Rangel’s Right: It’s Time for Another Draft

Universal service is good for the young and for the country.

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The Army has adopted a new motto of sorts: "Projecting a credibility that prevents conflict."

Daniel Gallington is the senior policy and program adviser at the George C. Marshall Institute in Arlington, Va. He served in senior national security policy positions in the Office of the Secretary of Defense, the Department of Justice, and as bipartisan general counsel for the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.

Washington politicians remind many of the great Elton John/Bernie Taupin lyric from "Bennie and the Jets"—"Oh but they're weird and they're wonderful."

For example, there's Rep. Charlie Rangel, the very long term congressman from Harlem in New York City who was recently censured by the House Ethics Committee. Rangel, you may recall—but only if you're old enough—took over in 1971 from another ethically impaired congressman, Adam Clayton Powell. He leads the way for left-leaning big city politicians, and is loved by the liberal media, wherever based and by whoever sponsored.  In other words, Rangel is a true champion of the inner city welfare state who has reached political Nirvana with the Obama administration.

But wait! Bless his Korean War veteran and distinguished Army service heart, he now has turned back the hands of time for us older military veterans of all political persuasions: Rangel has again introduced bills to reinstate the draft, or other universal service, this time including women.

[ See a collection of political cartoons on Congress.]

Now, let's get to motives: Rangel thinks that if our military is made up of mainly draftees—and a true "cross section" of the country—that we won't so easily decide to commit them to conflict around the world. On his congressional website Rangel puts it this way:

Reinstating the draft and requiring women to register for the Selective Service would compel the American public to have a stake in the wars we fight as a nation. We must question why and how we go to war, and who decides to send our men and women into harm's way.

However, in this respect, we should remember that of the over 58,000 killed during the Vietnam War, almost 40,000 were 20-years-old and younger and over 33,000 were just 18—and mostly draftees! The historical lesson here seems contrary to Rangel's basic premise and assumption.

[ See a collection of political cartoons on defense spending.]

Rangel's bill requires two years' public service from everyone. Again, from his website:

The National Universal Service Act (H.R 747), also known as the "draft" bill, would require 30 million people in the United States between the ages of 18 and 25 to perform two years of national service in either the armed services or in civilian life. It would build upon the community service infrastructure already in place such as the Peace Corps and AmeriCorps, as well as local initiatives such as NYC Serve. The National Universal Service Act was first introduced in 2003 at the height of protest against going to war with Iraq, and was reintroduced in 2006, 2007, 2010, and 2011. Rangel's All American Selective Service Act (H.R. 748) would require women to enroll in the Selective Service System, which would double the number of registrants.

The concept of "universal service" is not a new idea: Eisenhower was a big fan of it and Roosevelt implemented a version of it with the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s. And many of us who served during the draft years believe that the draft was, on balance, a good thing in that many kids got the essential direction of their lives from the military. Specifically, many look back at their military experiences as among the most positive influences in their younger lives.

[ Read the U.S. News Debate: Should Women Be Allowed to Fight in Combat?]

There's another key aspect of this issue: The "point of the spear" in war is still the individual soldier or Marine; however, todays all volunteer force is a much older, more experienced warrior than his counterpart in earlier wars. Not only that, looking at current casualty numbers, it's clear that we are losing far more middle grade people in combat than we did in earlier wars.

The effects? When we lose our "hard stripers," as the enlisted middle grade noncommissioned officers are known, we're losing the real backbone of our combat forces and this impacts directly on our ability to prevail in combat situations, whether in large or small unit operations.

And, we are sending this valuable category of soldier and Marine back into harms way time after time after time. In addition, the stress of multiple deployments often causes their families to pressure them to leave the service. Why wouldn't they?  Some of these brave men and women are on their sixth, eighth or even 10th deployment. How many times do you lay your life on the line before your luck runs out? Who can blame them for leaving the service—or their families from complaining about it?

[ Read the U.S. News Debate: Should the U.S. Intervene in Syria with Military Action?]

It isn't fair, it isn't moral, it isn't right and it isn't even smart, to the extent that it endangers us all because it substantially affects our ability to defend ourselves as a nation, therefore directly impacting on our national security.

So, should we have a universal service draft? Yes. We have a serious manpower problem; if we don't—or can't—fix it we will be unable to sustain the necessary levels of troops we need, deployed or otherwise, to defend ourselves. The terrorism threat is everybody's war and everybody here ought to be both required—and honored—to serve our country in one way or another.

Charlie Rangel is right on with his latest bill to reinstate the draft.