WASHINGTON, D.C. -- During the 2004 presidential campaign, the Democrats' standard bearer, John "Study or Get Stuck in Iraq" Kerry, was fond of claiming that if President Bush got re-elected, he would reinstate the draft. Though no Republican has advocated such a measure, the draft idea has created a lot of hot air on television and talk-radio outlets, which is what its proponents want in order to further depress support for the war in Iraq.
The champion of conscription is a legitimate Korean War hero -- Rep. Charlie Rangel, the dean of the New York congressional delegation, who was decorated with a Bronze Star in the Forgotten War. Last week on CBS he said, "I don't see how anyone can support the war and not support the draft." Long an advocate of legislation to begin conscription, he says a draft would ensure a "more equitable representation of people making sacrifices."
Rangel introduced a measure to have Congress reinstitute the draft early in 2003 and talked about it every chance he had. After he pegged the needle on the national conspiracy theory monitor that a draft was only a Bush victory away, Republicans called his bluff and brought his bill to the House floor. In October 2004, it went down to defeat on a 402-2 vote.
But that was two years ago, before the press and the politicians succeeded in molding public opinion so thoroughly against the war. Now Democrats, after campaigning for change in Iraq, have a certain responsibility to improve the situation in Mesopotamia. Knowing that it's not as easy as they made it sound on the campaign trail -- and needing more leverage to try to get the troop withdrawal they want -- Rangel is leading the charge to make young Americans believe that if the troops don't come home tomorrow, Uncle Sam will outfit college students with fatigues and ship them overseas.
"As long as Americans are being shipped off to war," Rangel says, "then everyone should be vulnerable." According to Rangel's office, all men and women up to 42 years of age would be eligible conscripts. He would exempt only those who have health problems or "reasons of conscience." And since the entire liberal establishment is against the war in Iraq, one can only conclude that all registered Democrats would be exempted from service.
Rangel's "reasoning" is directly contradicted by reality in today's Army, Navy, Air Force, Coast Guard and Marine Corps.
Rangel and others have claimed that conscription is necessary to ensure that our military more closely resembles the "economic makeup" of our nation. The Congressman from Harlem has said, "for those who say the poor fight better, I say give the rich a chance." But the allegation that the current war is being fought -- and that casualties are disproportionately suffered -- by poor, urban, minority males simply isn't substantiated by the racial, ethnic, economic and educational data available.
Despite denigrating comments like Sen. Kerry's "If you don't study hard you get stuck in Iraq," today's soldier, sailor, airman, Guardsman and Marine is better educated than his civilian counterpart. And according to the Department of Defense, the overwhelming majority of military personnel killed in action in Afghanistan and Iraq -- nearly 74 percent -- have been white. Hispanic/Latino deaths make up about 11.5 percent; blacks account for less than 10 percent. Yet, the overall U.S. population of more than 300 million is 14 percent Hispanic and 12 percent black.
In nine trips to cover our troops in Afghanistan and Iraq for FOX News, I've never heard a single officer or non-commissioned officer in any branch of our armed forces advocate returning to the draft. That's because they know that today's all-volunteer force is smarter, better educated, trained, equipped and more combat-experienced than any military in history.
Our troops are so good because the standards for admission are so high -- standards, history has shown, that it would be impossible to keep with conscription. According to the GAO, "at least half of today's youth between the ages of 16 and 21 are not qualified to serve in the military because they fail to meet the military's entry standards for education, aptitude, health, moral character or other requirements."
Reinstituting the draft would inevitably require that these standards be lowered. We've made that mistake before. In the late 1960s President Lyndon Johnson implemented what he called "Project One Hundred Thousand" -- a program that forced the military to accept draftees who would otherwise have been rejected.
That program was a disaster and a modern draft would be as well. Most sensible people in Washington know that, but it hasn't stopped some of them from promoting the idea to denigrate the war effort and the motivations of those who voluntarily serve our country. The idea of a draft has so far received a chilly reception, but cynicism is alive and well on Capitol Hill.