Wave Your Program, Flap Your Arms, and Blow: Kerry Can't Feel the Draft

April 25, 2004

Last week Republican Senator Chuck Hagel of Nebraska said in support of a military draft for the war on Iraq: “Should we continue to burden the middle class who represents most all of our soldiers, and the lower-middle class? Should we burden them with the fighting and the dying if in fact this is a generational — probably 25-year — war?”

The problem with this is that if we pour $1 billion a day into Iraq or other new pieces of the empire for 25 years, we will burden the lower class (which Hagel cannot bring himself to name) and the lower-middle class and every other class with a complete breakdown in infrastructure, transportation, schools, and health care here in the United States. We won’t even be able to afford to keep locking people up for nonviolent crimes. We’ll HAVE to send them off to die or face a revolution here at home.

I made the mistake of flipping on CNN on Friday only to hear Hagel tell Wolf Blitzkrieger, I mean Blitzer, that we needed a draft in order to force rich kids to serve along with the poor. In the age of W, we’ve grown used to just assuming that Republicans are lying about their motivations, but this one has got to qualify as a super-sized whopper.

In fact, Democratic Congressmen Charles Rangel and Jim McDermott have been pushing for a draft for many months now because they think that placing wealthy kids at risk would quickly end the war. I’m sure it would, but a draft that was applied equally (much less exclusively) to the rich would be an historic first.

So, either Hagel believes that Rangel is wrong and that W would really send CEOs’ kids off to die, or Hagel is lying and wants a draft that the privileged could escape from, although he thinks the best way to sell it is dishonestly as an antidote to the unfairness of the non-draft military.

The problem with selling a draft to the public, even if you claim it will apply to the rich, is that much of the public is convinced that occupying Iraq has next to nothing to do with defending the United States. In fact, many of us think Bush lied to us. Some are still cheering for the war, but you can get people to keep cheering a lot more easily than you can get them to sacrifice their loved ones, and a lot of people aren’t even cheering anymore. Imagine how many more would stop if the media gave them a third option in addition to (1) continuing the war, and (2) cowering disgracefully while leaving the job half done and allowing the terrorists to win.

A major theme in the media in August 2002 was the need for Bush to give us a good reason so that we could get on with starting a war. The New York Times has now launched a new theme: asking Bush to give us a good reason so that we can get on with starting a draft. Trouble is, all the reasons he came up with last time were lies. What could he possibly give us now?

The non-draft military is indeed unfair, and it’s a pleasure to hear Republicans forced to talk about that fact. I hesitate to call it a volunteer military, because many of those in it had very few other choices in their lives, including few if any other legal ways to get a college education. While I don’t think the soldiers in Iraq are heroes (I reserve that title for conscientious objectors and intentional human shields), I do think they are victims. They were lied to. They have been used and abused. But that’s not a reason to abuse more young Americans.

During the Democratic primaries, Planned Parenthood held a candidates forum and asked: “Should 18-year-old girls be required to register for the military, as boys are now required to do?” This is the answer Senator Kerry gave: “Absolutely. It is impossible to have equality in America, to begin that march. It’s also impossible to respect, the reality that exists today. We have women flying F-16s. We have women who have been in combat positions. We have women in the war, Private Lynch – others. And you can’t have a double standard. So you have to make it clear that registration is part of it. I’m not for a draft under the current circumstances, unless we were to broadly go to war in a way that we don’t contemplate today, and if we did, I would make certain that draft was applied in a fair and equitable way, unlike the way it was delivered in Vietnam.”

So Kerry too believes that you could have an equitable draft and still have a war. But at least he says we don’t need a draft. Or does he? His campaign website currently contains these words about Iraq: “To succeed, we are going to need more forces on a temporary basis. Our commanders on the ground have requested it. We should provide it.” Just like the President, Kerry believes that decisions should be made by “commanders on the ground” and followed by the Commander in Chief. And just like Bush, he is willing to send more troops.

Why hasn’t Bush done so? Why is he forcing the current troops to stay beyond their terms of service? One reason might be that THERE AREN’T ANY MORE SOLDIERS TO SEND UNLESS WE START A DRAFT.

As Congressman Dennis Kucinich said back in January: “Reservists are being sent into combat in Iraq for periods of a year or more, lacking equipment including body armor, and our country at home is left without the ability to call on them in a crisis. West Point is replacing National Guardsmen on security duty with private security. That’s how thinly we are stretched. Our military academy has had to hire a private company to protect it. Lieutenant General James Helmly has said we are in danger of seeing a major exodus from the Reserves when Reservists get back from Iraq. Defense Secretary Rumsfeld is proposing that military police and civil affairs personnel be sent into active-duty to relieve the strain on the Reserves.”

For the sake of argument and in a spirit of shared sacrifice, I would be willing to agree with Rangel and Hagel and advocate specifically for a draft requiring that the children of executives and board members of companies profiting from the war go first. But, aside from the fact that this would never get through Congress, it would distract from what is truly needed, namely ending the illegal and harmful occupation. And as long as we are distracted from that, a draft — an unfairly applied draft — is inevitable.

Senator Kerry should be pounding this point home instead of insisting that we need more troops. Trying to be like Bush and unlike Bush at the same time can only make Kerry look dishonest. And trying to be like Bush is a losing strategy for a Democrat. If Kerry wants to lose, he will continue to listen to the DLC and continue to try to out-macho the sociopathic cowpoke. If Kerry wants to win, he will distinguish himself clearly from his opponent on the single biggest issue of the campaign and the single issue on which Bush has performed worst of all and for which he has faced the most criticism.

Jonathan Schell, in the current issue of the Nation, analyzes Kerry’s recent interview by Tim Russert and finds Kerry to be stuck between telling the truth about war and adapting to the politics of the United States in which only a pro-war candidate can win. This would make sense if we had a democratic media. Schell claims that a line of questioning by Tim Russert reveals what the voting public believes. Such is the power of the media that this absurdity can slip into the pages of the Nation magazine from the pen of one of its best writers. But let’s be serious. There is still a distinction between what the media tells us to think and what we do think. The media effectively chose Kerry as the nominee, in part by pretending that certain other candidates did not exist at all. It can’t do that to Kerry now that he is the nominee. Had Kerry answered Russert’s question in the way Schell would have, he would have energized a broader base of support. Following the media’s dictates to the letter ultimately means, for a Democrat, endorsing the Republican. Kerry would do well to recognize and move away from that path.

And we should help him. Here are three things you can do.

Call Kerry’s campaign at 202-712-3000 and ask Kerry to oppose a draft and support ending the occupation and the war profiteering by transferring power to the United Nations.

Sign this petition to the Democratic Party on the Kucinich campaign site:

Visit http://www.nisbco.org – the website of the Center on Conscience and War, and sign up to participate in their lobby day in Washington, D.C., on May 14, to tell Congress you do not want a draft. Seriously, which would you rather make, a trip to DC to lobby or a trip to Iraq to die? Make it a family excursion and maybe you’ll get to keep your whole family. And remember: this is not just a male concern. Our candidate is for equal rights.

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