Draft Fears Overestimate George Bush

11 November 2004

By Stentor Danielson

The past week has seen a chorus of predictions of doom from liberals. With the biggest popular vote victory since 1988 and a Congress packed with allies, George W. Bush is prepared to wreak havoc. He'll sell off our public lands to logging and oil companies, trample on the rights of workers, outlaw abortion and homosexuality, and draft our nation's young people to die in the quagmire of Iraq.

Not so fast. While Bush's second term will undoubtedly be a time of tribulation for this country, there is reason to think that the draft is one crisis we won't have to endure. Bush simply isn't a good enough president to reinstate the draft.

In the lead-up to the election, many liberals hoped that fears of the draft would motivate young voters to get out and put John Kerry over the top. They reasoned that the American military was clearly overstretched and unable to bring peace to Iraq, and little help from other countries was forthcoming. In order to finish the job, the Bush administration would be forced to boost troop strength. And given the average American's disinclination to risk death in the streets of Baghdad or Fallujah, it would require a draft.

It's understandable to want to accuse the administration of bringing back the draft, given the potency of the draft as a motivation for anti-Vietnam sentiment. That's exactly why Bush resolutely denied any plans for the draft all through his campaign -- he knew it would be political suicide. But even now that he has no reelection to plan for, I expect him to keep his promise.

The draft prediction rests on two premises about the president. First, it assumes that he is a rational utility maximizer -- that is, that he can select and execute the best strategy for getting what he wants. Second, it assumes that his primary goal is a secure and free Iraq. Neither of these premises is correct.

It may very well be the case that our modern high-tech military has no use for the kind of hastily trained cannon fodder that a draft would provide -- in which case avoiding the draft would be a wise choice. But I'll grant for the sake of argument that the draft would improve our military strength. Is George W. Bush the kind of man who would recognize this and follow through on it?

Consider how this administration has handled the conduct of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan so far. In both cases, the president has attempted to wage war on the cheap. When Osama bin Laden was cornered in Tora Bora, he chose to let Afghan warlords handle it rather than bringing to bear the full technology andfirepower of the US military. In Iraq, he ignored the pleas of his own generals for more troops, and failed to construct a plan for what to do if we weren't greeted as liberators.

Further, Bush is simply not the kind of man who can ask others to make a sacrifice. He's willing to exploit others, as we've seen with the current policy of stop-loss orders that practically enslave those who joined the army freely. But the kind of person who implemented the Santa Claus policy of high spending and low taxes is not the kind of person who could go before the American people and ask them to give their lives for Iraqi freedom.

He's also not the kind of man who would admit that the war has been unsuccessful. To reinstate the draft would be a statement to the American people that the administration's plan for Iraq has failed. But Bush insists on his own infallibility.

There are four options for handling Iraq: 1) win the peace with our current military force, 2) lose the peace with our current military force, 3) cut and run, and 4) reinstate the draft so that our military will be big enough to win the peace. Those who predict a draft assume that, since it's becoming increasingly clear that the first option is impossible, Bush will opt for the fourth.

Someone with a real commitment to securing Iraq would choose option four. I suspect that Kerry, after discovering that his plan to get France and Germany to contribute substantial amounts of troops was largely a pipe dream, would have given serious thought to the draft.

But for all his inspiring neo-conservative rhetoric, Bush is not primarily concerned with Iraq's security and freedom. Certainly he would like to see a stable and democratic Iraq, but he doesn't want it bad enough to sacrifice for it. His main goals in the war lie elsewhere -- to take advantage of the "rally ‘round the flag" effect that comes to a wartime president, and to gain the appearance of someone who cares about freedom abroad and security at home. By those criteria, the second and third options are superior to the fourth. He can choose the second while claiming that the first is just around the corner, or choose the third while claiming that we have accomplished the first.

Of course, this all assumes that Bush recognizes that the first option is not viable. But he has surrounded himself with yes-men (famously not consulting independent sources of information like the newspapers). Thus he is likely to default to the second option while believing he is just one more month or one more offensive away from the first.

President Bush's incompetence has damaged American security, and may lead to losing the war in Iraq. The silver lining for those of us who are young and able-bodied is that his incompetence will forestall the reinstatement of the draft.

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