Charlie Rangel Revives Draft Bill

Rep. Charlie Rangel (D-NY) has been trying to reinstate the draft for almost four years. In light of the Democrats’ retaking of Congress, he decided to revive his draft bill.

[Link] After touching off a firestorm by calling for a new military draft, Harlem Rep. Charles Rangel said Monday that what he wants foremost are answers to whether and why more troops are needed in Iraq.

The congressman insisted that his push for reviving a military draft wasn’t just a political pot stirrer. He told an audience at Baruch College that his primary objective in calling for the draft was to ask frank questions about the basis and objective of the war.

Rangel’s rationale is bullshit. He’s not the only anti-war member of Congress; plenty of others have had little trouble asking difficult questions without calling for a draft. What he really wants is the equal sharing of misery. He talks of equality and says “everyone should share in the sacrifice.” One is left to wonder if he also thinks the best way to combat rape is for the government to hire women to rape a number of men equal to the number of female rape victims.

During one of the earlier incarnations of the draft bill, Stentor wrote that, “What’s being proposed is essentially to put a gun to Jenna and Barbara’s heads in order to change George’s mind, to have the military hold them hostage with a peaceful foreign policy as the ransom. It’s putting a gun to my head, making me and other draftable doves collateral damage.”

And it won’t work. There was a draft in Vietnam; George W. Bush still managed to get out. There is a draft in Israel, with virtually no possibility of conscientous objection; it’s a trivial matter for the powerful to get their kids out or to ensure they serve in support positions.

Two years ago, Rangel was dismissable as a lightweight. Now that he’s the incoming chair of Ways and Means, one of the two most powerful Congressional committees, he has far more power than is healthy for the average 18-year-old who lives in the US.

I didn’t intend to write about this, but this is another example of the means of totalitarianism. By itself, the draft isn’t totalitarian. Sweden is a perfectly democratic country with conscription. However, it’s easier for a totalitarian state to wage global wars when it has a draft than when it has to deal with people who don’t think dying for the leader’s ego is their purpose in life.

Rangel says that the draft should be discussed as a means of increasing troop levels in Iraq. But that’s an exceptionally narrow view of things; for a start, it makes a war on Iran more likely. Rangel’s idea that a draft will make wars of aggression unpalatable doesn’t agree with the available evidence, but the contrary idea that dwindling troop levels will make wars of aggression impossible does.

After the 2004 election, Ezra noted that young Americans rarely vote because politicians continually screw them. He discussed campaigns against pop culture, police harassment, and the draft as three different things that depress the youth vote. It makes sense: fear-based campaigns don’t work – they didn’t work for Kerry on abortion, and they didn’t work in Virginia for Kilgore about the death penalty.

Rangel thinks he can draft an anti-war movement. He won’t; all he’ll do is draft a war machine for the United States and depress turnout in a strongly anti-war constituency.

19 Responses to Charlie Rangel Revives Draft Bill

  1. J says:

    Charlie is desperate for attention because nobody pays any attention to Charlie. He’s a silly man.

  2. Rangel’s proposal won’t go anywhere, no matter how personally powerful he is. That legislation isn’t going to pass. Who’s going to vote for it?

  3. Alon Levy says:

    That’s my main hope – that nobody wants to be the person who voted to draft his constituents’ kids. But I also hoped nobody wanted to be the person who voted to repeal habeas corpus.

  4. llewelly says:

    Rangel\u2019s proposal won\u2019t go anywhere …

    It may go right into the Republican talking point grab bag:
    ‘See, you can’t trust a Democrat. They said they’d get the US out of Iraq, but now they’re trying to draft your kids. Democrats always lie. And when we Republicans were in power, we didn’t need a draft to win the war in Iraq.’

    And why, why is there no preview button on your blog?

  5. llewelly says:

    Let’s try that again:

    Rangel’s proposal won’t go anywhere …

    It may go right into the Republican talking point grab bag:
    ‘See, you can’t trust a Democrat. They said they’d get the US out of Iraq, but now they’re trying to draft your kids. Democrats always lie. And when we Republicans were in power, we didn’t need a draft to win the war in Iraq.’

    And why, again, is there no preview on your blog?

  6. Alon Levy says:

    ‘See, you can’t trust a Democrat. They said they’d get the US out of Iraq, but now they’re trying to draft your kids. Democrats always lie. And when we Republicans were in power, we didn’t need a draft to win the war in Iraq.’

    I’d love for the Republicans to say that. It would ensure continued Democratic victories, since fear-based appeals just don’t work.

  7. llewelly says:

    … since fear-based appeals just don’t work.

    I will grant that now is a bad time for the Republicans to use a fear-based appeal, and is likely to continue to be, as long as the Democrats manage to convincingly demonstrate probity and competence.
    Let’s see … I think fear based appeals worked in the US federal elections of 1980, 82, 84, 88, 2002, and 04.
    fear based appeals faild in 1986 and 2006 largely due to multiple scandals, and blatantly incompetent governments. I don’t recall fear-based appeals playing a big role in 1990, 92, 94, 96, or 98.
    Furthermore, the majority of US insane drug laws were passed due to fear-based appeals, as was the move to invade Iraq.
    I think fear-based appeals are often highly successful, in the short term. But they are not necessarily strong enough to overcome severe scandals or the appearance of gross incompetence, and the effects of specific fear-based appeals tend to ‘burn out’ as time goes on – people gradually lose the belief that the fear is valid.

  8. […] Alon Levy has some thoughts on Charlie Rangel’s proposal to reinstate the draft. I’ll cut to the chase, Rangel thinks he can draft an anti-war movement. He won’t; all he’ll do is draft a war machine for the United States and depress turnout in a strongly anti-war constituency. […]

  9. Alon Levy says:

    The fear-based appeals I’m talking about go less along the lines of “The bogeyman will come get you” and more along the lines of “The other party will release the bogeyman on you.” The Republicans’ attempts to equate voting Democratic with supporting terrorism have failed. So have the Democrats’ appeal to fear about abortion in 2004 and the Republicans’ appeal to fear about the death penalty in 2005.

  10. Utica says:

    as a 22-year-old non-student, i have more to lose here than most. believe me when i say that i do not like the notion of reinstating the draft.
    but i think rangel is trying to make two main points, and they should be taken seriously. first, a volunteer army means that anyone with decent options (money, college degree, job prospects, etc.) will stay very far away from combat, which results in an army populated almost exclusively by the poor and the desperate. yes, the poor have always died for the mistakes of the wealthy, but do you really want to be a nation that sends ONLY its most destitute citizens to fight? (do you?) as the representative from a very poor district, i’m sure the unfairness is much more palatable to rangel than to us middle-class computer types.
    second, why does the very notion of shared sacrifice draw such ire? people seem very very afraid of american foreign policy having a direct effect on their own lives. americans simply have no faith in the decisions (past, present, or future) of their government.
    maybe rangel’s just trying to rip down the humungous wall that stands between private american life and international american activity. maybe he’s just trying to point to a very serious class issue that has been swept under the rug. or maybe, just maybe, he feels that the american electorate needs to be confronted with the simple fact that almost no one in this country, given the choice, would be willing to risk their life for this mission.

  11. Yoram Gat says:

    With the trouble Bush is having feeding his meat grinder, and his grand plans for spinning that grinder even faster, the draft would have been already here, if it were politically viable.

    This is not only a matter of not having the votes in Congress. The level of dissatisfaction with the war is such that even if the draft were introduced the number of refusers would be so high that enforcement would be impossible. Vietnam has left a long lasting mark – both on the public and on the government.

  12. Alon Levy says:

    but do you really want to be a nation that sends ONLY its most destitute citizens to fight? (do you?)

    I want a nation that sends only its citizens who freely choose military service to fight. Supporting the draft on that ground makes absolutely no sense, unless you have evidence that the draft helps make people more willing to combat the poverty that produces what some term economic conscription. So far the evidence is that on the contrary, voluntary military service offers the lower classes a chance to escape from poverty.

    second, why does the very notion of shared sacrifice draw such ire?

    Because it’s not sacrifice. It’s 536 politicians who think they have the right to tell every civilian to go and be killed for their stupidity. Besides, it’s 2006, not 1942; if your war strategem requires a serious sacrifice on the part of the people, you’re fighting it the wrong way. The only people who should make a sacrifice are the people working for the military and for defense contractors who will be laid off if the US reduces its military expenditure from junta levels to saner ones.

  13. whig says:

    Why do we need a standing army at all?

  14. Alon Levy says:

    To invade random third-world countries.

  15. whig says:

    That’s not completely fair, Alon. They also occupy random third-world countries.

  16. SLC says:

    Re Levy

    1. It should be pointed out that the draft in the US only aplied to the army. The other services had only volunteers. Of course, the hammer of the army draft insured that the other services would find plenty of volunteers who consider air force or naval service preferable to being grunts on the ground.

    2. Currently, the structure of the US armed forces resembles that of Israel in the sense that there is a relatively small standing army backed up by large reserves. Such a structure is perfectly okay for short engagements but immediately runs into trouble in extended engagements. An American example of this was the US army prior to the Civil War which was an all volunteer force. The South resorted to a draft very early on while eventually the North also had to resort to a draft to fill the ranks. The reason was, of course, that the war didn’t end in 3 months but took 4 years. Another example was the British army experience prior to WW 1.

    3. The issue then is, what are the missions that the US armed forces are supposed to carry out. If the missions are extended, such is occurring in Iraq and occured in Viernam, it is clear that an all volunteer army sooner or later runs short of troops. If the missions are relatively short, such as the Gulf War of 1991, an all volunteer army is clearly to be preferred, based on the greater level of competence.

    The bottom line of all this is that the US has to decide what the potential missions its armed forces are going to be required to fufill before deciding on the question of a draft. Clearly, the inadequacy of the initial force sent into Iraq despite the expert opinion of General Shinseki, was due to the fact that the force which he called for was not available, unless large numbers of reserves and national guard troops were called up, which would have been politically unsustainable. Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately if one is opposed to the use of military force to attack problems), an Israeli type of armed force cannot sustain a long war.

  17. Pink Slip says:

    I don’t think reinstating the draft would create a larger American war machine. I think it would create rioting in the streets. It’s easy for citizens to sit by while our all-volunteer army is ordered into a bullshit war. It would be different if people were forced to fight in said BS war.

  18. Alon Levy says:

    It’s also easy for them to sit by while there is universal conscription. In Israel, conscription hasn’t caused riots; it’s caused people to develop a culture that reveres the military.

  19. Alon Levy says:

    SLC, the extended missions you talk about are, or at least should be, a thing of the past. The US faces two serious threats: terrorism, and a cold war with China. Terrorism is something you can’t solve with protracted military force; you need a competent police force, a working approach to international development, and occasional small military strikes. Cold wars are more diplomatic and economic than military; the US needed a draft only at two points in the original Cold War, both of which were avoidable with a bit of intelligent planning.

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