangel's bill to bring back the draft was a non-starter in the Congress. Who wants to see their political career founder on the shoals of involuntary military conscription? Therefore, as with social security, Congress would rather engage in arcane debates about the numbers than grasp the nettle and do something about the underlying problem.
I'm not a military expert or statistician, so I can't shed any light on the numbers controversy. Nevertheless, it seems to me that there are two important words that warrant serious consideration in evaluating whether or not we should bring back the draft. Those words are "public sentiment." Abraham Lincoln recognized the importance of public sentiment in shaping public policy when he observed: "In this and like communities, public sentiment is everything. With public sentiment, nothing can fail; without it, nothing can succeed."