Late last year, U.S. Army Chief of Staff Gen. Peter J. Schoomaker warned that his fighting force was on the verge of breaking down unless thousands more active duty members were added. He also detailed the necessity for the increased use of reserve soldiers.
"Over the last five years, the sustained strategic demand is placing a strain on the Army's all-volunteer force," Schoomaker told the commission on the National Guard and Reserves in a Capitol Hill hearing. "At this pace we will break the active component."
Secretary of Defense Robert Gates has also recognized the need for an increased military and plans to grow overall troop levels over the next decade in both the Army and Marines, with the Army approaching 600,000 active duty soldiers. But will that even be enough to address the ongoing situation in Iraq and Afghanistan as well as the increased threat from Iran and North Korea? In 2000, there were 510,000 active duty soldiers in the Army which was 12 percent less than the number of soldiers in 1995. Gate's request will bring the force back to 1995 levels, but if President Bush's unfortunate decision to invade Iraq has opened the floodgates and set the stage for more military conflicts, it will still be far too few troops.
In March 2005, Phillip Carter and Paul Glastris wrote an article in the Washington Monthly titled "The Case for the Draft." In it, they wrote:
"In short, America's all-volunteer military simply cannot deploy and sustain enough troops to succeed in places like Iraq while still deterring threats elsewhere in the world. Simply adding more soldiers to the active duty force, as some in Washington are now suggesting, may sound like a good solution. But it's not, for sound operational and pragmatic reasons. America doesn't need a bigger standing army; it needs a deep bench of trained soldiers held in reserve who can be mobilized to handle the unpredictable but inevitable wars and humanitarian interventions of the future. And while there are several ways the all-volunteer force can create some extra surge capacity, all of them are limited. The only effective solution to the manpower crunch is the one America has turned to again and again in its history: the draft. Not the mass combat mobilizations of World War II, nor the inequitable conscription of Vietnam--for just as threats change and war-fighting advances, so too must the draft. A modernized draft would demand that the privileged participate. It would give all who serve a choice over how they serve. And it would provide the military, on a "just in time" basis, large numbers of deployable ground troops, particularly the peacekeepers we'll need to meet the security challenges of the 21st century. America has a choice. It can be the world's superpower, or it can maintain the current all-volunteer military, but it probably can't do both."
Former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld firmly believed that the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan could be won with limited ground forces, a small boot print so to speak. What we have seen, and what was clearly communicated by former Chief of Staff of the Army, General Eric Shinseki, is that at a minimum, several hundred thousand soldiers were necessary to efficiently invade Iraq, and more importantly, control Iraq after that invasion. That did not happen, and it's unlikely that the additional 21,000 troop surge proposed by the president will change the situation on the ground much at all.
The United States needs more active duty combat troops. Reservists are an integral part of the military, obviously, but combat troops, ground troops, battle-ready troops are going to be the difference between success and failure in military theatres in the present and the future. Desert combat, door-to-door combat of the sort we may see in Sadr City, require massive force. The boondoggle in Iraq has buoyed extremists worldwide, specifically in Africa where the necessity of U.S. involvement grows every day. Re-enlistment rates for reservists will continue to fall and most reservists perform support operations for combat soldiers as it is.
Where will the U.S. get quality combat troops? The Army has added more recruiters, raised enlistment cash bonuses, spent millions on advertising and marketing and yet it still barely reaches it recruitment goals. More importantly, the Army has lowered the strict recruiting standards that were a critical part in making an all-volunteer Army a success in the first place. In 2006, over 2000 soldiers were recruited under new lower aptitude standards.
Over the next few weeks, the argument over whether to increase troop strength in Iraq or begin the process of bringing our soldiers home will rage. Either way, a significant number of troops will remain in Iraq for decades to come and now that President Bush has let the genie out of the bottle, potential conflicts with Iran and Syria, as well as the ongoing struggle between Israel and the Palestinians, have made it necessary for a continued U.S. presence in the region.
President Bush has consistently said that he has no plans to re-institute the draft, and with two years left in his final term, he will most likely leave office not having to do so. However, for the next occupant of the Oval Office, a military draft of some form will have to be a serious option. If the invasion of Iraq has truly expanded the global war on terror, the United States is going to need significantly more qualified, highly-trained combat troops. We don't have enough now. If we're to continue to be the world's policeman, we may, unfortunately, have to get them against their wishes.
Rey Davis is Editor-In-Chief of the Thomas Political Report.