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Michael Smerconish Headshot

Why to Reinstate the Draft

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Maybe Charlie Rangel is right in saying that America should bring back the draft, although we get to the same conclusion for different reasons.

Rangel believes that reinstatement of the draft is most equitable toward all. He thinks it's unfair that privileged kids like mine don't equally share the burden of military service. Actually, I'm starting to think that making them serve is the best way to keep them safe. It sounds counterintuitive, but think about it.

Order in Afghanistan is crumbling. So far this year, 51 NATO soldiers have been killed in what are referred to as "blue on green" attacks in which supposedly friendly forces attack our troops. So even though the Taliban knows we are leaving, and could sit back and wait to make its move when we cease combat operations in 2014, it wants to send a message to the United States about the futility of the last decade of war in the same country that the Soviets couldn't conquer.

Meanwhile, as investigators still seek to learn the circumstances surrounding the murder of J. Christopher Stevens, the U.S. ambassador to Libya, an estimated 30 people have died in 20 nations in protests over the movie Innocence of Muslims and, on Friday, France closed a number of its embassies to prevent confrontation stemming from a French magazine's publication of cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad. In the final 50 days of the American election, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is demanding that an American line be drawn in the sand with regard to Iran, even though he has not drawn one himself.

We live in very dangerous times, and some who would otherwise preach fiscal responsibility seem to relish the opportunity to pursue even more on military intervention, overlooking that we can't afford it, both in dollars and in bloodshed.

Perhaps, then, the best way to restrain our leaders against another foreign entanglement is to ensure that any significant commitment of troops will involve all American families. We need to make going to war more difficult.

This won't be an easy sell in Washington. Despite a decade of war, there has been no serious discussion of a draft since 9/11. Rangel, a Korean War veteran, has been the exception. Rangel has said fairness demands that the white middle and upper class share the burden of war. He has formerly proposed what he calls the Universal National Service Act on four occasions, most recently in 2010. The only time he received a vote was in 2004, when it was defeated, 402-2, and such was the farcical nature of that roll call that Rangel himself voted against it.

In March 2011, Rangel tried again. In seeking cosponsors, he wrote to his colleagues:

"The test for Congress, particularly for those members who support the war, is to require all who enjoy the benefits of our democracy to contribute to the defense of the country. All of America's children should share the risk of being placed in harm's way. The reason is that so few families have a stake in the war which is being fought by other people's children."

Rangel proposed that "all persons in the United States between the ages of 18 and 25, if called upon by the president during a declaration of war, a national emergency, or a military contingency operation, to perform national service for a minimum of two years with few exceptions."

He said such a law would cut down the number of deployments for active duty and Reserve military units who now see multiple deployments during the course of their enlistment due to troop-strength shortages, and provide an opportunity to work in education, health care, ports, security, and other services as deemed necessary by the president.

That effort didn't even get a vote.

Last December, on the anniversary of Pearl Harbor, Rangel tried again. "It's abundantly clear that everybody does not assume the same sacrifices, whether we're talking about taxes or loss of life," he said.

Had there been a draft on Sept. 12, 2001, Americans would have rallied to the cause. Whether the need was for troops, a war tax, or rationing, the public would have responded. But a force recruited by mandatory conscription would not still be in Afghanistan after 11 years. Rangel has said that if a draft had been in place, the invasion of Iraq would never have happened. He might be right.

Funny thing. Rangel sees a need for the draft so that kids like mine aren't off-limits. I see the need for a draft to ensure that a trigger-happy president and Congress don't overextend us in a dangerous world to fulfill commitments that should never have been made. Either way, it's an idea worthy of debate.

Originally published in the Philadelphia Inquirer