Thursday, June 03, 2004

For those of you following the draft story -- and you damn well should be -- this morning's news caused you to spit out your Cheerios. The Army has just announced a new policy to force soldiers to stay in the Army. If your unit is due to ship out to Iraq in the next ninety days, you can't leave until your entire unit is rotated back to the U.S., plus an additional ninety days for good measure.

I'll take questions now.

Q: Okay, I'm due to muster out on July 1, 2004. My unit ships out to Iraq on October 1 for a one-year tour. Can I leave?

A: No.

Q: Apostrophe-the-f*ck?

A: You will stay in the Army for another ninety days. You will then ship out to Iraq and stay there for the full tour. You will then come back to the states and serve another ninety days. God willing.

Q: But I had a contract with the Army!

A: Yes. Your "contract" says that the Army can test unknown chemicals on you -- extending your tour of duty is the least of your problems.

Q: But it will only be another year, right?

A: Year and a half.

Q: Okay, another year and a half, right?

A: Well, no. You stay for the whole tour. The Bush Administration has been notorious for extending tours of units in Iraq -- 20,000 guys got an extra ninety days last year. You remember Hungry Joe in Catch 22, who only panicked when he was close to mustering out?

Q: No.

A: It's probably better that you don't.

Q: What are the soldiers saying about this policy?

A: They're calling it "a draft."

Q: Who said that?

A: "A brigade commander, speaking on condition of anonymity."

Q: What is new about this?

A: It applies to people that aren't there yet. All the soldiers currently in Iraq have to stay there until their units return home. So this is nothing new to them.

Q: But it ends here, right?

A: The Army has called up another 618 inactive reservists who have "valuable skills."

Folks, we got no more soldiers, so we're testing the patience of the ones we have. But we can't admit the problem: the Army is too damn small for what we're asking it to do. People who call for a larger Army (Gen. Shinseki) get ousted. So we're under this cloud of nonsensical up-is-downism, where it is not a danger sign that we're reassigning troops from South Korea and our training centers. Everything is okay, everything is fine, just be sure to register with Selective Service and then go back to sleep.

This is the mirror image of the escalation of Vietnam. At the time, the draft was an ongoing process, so it was less "traumatic" to take more soldiers through the draft than to call up the Reserves. And it happened bit by bit, 20,000 here, 20,000 there, until we had almost 550,000 troops in Vietnam and no prospect for leaving. After Tet, Johnson had his moment of truth -- another 206,000 troops to win, which would mean the Reserves. He backed down, and lost the war. (Whether he could have won even with with the extra troops is a long and involved question indeed.)

Let's hope that our own moment of truth never happens. It certainly won't come before the election. But imagine a second Bush term -- a Bush presidency when he doesn't have to worry about getting re-elected. And ask yourself whether he'll back down at the moment of truth.

 8:59 AM

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