Has Charles Rangel lost his natural mind? Why would he suggest re-instating the draft? Most Americans do not want this. Nor are they particularly keen on sending more troops — short term or long term — to Iraq, which seems to be the increasing meme right now.

Most people like the idea of the all-volunteer armed services. So do I. However, I think/hope that Rangel’s point here is not to re-instate the draft. That is unlikely to happen. My sincere hope is that he is trying to increase discussion about

  • the current challenges of recruitment,
  • the size of our military compared with the size of the threats facing us, and
  • the socio-economic contrast between those who serve in the military and those who order them into dangerous combat.

After all, it’s true that the military attracts the poor and minorities at a rate disproportionate to our population. The military offers a respectable career with opportunities for education and advancement for the disadvantaged. If you watch black tv shows or listen to black radio, you will hear the carefully constructed recruitment ads far more than you would like.

It’s true, isn’t it, that the reason black people were overwhelmingly against the war in Iraq even before it started is because we are more likely to know someone who would be put in harm’s way. Rangel’s point here is that if service were more evenly distributed and wealthier, whiter people had to face the risk of losing a loved one to war, that decisions might be made differently and with more humanity. Like maybe choosing military action with great hesitation. Or maybe fully funding body and vehicle armor to protect troops. For instance. Something Rumsfeld and Bush consistently failed to do in favor of rewarding war profiteers with lucrative sole-source contracts.

The risk here is that in offering a crazy and controversial idea, that people might take it seriously. Like John McCain’s idea of sending in a lot more troops to Iraq. That’s a really bad idea. We don’t have anywhere near enough troops period to pacify Iraq at this point and besides, isn’t there anything going in Afghanstan and Pakistan — where Osama Bin Laden remains at large — that we might be interested in?

The bottom line: It’s not a completely crazy idea. Many of our allies have mandatory national service programs, like Germany and Israel. But Rangel is putting his political neck on the line with his draft bill. Proceed carefully, Charlie, or face the consequences.

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