John Kline: Why I'll fight any move to restore the draft
Incoming Ways and Means Committee Chairman Charles Rangel recently promised to introduce legislation calling for a military draft soon after Democrats regain majority control of the House of Representatives in January.
Those who support a return to the draft typically cite at least one of the following three major reasons for doing so. Each reason is based on misinformation or is a cynical effort to undermine our military's effectiveness.
One reason cited by those who support a draft is a mistaken belief that today's volunteer military appeals disproportionately to uneducated and unemployable youths. The facts tell a different story. According to the Pentagon, more than 90 percent of recruits are high school graduates, which compares favorably to the 80 percent high school graduation rate of our nation's youth. In a recent study for the Heritage Foundation, Tim Kane conducted a demographic analysis of military enlistments from 2003 to 2005 based on ZIP codes. Kane found the household incomes of recruit families closely parallels that of the rest of the United States. His analysis also shows that recruit quality is increasing as the war in Iraq continues. The percentage of high-quality recruits -- defined as those who both score above the 50th percentile on the Armed Forces Qualifying Test and have a high school diploma -- jumped from 57 percent to 64 percent from 2001 to 2005.
A second reason often cited by those who support the draft is the overuse of our National Guard and Reserves. While it is true our National Guard and Reserves are being stretched thin, it is not because we are failing to reach the recruitment goals for our active-duty forces.
As the Cold War neared its end there were more than 2 million members of the active-duty military. To realize a "peace dividend" we embraced a policy of reducing the size of the military, which now stands at barely 1.4 million members -- down 30 percent. I've had my differences with this administration and the Pentagon over the size of our active-duty military and the overuse of our National Guard and Reserves, which is why I have led the fight on a bipartisan basis to increase the Army and Marine Corps by 30,000 soldiers and 10,000 Marines. We must find the political will necessary to increase the military as well as the political will to pay for it. There are many steps that we can take for this increase in our active-duty military. A draft is not one of those remedies.
A third reason frequently cited by supporters of a draft is reflected in the disappointment of some war protesters that relatively few Iraqi war veterans have returned to protest the war.
If only we had a draft, they reason, the war would be more unpopular and pressure would build to bring our troops home. They want to force our nation's youth into the military against their will to create a class of disgruntled malcontents who would protest the war as soon as they return to our soil.
It is outrageous that a small but vocal number of antiwar activists are willing to undermine the effectiveness and safety of our soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines to advance their opposition to the war. While a draft might do wonders for swelling the ranks of bitter veterans who would protest U.S. foreign policy, it would do great harm to our national security.
As a 25-year veteran of the Marine Corps, I am one of only a handful of veterans in Congress who have served in both the drafted military and the all-volunteer force. Having seen it from both sides, I can say without hesitance that the all-volunteer force is better.
Not only do I remain in contact with my friends and colleagues who are now at the most senior levels of the military service, but I also have the perspective of the midlevels, as my son just returned from Iraq after flying Blackhawk helicopters for the Army's 101st Airborne Division. And I believe our all-volunteer forces are the finest this nation has ever fielded.
Why? Because there is no substitute for a team that is unified in purpose. Under a draft, there would be tens if not hundreds of thousands of recruits who did not want to be there, and it would harm our nation's defense by undermining the camaraderie and cohesiveness of our Armed Forces.
To suggest a military draft with the express purpose of undermining that teamwork -- to force people to be there against their will to advance a certain political agenda -- is both reckless and irresponsible. That is why I will fight against any and all attempts to reintroduce the draft.
John Kline, a Republican, represents Minnesota's Second Congressional District in the U.S. House.