WASHINGTON — The Pentagon is forcing thousands of discharged soldiers back into the military, but that does not mean the United States needs to reinstate the draft, the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee said Sunday.
“I can tell you the all-volunteer forces worked” when former President Nixon ended conscription during the Vietnam War, said Sen. John Warner, who was Nixon’s secretary of the Navy in 1973.
Opposition to perceived inequities of the draft spawned much of the early opposition to that war, due largely to deferments that exempted students and some draft-eligible men with political connections.
“We cannot bring back a draft now and make some young men and women go into uniform and not bring in a whole lot of others to do different tasks,” said Warner, R-Va., on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”
The cost of benefits would be prohibitive, he said.
What has brought up the question again is the Pentagon’s order last week to recall to active duty 5,674 members of the Individual Ready Reserve, soldiers who have served specified tours of duty but have years remaining in their enlistment contracts.
After that announcement, Rep. Rick Larsen, D-Wash., a member of the House Armed Services Committee, said, “If there was any doubt that this administration was conducting a pseudo-draft, this call-up should dispel that doubt.”
Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry has made similar complaints about the administration’s use of Reserves and National Guardsmen and a device called “stop loss,” which prevents soldiers from leaving when their obligations end. “They have effectively used a stop-loss policy as a backdoor draft,” Kerry said last month.
Chief among administration opponents of a draft has been Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld.
In January 2003, three months before U.S. troops invaded Iraq, Rumsfeld strongly opposed legislation by Rep. Charles B. Rangel, D-N.Y., to abolish the Selective Service System and establish a system in which all Americans and legal permanent residents, age 18 to 26, would be subject to compulsory military or alternative civilian service.
“There is no need for it at all,” Rumsfeld said.
He said draftees were of “no value, no advantage” to the military because they served for such short periods of time. He later apologized to veterans after Rangel and other Democrats criticized his characterization.
Millions of Americans have served compulsory military service during U.S. history. Under the Selective Service laws, men still have to register within a month of their 18th birthday.
Warner said the problem with reinstatement of the draft is that it quickly would become “one of the most enormously expensive programs, where we’re giving the GI Bill to military people and to those who are brought in to perform other tasks.”
Expanding the benefits of the GI Bill, which helped with housing, medical and educational expenses, to civilians forced into national service would be only fair, he said.
“You just can’t go out and equitably and grab 5 percent of the young people and force them into uniform without making all of the young people begin to do something comparable,” he said.