With the U.S. military stretched thin in Iraq and potential
conflicts brewing elsewhere, the possibility of a military draft is
developing into a campaign issue.

Rumors that President Bush intends to reinstate the draft
— which began percolating on liberal websites and chain
e-mails — have pervaded the rhetoric of the most notable
figures in the Democratic Party.

In response to an audience member’s question last week
following a campaign speech, Democratic presidential candidate John
Kerry promised he would not bring back the draft except in the case
of a major global conflict, hinting instead that Bush might.

“If George Bush were to be re-elected, given the way he
has gone about this war and given his avoidance of responsibility
in North Korea and Iran and other places, is it possible? I
can’t tell you,” Kerry, a Massachusetts senator,
said.

Bush and other members of his administration have insisted that
they do not believe a draft is necessary, and have no plans to ask
Congress to push for one.

“There are no discussions about the draft in this
administration,” said Bush spokeswoman Sharon Castillo.
“John Kerry’s raising that possibility is irresponsible
and a scare tactic.”

Some of Kerry’s surrogates have been more explicit in
using the issue against Bush. Earlier this month, according to the
Associated Press, former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean told students at
Brown University in Providence, R.I. that they would be in danger
of being drafted in the event of Bush’s re-election.

“I think that George Bush is certainly going to have a
draft if he goes into a second term, and any young person that
doesn’t want to go to Iraq might think twice about voting for
him,” Dean said.

The strategy may be working with some students. Tim Johnson, a
graduate student at the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy,
said he has heard rumors about the draft and is strongly opposed to
it.

“It angers me that we’d have to institute such a
policy,” Johnson said. “At the same time, the prospect
of going to war and getting killed is pretty scary.”

J.D. Singer, a professor of political science at the University,
said public outcry would make the passage of any draft legislation
“highly improbable” barring another major conflict on
top of Iraq.

Much of the past buzz about a military draft has been based on a
pair of bills introduced simultaneously in the U.S. House and
Senate in early 2003 by Rep. Charles Rangel (D–N.Y.) and Sen.
Ernest Hollings (D–S.C.).

Both bills call for a draft of both men and women, and they are
typically cited as evidence that Bush is planning to revive the
draft shortly after his re-election.

But what the chain e-mails neglect to mention, besides the party
affiliation of the bills’ sponsors, is that both bills have
languished in committee since shortly after their introduction in
early 2003.

The bills were put forth by Democrats as political statements,
in protest of the overrepresentation of low-income and minority
soldiers on the military’s front lines. A draft, they argued,
would spread the burden of war equally among all races and social
classes.

Draft legislation is considered politically unpopular, and as
such has little support in either house of Congress.

Recent questions about a military draft may have been prompted
by mounting evidence that the military, and especially the Army, is
short on troops and hard-pressed to find more.

Last Thursday, Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.) quoted a new report by a
Pentagon-appointed panel as finding that U.S. troop numbers are
insufficient to sustain current military operations and future
missions.

Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.) is one of few Republicans who have
publicly entertained the idea of a draft. He said last April that
conscription might become necessary depending on future military
developments, and has expressed support for the idea that all
Americans should “share the burden” of war.

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