Monday, June 20, 2005

Desperate measures for desperate times 

In my post of the other day (All you need is something worth fighting for...) I talked about how it was clear that the morale of the Iraqi insurgents is much higher than the morale of the Iraqi army and police and that that was an indication of the lack of legitimacy of the Iraqi government. But of course things go even further than that. Not only is the morale of the Iraqi puppet regime low the morale of their imperial masters is not doing well. Support for the war amongst the American population has been steadily declining, some politicians are now openly calling for withdrawal of American troops, and, most significantly, the U.S. military has been missing its recruiting targets by a substantial margin.

This last little problem, the US army not getting enough new cannon fodder, is potentially the biggest problem of them all. Without sufficient new recruits the U.S. military will be worn down and eventually cease to function which will definitely put a stop to the war. This is clearly a very big concern for U.S. military and political leaders.

The problem is they don’t have any easy solutions. They have already raised the age limit for joining the army to 39. They have also lowered standards by taking recruits lacking regular high school diplomas and who have very marginal scores on the army’s aptitude tests. All of this leads to a lower quality and less capable military and is not an option that can be taken much further.

Of course, another option would be for all the right wing supporters of the war to go down to the local recruiting station and sign up. But we all know that isn’t going to happen so lets not waste our time discussing it.

The last option is conscription. This could enable them to meet their manpower requirements but with huge political costs. Resorting to a draft will create an instant antiwar movement among other things. So the resumption of the draft will only occur when their backs are completely against the wall and they can’t think of anything else. And rest assured, they ARE busy trying to think of other things. Witness the following idea by the neo-con favorite Max Boot in the L.A. Times:

Defend America, Become American
Max Boot

The Army is getting desperate. Having fallen 25% short of already reduced recruiting goals last month, it is raising enlistment bonuses to $40,000 in some cases and lowering standards to accept and retain soldiers who would have been turned away in years past. A minor criminal record? No high school diploma? Uncle Sam still wants you.

Down this way disaster lies — the undoing of the finest armed forces in U.S. history. But what choice is there? With combat dragging on in Iraq and plenty of jobs available at home, there aren't enough volunteers. So far, a real crisis has been averted only because the Army has exceeded its retention goals and kept some troops in uniform past their discharge dates, but it will only get tougher to keep volunteers in uniform if troops are constantly deployed overseas.

There are two obvious, and obviously wrongheaded, solutions to this problem: Pull out of Iraq now or institute a draft. The former would hand a victory to terrorists and undo everything that more than 1,700 Americans have given their lives to achieve. The latter option, aside from being a political non-starter, would also dilute the high quality of the all-volunteer force.

Having reviewed all the other possibilities and found them wanting, I return to the solution I proposed on this page in February: Broaden the recruiting base beyond U.S. citizens and permanent, legal residents. Legislation has been drafted to make a modest start in that direction.

The proposed Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act is targeted at children of undocumented immigrants residing in the U.S. for more than five years but not born here. They would get legal status and become eligible for citizenship if they graduate from high school, stay out of trouble and either attend college for two years or serve two years in the armed forces. This bill, introduced by Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), drew 48 cosponsors in the Senate last year but failed to get a floor vote. It is likely to be reintroduced soon.

The DREAM Act is a great idea, but I would go further and offer citizenship to anyone, anywhere on the planet, willing to serve a set term in the U.S. military. We could model a Freedom Legion after the French Foreign Legion. Or we could allow foreigners to join regular units after a period of English-language instruction, if necessary.

When I first made this suggestion, I got a lot of positive responses but also some scathing critiques. A retired Army sergeant in Houston wrote (expletives deleted): "Are you out of your mind? The last thing we need in our military is a bunch of illegal immigrants serving in combat operations for a country to which they are not culturally bonded!" But there is no better way to build that bond than through military training and discipline. Drill sergeants have been forging cohesive units out of disparate elements since the days of the Roman legions.

In the past, the U.S. military had many more foreigners than we do today. (During the Civil War, at least 20% were immigrants. Now it's 7%.) The British army, among many others, has also made good use of noncitizens. Nepalese Gurkhas still fight and die for the Union Jack despite not being "culturally bonded" to it. No doubt they would do the same for the Stars and Stripes.

Some letter writers invoke the specter of mercenaries leading to the fall of the U.S. as they supposedly led to the fall of Rome. That's a misreading of Roman history. As classicist Victor Davis Hanson points out, by the 1st century AD, the legions "were mostly non-Italian and mercenary, and the empire still endured for nearly another 500 years." If only the Pax Americana were to last half as long!

Other critics think it's repugnant to ask foreigners to face dangers that citizens won't. But there is always an element of unfairness in war. Unless you institute a truly universal draft (we've never done it), some will always be more at risk than others.

Besides, the U.S. already makes ample use of mercenaries. We rely on tens of thousands of contractors in Iraq, Colombia and elsewhere, many of them not Americans. They would be a lot more useful if they were in uniform and subject to military orders so that we could avoid mix-ups like the one that just happened in Iraq, where Marines detained 19 employees of an American engineering firm for allegedly firing on them.

Would foreigners sign up to fight for Uncle Sam? I don't see why not, because so many people are desperate to move here. Serving a few years in the military would seem a small price to pay, and it would establish beyond a doubt that they are the kind of motivated, hardworking immigrants we want.

Anyway, what's the alternative? $100,000 signing bonuses? Recruiting felons?

Hmmm. Interesting concept. BTW, as I think someone in the comments section pointed out maybe we could have a meeting of needs here. The U.S. military needs bodies and the Venezuelan oil workers who were fired need jobs. Plus they would get to emigrate to their favorite country – the U.S. I think Juan Fernandez would make an excellent artilleryman.

Of course, don’t anyone take this the wrong way. I wouldn’t want anyone in the Venezuelan opposition to get hurt by an improvised explosive device. I’m just trying to match up willing workers with jobs that are going begging.


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