Since Democrats emerged victorious on Nov. 7, members of the majority party-elect have been chomping at the bit to change the nation’s course in the Iraq War. Rep. Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.) is one lawmaker particularly vocal about change. But while his concern that the burden of war is falling on the nation’s poor is legitimate, his solution – to reinstate the draft – is not a good remedy.
There are no easy answers when it comes to the difficulties our all-volunteer military faces. At the root of these problems is the military’s struggle to meet recruiting goals. Because of the shortage of troops entering the service, the military has instituted stop-loss policies that force soldiers to continue serving on active duty after they are due to return home. This unfair practice is an embarrassing reality of our “all-volunteer” military, and it is a sneaky bait-and-switch for troops already serving.
What is also deceptive is the military’s method of recruiting in poor inner-city and rural areas. Recruiters heavily target economically depressed communities in hopes of enticing financially desperate people into military careers. The benefits enlisting promises – a steady job and money for a college education – can often be too good to refuse for people living in areas where unemployment rates are high and opportunities are few. However, some reports describe military recruiters as being less than truthful when it comes to the coverage of military health benefits or the GI Bill. The practice of targeting recruiting in downtrodden areas is worrisome in itself, but it becomes unacceptable when military recruiters are deceptive.
Rangel argues that reinstating the draft will address inequality in military recruitment by spreading out the burden of military service among the rich as well as the poor. He also argues that a draft will make the government think twice before committing troops abroad because any military action would more directly affect those in the middle and upper classes. Addressing the unfairness of military practices like stop-loss policies – which essentially function as a backdoor draft – or cornering the poor into military service is crucial, and Rangel is right to press for change on those issues. However, advocating conscription is not the right tactic.
A better approach is to address underhanded recruiting practices and inequality directly. Inequality in America is severe and growing, and Rangel and other Democratic lawmakers will have the chance to fight this disturbing trend, though it will take a long time to fix.
For now, Democrats should call for greater transparency in recruiting. Additional transparency might not prevent recruiters from targeting economically depressed areas, but at least potential recruits would know the truth about the commitments of their enlistment before it is too late to change their minds. The military should respect the commitment of troops already serving by avoiding involuntary extension of their tours of duty.
Then again, it might be an even better idea to avoid unnecessary wars.