May 1, 2010  

Draft alternative

In “The Founders’ wisdom” [February], Lt. Col. Paul L. Yingling has again demonstrated a penchant for provocative writing that I fear will win him few friends among the senior defense establishment. I applaud him for his efforts, and pray he will continue to challenge current orthodoxy.

Yingling points out that the Constitution gives Congress responsibilities it has failed to exercise. As Congress retreated, the executive authority moved to fill the void. Although I am a critic of Congress, it pains me to admit that the trend toward less legislative oversight and more executive control of national security affairs has distorted the vision of the Founding Fathers. As Yingling demonstrates, it has also increased the odds our executive leaders will miscalculate the costs of using military force. Is it a coincidence that the trend toward greater executive control of the nation’s war-making authority has been accompanied by what some call the militarization of U.S. foreign policy?

Yingling argues that we should abandon the all-volunteer military when waging protracted war. Nothing would make me happier, but I feel it is a naïve hope. Short of responding to a peril as great as that which faced the nation in 1941, I doubt Congress would ever vote to re-establish a draft, selective or otherwise. If I read Yingling correctly, however, this is exactly his point. The use of military force in the future would be limited to only the most extraordinary cases. Was this the Founding Fathers’ intent? I believe it was. Is it compatible with how the U.S. has conducted its foreign policy since the middle of the 20th century? I think not. Since the end of World War II, the U.S. has exercised its military options in ways the Founding Fathers could never have imagined in 1789.

In the early days of the republic, the most privileged citizens were the ones most likely to serve. Today, the most privileged are the least likely to be in uniform, yet these are precisely the ones Yingling claims we need to fight a protracted war. Without a draft or a declaration of war, however, we will not see them at the recruiting stations.

A somewhat more palatable alternative to a draft might be to make military service a prerequisite to obtaining a federal job. Considering how attractive employment by the federal government has become for many, this might induce some of our best and brightest to serve in the military before applying for a federal post. If working for the government is about serving the people, then we should hold federal job hunters to the test.

To those of us who have great respect for the Constitution but little confidence in Congress, Yingling poses a dilemma. We can proceed down the path of greater executive control of the nation’s war-making authority, or we can get back to what the Founding Fathers intended. In today’s world, there are costs to doing both.

— Col. Andrew R. Manuele, Army (ret.), Tuckahoe, N.Y.