The Draft

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(HOST) As the conflict in Iraq continues, commentator Bill Seamans says that military recruiters are beginning to fall short of their goals.

(SEAMANS) Our armed forces have prided themselves over the fact that, up to now, they have been an all-volunteer force. Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld says that volunteers create a more efficient military organization because higher standards can be set for enlistees so that the more trainable can be chosen.

However, that idea is being severely tested by the continuing uprising in Iraq which has put an extreme burden on our armed forces that was not expected by President Bush. Those wearing boots on the ground, the army grunts and the Marines, are said by experienced observers to be stretched out and strained to their limits. The Iraq burden has become so extreme that the National Guard and Army reserves are now providing more than 40 percent of our combat forces, and they are wearing down under the pressure. The question is how much more can they take without the relief of an increase in troop strength.

Then, in recent days, top officers have been telling us that fewer volunteers are signing up. On Monday the Washington Post headlined that senior officers say that the active duty Army is in danger of failing to meet its recruiting goals. This, despite the offer of bonuses of up to $20,000 to persuade experienced noncoms to reenlist and up to $15,000 for recruits just signing up. And only last week, Gen. Richard Myers, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff – our top military officer – told the House Armed Services Committee that all the reserves except the Marines had failed to reach their recruiting quotas last month.

Now it’s a known fact that, under the secretive White House regime, no military officer would risk his career by discussing shortfalls in our military manpower unless he had Pentagon clearance. Therefore, reporters familiar with Washingtonspeak are asking, “Is President Bush letting the shortage-of-volunteers story be told because he is preparing the public for a resumption of the draft due to “circumstances beyond his control?”

Inevitably, speculation arises whether this all means that a resumption of the draft is more of a possibility now than it was before the election, when a campaigning President Bush said, “We are not going to have a draft – period!” And Rumsfeld blamed conspiracy mongers for trying to scare and mislead young Americans. Rumsfeld said that “the idea of reinstating the draft has never been debated, endorsed, discussed, theorized, pondered or even whispered by anyone in the Bush administration.”

Those who are skeptical ask where are we going to get the additional troops needed to maintain our national security if, say, we have a new crisis with Iran or with a nuclear-armed North Korea?

As the noble author of closing cliches once said, time will tell.

This is Bill Seamans.

Award-winning journalist Bill Seamans is a former correspondent and bureau chief for ABC News in the Middle East. He spoke from our studio in Norwich.

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