Monday, October 15, 2007

LBJ and the Draft

Yesterday's radio interview of Joseph Califano with Andrea Seabrook is worth a listen. They discuss the impact of the military draft on the Vietnam Conflict in 1967. Johnson was concerned that there were too many exemptions from the draft and he tapped a young lawyer, Charlie Rangel, to correct that problem. The notion of a lottery was introduced and the rest is in the history books.

I picked up on this revealing statement:

Charlie Rangel and I have always been for the draft because the draft is an enormously inhibiting factor with respect to a president's ability to go to war because he's got to have the real support of a broad spectrum of the country.

At some level I have always felt the same way, but this statement puts it into clear focus. This underlies my basic problem with what is now called an "all-volunteer" military. Reasons for enlisting in one of the branches of the military are as varied as the number of recruits. I'm sure a good many make the move for the much-advertised patriotic desire to protect and defend the country. But high on the list of reasons is an expectation of educational opportunities and financial rewards, unrelated to the real mission of the services, which is to provide warriors for military conflict.

I don't recall any groups like Blackwater during my younger years. They don't like being referred to as mercenaries, but I don't know how better to describe professionals whose missions are not that different from what have historically been military assignments. Draftees swelled the ranks of all the services so that grunt work could be done in-house. Outsourcing was not part of the picture.

Draftees only served in the Army, of course. But the specter of being drafted into the Army caused many young men to join other branches of service instead in order to avoid "the draft." I suppose they could be called "volunteers" could they not?

At the time, I didn't hear the phrase. Only when grunt work got outsourced did the term come into play.

That dynamic -- that a military draft works to stop a president from waging an unpopular war -- throws a different light on Rangel's position. Not exactly the manipulative spin his critics have tried to suggest. It's manipulative, all right, but not in the manner suggested.

In the same vein, that House resolution regarding the Turkish participation in what has been labeled the Armenian Genocide can be seen as a similar political tactic. Since the administration is hell-bent on expanding the war in the Middle East to involve Iran, possible Syria, and since a proxy strike has already been taken (Israel's hit in Syria that everyone pretends to know nothing about) end play to piss off Turkey is not all that terrible. If it has the effect of slowing the expansion of a war in the area, it can be seen as a ploy that cuts both ways. The last thing Washington wants contemplating expanding a military confrontation with Iran (and by association, Syria) is another "front" in Northern "Iraq" which everyone calls Kurdistan.

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