Inside the Capitol

Tuesday, November 09, 2004

Backdoor Draft

SANTA FE Three months ago, this column predicted the military will need to reinstitute a draft in order to provide the needed manpower for all the situations in which we find ourselves.
Recently, I have learned that I aided a vast left-wing conspiracy to scare young people into registering and voting for John Kerry. That wasn’t my purpose, although getting young people to register and vote is a laudable goal and an almost impossible task.
In the late 1960s, I was adviser to a statewide college student group that advocated the 18-year-old vote in New Mexico. It failed to attain the supermajority of the state legislature necessary to get the proposal on the ballot, but a member of the group went on to become president of the Student National Education Association, which helped lead the effort that passed a federal constitutional amendment giving 18-year-olds the right to vote.
I was proud. Their arguments about deserving the right to help decide national policies that drafted them to fight in Vietnam were compelling. But the low numbers in which they have showed up at the polls in subsequent years has been embarrassing and appalling.
And now it seems the draft is again motivating young people to flex their political muscles. Both presidential candidates and nearly all of Congress vow that another draft will never happen on their watch, so the passions the issue has raised may not be necessary.
The furor over reinstating a military draft is attributed to two factors -- an e-mail driven rumor mill and Rock the Vote, a group that claims to be a nonpartisan effort to boost voting among young people.
I happen to be on the other side of the generation gap from both those movements. With a large e-mail address book, I normally feel very connected to what is going on in cyberspace, but I haven’t received a single e-mail trying to scare me about the draft.
Now that I think about it, however, the majority of people in my address book are Republican and their average age is probably about 65. No wonder no one ever warned of an impending draft. The closest my e-mail ever came to the subject was comments about the 68-year-old retired psychiatrist who was recalled.
Rock the Vote is an organization to which I don’t pay much attention. Its organizers say young people in America deserve an honest and open debate about the possibility of a draft and since both candidates essentially are avoiding the issue, the group is making a big deal of it. Organizers say downloads of voter registration forms are at about 40,000 a day, nationally.
Does the Democratic Party have anything to do with either effort? Of course it does, just not officially. Both parties take advantage of whatever they can. Does anyone doubt a GOP connection to the Swiftboat veterans?
The concern that led me to predict a draft had little to do with politics. I looked at the backdoor draft we currently have and asked how either candidate could avoid a draft soon after the election.
President Bush’s answer is that increased technology eliminates the need for large numbers of ground troops. He says he’ll close bases in Korea and European countries that haven’t supported us and use those troops elsewhere. And his exit strategy is an Iraqi security force.
Sen. Kerry says he’ll increase our number of allies and convince them to help us out. These solutions may not work, but at least they both have addressed the issue a little more than Rock the Vote acknowledges.
I still, however, agonize over intelligence reports that the situation in Iraq is much worse than the White House is willing to recognize. The predicted post-9/11 patriotic enlistments haven’t materialized.
National Guard and reserve units are unable to meet their enlistment quotas. Call ups of inactive reserves are being seriously depleted by no-shows and medical disqualifications. And reenlistments are fraught with stories of extreme coercion.


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