The Army We Have

Over the weekend, Charles Krohn had an important op-ed about the future of the United States military. One of the things to watch over the next few years is whether the Army decides that it can’t risk ripping itself apart over the occupation in Iraq. The deadly insurgency war there is having a noticeable effect on recruitment, which is in turn putting the all-volunteer Army in peril. When the breaking point is reached, there will only be two options: rapidly drawing down from Iraq, even if the military’s goals there have yet to be achieved, or calling for a draft. I’m not sure even the most ardent hawks in the Republican party would be willing to take the heat for the latter.

The other point Krohn raises is that Iraq’s not likely to be the only unpopular war we ever fight, nor the only war whose ferocity makes potential recruits cringe and demur. If, as he says, our “adversaries sense they can win by wearing us out,” it’s time to think about the consequences of this. Krohn believes the solution is for our leaders to be absolutely clear, in every conflict, about why we’re fighting, what it will involve, what our goals are, and why Americans should support it. Clearly the Bush administration has done a miserable job on that front with regards to Iraq, but it’s not clear that a little pep talk, a dose of honesty from our leaders, and some plum recruiting incentives can swoop in and cure what ails the military. If the United States is going to stick with a highly-educated, all-volunteer force, then perhaps it’s time to rethink what sorts of wars and conflicts we can and should realistically get ourselves into, before deciding that what we need is a draft to fill the ranks. As Phillip Carter likes to say, we may get to the point where military missions are dictated by force structure, rather than the other way around. Whether that’s a bad thing or a good thing depends on what you think our foreign policy should look like over the coming decades.