Tom Ricks concludes his call for a revived draft with a common, misleading idea:
But most of all, having a draft might, as General McChrystal said, make Americans think more carefully before going to war. Imagine the savings — in blood, tears and national treasure — if we had thought twice about whether we really wanted to invade Iraq.
If I understand Ricks’ three-tiered national service system, it wouldn’t necessarily make the government more cautious when deciding whether to wage unnecessary wars. According to Ricks’ system, conscripts would be put to work doing menial tasks for the military here in the U.S., they would be sent into some form of civilian national service, or they could opt out all together (and thereby forego all benefits from the federal government). If there were a war, it seems that none of these conscripts would be expected to fight, since none of them would have been trained to do so. If a future administration were contemplating an unnecessary war, I don’t see why it would face any additional political resistance because of this revived draft.
The Iraq war was misleadingly sold to Congress and the public as a relatively low-cost, short-term affair (among other things), so conscription wouldn’t have made much of a difference in preventing it. If we want our political leaders to “think twice” about the wisdom of needlessly invading a country whose government posed no major threat to the United States, perhaps we should start by holding accountable the politicians that failed to do so. Perhaps the military would benefit from some of the reforms Ricks proposes, but it is extremely doubtful that it would make the government less prone to wage an unnecessary war when there is a bipartisan policy consensus in favor of it. If we want to avoid unnecessary wars in the future, we need political leaders less inclined to favoring aggressive policies and less eager to take military action as anything other than the last resort. Reviving conscription doesn’t make any of that more likely.