Why Reinstating the Military Draft is a Bad Idea


This past July, Josh Rogin of Foreign Policy Magazine, published comments made by General Stanley McChrystal, the former senior commander of international forces in Afghanistan, at the 2012 Aspen Ideas Festival. McChrystal said that the U.S. should bring back the draft in the event of future wars.

"I think we ought to have a draft. I think if a nation goes to war, it shouldn't be solely be represented by a professional force, because it gets to be unrepresentative of the population. I think if a nation goes to war, every town, and every city needs to be at risk. You make that decision and everybody has skin in the game," said McChrystal.

Tom Ricks, a senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security, subsequently published his opinion of McChrystal's remarks in a NYTimes.com piece. Ricks agreed in principle with McChrystal, but went further with an extremely costly, multi-tiered service approach design that encompasses, among other things, service members performing international social work, along with various levels of service term commitments, and different amounts of pay and benefits for different military specialties.

Before being relieved of command of all forces in Afghanistan in June 2010, and retiring as a four-star general a week later, Stanley McChrystal was a career Army officer, West Point graduate, and Special Operations forces commander with an impressive resume of leadership experience in multiple combat theaters. He remains a highly regarded and well-respected voice in the military, government and academic circles. Ricks also rightfully deserves his well-earned reputation as an intelligent and insightful observer of military policy, personnel and operations. He is a Yale graduate, and a Pulitzer Prize-winning former reporter for the Wall Street Journal and the Washington Post. While accomplished in their own right, yet remarkably very different people, McChrystal and Ricks share the same wrong-headed opinion on a U.S. military draft for two very different reasons.

What General McChrystal seems to fail to remember, as many current defense officials and active component military leaders do, is the relationship of America's military to the American people is made possible by the nation-militia construct also known as Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution. For over two hundred years, this concept has served our nation very well. The Constitution's framer's intent is quite clear here — America shouldn't allow a standing Army which could eventually overpower its people and usurp the laws of the land, and if an armed force is necessary to defend the country or secure the homeland, the states' can and will provide the necessary forces. This is the ultimate check and balance. If America is going to engage in foreign entanglements or defend itself here or abroad, the states must be complicit in the endeavor. This is political capital carefully spent, and this is the "skin" General McChrystal desires.

Ricks' suggestions are equally flawed, but for a different reason. He argues for a large and glorified labor force that can operate on the cheap. The problem is any indentured servant is difficult to lead no matter the reward. A draft doesn't anymore connect America to the military as it guarantees success, ala Vietnam (former Secretary of State and retired General Colin Powell, a Vietnam veteran himself, adroitly outlines the concept of how an "all volunteer" military force was designed to operate based on the legitimacy and competency of a ready and robust Guard and Reserve).  It's tough enough to get volunteers to work cohesively during the chaos and terror of combat.  Imagine what it would be like for a bunch of draftees. You get what you pay for, America.

Again, the solution is the same for Ricks as it is for McChrystal. If you want "bang for your buck" but you don't want to sacrifice professionalism, competence, and a "multi-skilled" armed force, then you want America's National Guard and Reserves (for fiscal year 2012, the Army National Guard has been able to carry out both its domestic and overseas missions with only 11.5% of the base budget of the total Army, yet the Army National Guard makes up 32% of the Army's personnel, and maintains about 38% of the Army's operating force).

If the past decade has proved anything, our nation's part-time warriors have borne more than their fair share of full-time combat, and have acquitted themselves well and with honor. Oh, and along the way, thousands of them still managed to respond magnificently to domestic necessities such as Hurricane Katrina, the Joplin tornado, Super Storm Sandy and many, many others.

As Ron Fogleman in Defense News contends, "…we should return to the constitutional construct for our military and the days when we maintained a smaller standing military and a robust militia. In this time of fiscal burden, of seeking ways to lessen expenditures and pare down our debt, this is an idea that warrants real consideration. And the way to get back to this construct is pretty direct should our military and civilian leaders at the Defense Department be interested."

"To do that, leaders must put old parochial norms aside and be willing to actually shift [more] forces and capabilities to the National Guard and Reserve. This would enable significant personnel reductions in the active components [and reduce America's tax burden for defense spending]. Most important, it would preserve capability and equipment that has cost the American taxpayer trillions of dollars, nest it in our mostly part-time Guard and Reserve, and have it available should it be needed."

In short, while America may need a lot of things right now, it doesn't need to reinstitute a draft. We already have willing and brave friends and neighbors taking the daily risks our nation faces; they are doing it magnificently, and comparatively, without tremendous expense. What we really need are government and military leaders and other credible voices to embrace our centuries old Constitutional mandate and help return America to the nation-militia construct.