Supporters of the Iraq war like to claim that Iraq is merely the current front line in a battle for national survival against a vast and shadowy enemy. They call this opponent “Islamo-fascism” or “global terrorism” or “the enemies of freedom.” (How Saddam Hussein’s brutal but ruthlessly non-ideological regime ended up on this enemies’ list remains unclear).
For example, Commentary’s Norman Podhoretz assures us we are fighting the first battles of World War IV, which he estimates could last 50 years, while the Washington Post’s Charles Krauthammer conjures up visions of atomic bombs going off simultaneously in ten American cities if we should fail to maintain our nerve in places like Iraq.
Meanwhile, David Brooks of the New York Times complains that Americans were willing to sacrifice hundreds of thousands of troops to defeat Hitler, but are grumbling about losing a much smaller number of soldiers (so far) in the battle against Islamo-fascism.
Naturally the Bush administration encourages such claims while it tries to stem the public’s rapid loss of enthusiasm for a war that our increasingly overstretched troops are being forced to fight without any clear goal or exit strategy.
Here’s the most striking aspect of this supposed battle for national survival: for the past several months, the armed forces have failed to meet their recruiting quotas, often by large percentages (the Army missed by 42 percent in April). In response, the military has had to resort to such measures as keeping soldiers in Iraq for months after they were scheduled to be brought home, while calling up members of the reserves who hadn’t seen active duty for years, and assumed they never would again (in some cases, grandfathers and grandmothers are being pulled out of civilian life to help fight Norman Podhoretz’s World War).
Now if anything ought to qualify as a true national crisis, one would think this would. Here we are fighting for our very survival as a nation, and we don’t even have enough soldiers to fight what we are told is only a preliminary battle in a vast war. Even many of the Iraq campaign’s most enthusiastic supporters now admit that the main flaw in the operation was the failure to put enough “boots on the ground” to keep the country from degenerating into precisely the kind of guerrilla war our troops are now fighting.
The obvious solution to this crisis is to reinstitute the draft. Yet this is so politically impossible that members of the Bush administration are more likely to come out in support of drowning newborn babies than to have the word “draft” pass their lips.
But a far more modest step than bringing back the draft is available, and the complete unwillingness of supporters of the war to take it says a great deal.
Where are the calls for voluntary enlistment? Try to find a single speech in which any member of the Bush administration, or any other prominent politician who supports the war, calls on America’s young people (or its middle-aged – there’s no reason to be picky when you’re fighting for national survival) to come to the aid of our badly undermanned armed forces.
You won’t find one – and the reasons aren’t hard to guess. First, asking others to make sacrifices that you yourself refused to make, and that you aren’t willing for your own children to make, requires a level of hypocrisy that even most politicians can’t quite stomach.
Second, the politicians who started it probably don’t believe the war in Iraq is crucial to America’s survival. Or if they do, the way they’re fighting it qualifies as something close to treason.
(Paul Campos is a law professor at the University of Colorado and can be reached at Paul.Campos(at)Colorado.edu.)