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Rough Drafts

State of the Union: No one would need to think about drafting your sons if our leaders could explain what the U.S. military is for.
(Bumble Dee via Shutterstock)

Joe Plenzler is a retired Marine lieutenant colonel who was strategic advisor for communication to the commandants of the Marine Corps from 2010 to 2015. He would like to draft your sons, and, while they go unmentioned, probably your daughters. 

In an opinion piece for Military.com, Plenzler proposes a hybrid recruitment model for the American armed forces. 


We should have our military recruiters sign up new troops for 11 months out of the year, and then have the Selective Service draft the delta between the military's needs and the total number recruited.

This model would alleviate the incredible pressure on our recruiters, lower the cost of finding new troops, and significantly reduce the much decried civilian-military gap by subjecting all of America's youth -- rich and poor -- to the possibility of military service via the draft.

In Plenzler’s telling, this arrangement would also solve the disconnect between domestic politics and foreign adventurism, forcing a wider slice of the electorate to pay attention to open-ended operations around the world and hence to hold our leadership accountable. 

While from a purely military interests perspective the proposal makes basic sense, the rationalizations supposed to convince us civilians—still in charge for now—are naive at best. Ending the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and bringing troops home from stations around the globe was long popular among the general electorate, to little effect until the election of Donald Trump and national populist energy forced a few concessions. 

The current recruitment crisis is in part a crisis because the de facto American military caste of the so-called Southern Smile feels disregarded by a defense apparatus committed to social engineering projects that place them at the bottom of an identity hierarchy. That and close to three quarters of draft-age men in this country are disqualified by fatness, criminal records, or failure to finish high school. Perhaps a targeted draft enlisting the children of Pentagon brass and members of Congress would prompt reconsideration from our establishment, but at its current wished for size the U.S. military remains too small to be felt by the nation at large.

That is not a call for a bigger military; one can hardly imagine a country in which the institutional interests of the armed forces were more represented. And a recent report from RAND Corporation on the military’s force structure further highlights how much of our troubles are self-inflicted. The report finds we can no longer rely on technological and numerical superiority to our adversaries, that our forces are not configured for a two front or two theater global conflict addressing both Russia and China. 

Well, obviously. We spent two decades focused on counterinsurgency in the Middle East, using the weapons and soldiers of the future against terror cells and the Taliban. We still lost, because technology is not everything. The high-tech game against near peer adversaries is even harder, and we have come no closer to defining our national interests or aspirations. 

Until we do, and leaders step up who can articulate our purposes both for the American people and the armed forces, directing spending and focus to what matters, the recruitment deficit will continue and we will remain unprepared for the crises of tomorrow. But as I bemoaned in my column today, everything about our national defense arrangements seems designed to avoid accountability.


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