Is That a Draft I Feel Coming On?


Rep. Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.), a decorated Korean war vet, Hugo Chavez hater, and incoming chair of the House Ways and Means Committee, is pushing a military draft as a way of preventing overseas adventurism. Talking on Face the Nation, the whiskey-voiced congressman rasped:

"There's no question in my mind that this president and this administration would never have invaded Iraq, especially on the flimsy evidence that was presented to the Congress, if indeed we had a draft and members of Congress and the administration thought that their kids from their communities would be placed in harm's way," Rangel said….

Rangel said he worries the military is being strained by its overseas commitments. "If we're going to challenge Iran and challenge North Korea and then, as some people have asked, to send more troops to Iraq, we can't do that without a draft," he said.

Rangel said having a draft would not necessarily mean everyone called to duty would have to serve. Instead, "young people [would] commit themselves to a couple of years in service to this great republic, whether it's our seaports, our airports, in schools, in hospitals," with a promise of educational benefits at the end of service.

More here.

Some immediate thoughts: The only thing more nauseating than a Cold War-style military draft is one based on "national service" that is inevitably defined as some sort of public-sector job.

And while Rangel's notion that a draft in which all served–even the "fortunate sons" of U.S. senators, to allude to Creedence Clearwater Revival's great antiwar anthem–would temper the U.S.'s willingness to get into wars, especially big conflicts, makes a certain amount of intuitive sense, I'm not convinced that's actually the case. After all, we entered both Korea and Vietnam with a draft in place (and the immediate pretext for widening the war in Vietnam, the Gulf of Tonkin incident, was every bit as shaky as the WMD stuff in Iraq).

It's also not immediately clear that, pace Rangel (and John Kerry is a pre-election comment about staying in school to avoid being sent to Iraq), the poor serve more in Iraq than the middle class or well-off. The Heritage Foundation claims that "the household income of recruits generally matches the income distribution of the American population" while other sources say the military draws more recruits from families with sub-median incomes.

Bonus: In his great 1995 interview with Reason, Milton Friedman, who served on a Nixon commission charged with evaluating the military draft and a volunteer force, was asked what he thought his greatest accomplishment was. His answer: "In the realm of policy, I regard eliminating the draft as my most important accomplishment."