CommunityPam's House Blend

The Option Nobody’s Pushing. Yet. — That’s the piece by James Dao in the NYT today about the draft. Out on the campaign trail, the candidates are hearing from people are really uneasy about the prospects of it, given the mess we are in. There’s no doubt that this will come up in the town hall debate. How can it not?

More than one-third of nearly 3,900 former soldiers mobilized under a special wartime program have resisted their call-ups. The Army National Guard fell nearly 10 percent short of its 2004 recruiting goal of 56,000 enlistees. The Army, concerned about recruiting, has eased some standards. And there have been bipartisan calls in Congress to expand the Army by more than 20,000 soldiers.

Just months ago, Pentagon officials suggested that a new draft could be avoided if recruitment and retention numbers stayed high. But as fighting in Iraq escalates, signs are growing that those numbers may not be adequate in the coming years. Thus, the new talk about a draft.

…The Bush administration has called for pulling troops out of Europe and South Korea, expanding the number of combat brigades to shorten rotations and increasing the size of the Army temporarily by about 30,000 soldiers, in many cases by delaying their departure from the armed forces.

Mr. Kerry has countered with proposals to expand the Army permanently by 40,000 soldiers, speed up training of Iraqi forces, double the number of Army special-forces troops and increase international forces in Iraq. Doing so will allow a swifter drawing down of America’s 135,000 troops in Iraq, he contends.

The mathematics behind these suggestions can be sobering. In the combined American armed forces there are 1.4 million active-duty troops, with another 865,000 National Guard members and reservists. That may sound like a big pool to draw from, but consider: Total active Army and Marine personnel are about 655,000, and that includes support units, training units, headquarters personnel and others who do not go to the front. During a prolonged war like that in Iraq, units sent to the front have to be rotated out and replaced with an equal number while they rest and retrain.

So maintaining a level of 135,000 ground troops in Iraq, another 20,000 in Afghanistan and a smaller force in the Balkans, while a garrison of 36,000 (soon to be reduced) guards the Korean armistice line and other troops maintain bases in Europe, creates a major strain. The current system is already drawing on Guard and reserve units to fill the gap. What is more, some military officers and political figures have long questioned whether 135,000 troops is a large enough force to prevail in Iraq.

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Pam Spaulding

Pam Spaulding