On August 10, 2007, Army Lt. Gen. Douglas Lute, sometimes referred to as the Bush administration’s new “war czar,” was being interviewed on National Public Radio’s “All Things Considered.” During the interview, he mentioned that a draft had always been “an option on the table” as one of the possible ways to address the serious staffing crisis faced by the military. Lute said, "I think it makes sense to certainly consider it."
Media reaction to his comment was swift: his statement became a widely repeated news story, and some individuals who have been predicting a draft for the last five years seized it as evidence that a return to conscription in the U.S. was once again imminent.
In reality, there are a number of different ways to interpret Lute’s draft comment, including:
1. As a military planner with an advisory role, he was merely going down a list of scenarios for addressing the staffing problem.
2. He personally believes a draft should be considered and was willing to say so without first checking with his boss in the White House.
3. His comment was a trial balloon to test the climate and reflects a Bush administration desire to prepare the public for a possible draft in the near future.
I’ve been looking at predictions of a draft carefully for the last few years and, when the total context for Lute’s comment is taken into account — including technical and political issues and the other comments made by Lute and others — it seems like the explanation for Lute’s statement rests mostly in poor preparation for the new public role he was given.
Lute was chosen for his job as the president’s war advisor after several other high level officers turned it down. As reports have indicated, few professional military people at the Pentagon want to be associated with what is generally viewed by the officer corps as a disastrous war policy. While Lute is one who was willing to take such a job, his low position on the hiring list implies that his credentials and/or experience left something to be desired. One might expect such a person to make numerous political mistakes.
There is no question that a draft has always been one of the options in the government’s scenario planning. That’s why the Selective Service System and draft registration are still around. But whether or not the government is preparing for an imminent draft is an entirely different question, and the signs and reality all point to an answer of “No.”
Lute, possibly realizing his gaffe, went on to say in the NPR interview, “But ultimately, this is a policy matter between meeting the demands for the nation's security by one means or another," and “Today, the current means of the all-volunteer force is serving us exceptionally well. It would be a major policy shift -- not actually a military, but a political policy shift to move to some other course.”
Also, National Security Council spokesperson Gordon Johndroe quickly responded to the interview by saying, "The president's position is that the all-volunteer military meets the needs of the country and there is no discussion of a draft. General Lute made that point as well."
The Center on Conscience and War, which has closely monitored the draft issue for decades in Washington, has seen no evidence that the administration is gearing up for a draft, and I agree. If Selective Service were really preparing for inductions, a lot of very necessary logistical steps would have to be taken well ahead of time by both Selective Service and the military, and there are no signs of such actions developing.
Lute, an inexperienced new appointee, may not have fully understood the political role into which he’d been placed, and thus failed to anticipate the explosive meaning that is almost automatically inferred from any talk of a draft by a government official. But from our standpoint, that inference and the public’s hostile response to the idea of a draft is very important to maintain. Even if we have to point out that fears of a draft are not based on a true imminent threat, it’s an emotion that we don’t want to go away. If the militarists in this country ever come to perceive that the public has become complacent or less concerned about the issue, that’s the point at which the threat could become very imminent.
Information sources: Associated Press, Aug. 10, 2007; Center
on Conscience and War, http://www.centeronconscience.org/.
This article is from Draft NOtices, the newsletter
of the Committee Opposed to Militarism and the Draft (http://www.comdsd.org)