An Army of One?
The recruiting woes of the American military continue unabated. The AP reported today that the U.S. Army just completed its worst recruiting year since 1979. The shortfall for the all-volunteer force was among the most dramatic, both in absolute numbers (7,000) and as a percentage of the target (80,000), since the United States ended conscription in 1973.
These disconcerting results reflect the ongoing chaos and unending carnage in Iraq. In this environment, the Army understandably will miss its goal of expanding by 30,000 troops, let alone adding two full divisions as many advocate.
Even more disconcerting is the political reaction to the recruiting crisis on both the left and right. Conservatives rush into spin mode, portraying progress in Iraq they claim is not reflected in mainstream media coverage. Thursday's Senate testimony by Secretary Rumsfeld and Generals Abizaid and Casey, acknowledging the woeful state of the Iraqi security forces, should quickly dispel that illusion.
On the left, many bloggers (including some of my favorites) see opportunity. Atrios and First Draft lambast conservative chicken hawks ("the 101st Fighting Keyboarders") who won't sign up themselves. AmericaBlog finds linkages between the growing body armor scandal and the drop-off on new Army signups.
Sadly, this gamesmanship misses the point. Our growing difficulties in maintaining an all-volunteer military force capable of addressing American national security needs over the next decade should trigger a fundamental debate:
Do the American people believe in a shared responsibility for national defense of the United States?
As I've argued repeatedly in the past, Americans must answer "yes." And as I described in "Getting Drafty" and "The Coming Draft Debate", current and emerging American national security challenges require the reinstatement of the draft and a new "hybrid model" of national service. Developments (including hurricanes Katrina and Rita) over the just the past several weeks reflect just how rapidly the pressure is building to bolster American military force levels.
The vast majority of Americans oppose reinstatement of the draft and President Bush has said it will not happen on his watch. Events, however, tell another story about the coming debate on the draft.