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Will draft fears sway voters?

Elect George Bush, two of John Kerry's surrogates said last week, and you or your sons will be drafted to fight in Iraq. "There will be no draft when John Kerry is president," Democratic vice presidential candidate John Edwards said this week.
John Kerry greets former Senator Cleland on stage at Democratic National Convention
John Kerry greets former Sen. Max Cleland, a frequent companion on the campaign trail, at the Democratic convention in Boston.Gary Hershorn / Reuters file
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Elect John Kerry, Vice President Dick Cheney warned voters in Iowa two weeks ago, and America will get hit again by terrorists.

Elect George Bush, some Kerry surrogates said last week, and you or your children will be drafted to fight in Iraq.

Inspiring fear in voters seems to be in political vogue this fall. (Cheney has since amended his comments to say he meant to argue that Bush has a more serious approach to deterring terrorists than does Kerry.)

Some voters seem inclined to believe that Bush would attempt to revive conscription, which ended 31 years ago. During a question-and-answer session on Wednesday, the mother of a recent West Virginia University graduate asked Democratic vice presidential candidate John Edwards whether the draft would be reinstated.

"There will be no draft when John Kerry is president," the North Carolina senator vowed, raising the question of whether there would be a draft if Bush remains in the White House.

Edwards’ comment came on the heels of remarks last week by Kerry’s friend and fellow Vietnam War veteran, former Georgia Sen. Max Cleland.

Warning college students
In a speech at Colorado College in Colorado Springs, Cleland told students they might find themselves pressed into military service if Bush wins a second term.

“America will reinstate the military draft” if Bush is re-elected and continues the Iraq War, Cleland predicted, according to an account of his speech by the Colorado Springs Gazette.

"Pay attention ... to what you've got going on in Iraq. That, ladies and gentlemen, is Vietnam. I've seen this movie before. I know how it ends. It does not end pleasantly," he added. Cleland has been in a wheelchair since 1968 when he lost both legs and one arm in a grenade accident in Vietnam.

Former Kerry rival Howard Dean, now traveling the country to drum up support for Kerry and raise money for Democratic candidates, said last week at Brown University in Providence, R.I., "I think that George Bush is certainly going to have a draft if he goes into a second term, and any young person that doesn't want to go to Iraq might think twice about voting for him."

The Dean-Cleland strategy seems to be an attempt to drive up support for Kerry among college students and perhaps among some parents as well.

According to Kerry campaign spokesman Mark Kitchens, Kerry’s position is that he does not see the need for a draft.

Kerry’s view is that “the way to attract people (to military service) is to be responsible about the way the military is employed,” said Kitchens.

He added that Kerry aims to “bring more allies to our side” so that the U.S. military is not carrying the full burden of operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Concerns about Guard and Reserve
Kerry said in a speech to the National Guard Association in Las Vegas Thursday that “40 percent of our forces in Iraq are from the Guard and Reserve. Far too many of you have been on the ground for far too long, much longer than was expected or promised. Far too many of you face additional deployments in the months and years ahead.”

According to a report issued Wednesday by the Government Accountability Office (formerly the General Accounting Office), since Sept. 11, 2001, more than 335,000 reservists have been involuntarily called to active duty. (The non-partisan GAO is the audit and investigative arm of Congress.)

The GAO report said, “There are already indications that some portions of the force are being stressed. For example, the Army National Guard failed to meet its recruiting goal during 14 of 20 months from October 2002 through May 2004, and ended fiscal year 2003 approximately 7,800 soldiers below its recruiting goal.”

Partly to remedy this heavy use of the Guard and Reserves, Kerry has proposed expanding the active-duty Army by 40,000 troops, but without resorting to a draft.

Kitchens said Kerry could meet this goal of 40,000 by ordering an intensification of recruitment efforts.

Bush opposes draft
Both Bush and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld have repeatedly said they oppose a draft.

"We don't need the draft," Bush told a campaign audience in Florida last month. "I'll tell you one way you make (the all-volunteer Army) work. I just signed a defense appropriations bill, which is the fourth year in a row in which we've raised the pay of those who wear our uniform, and the pay's getting better. And the housing is getting better."

“This country does not need a draft,” Rumsfeld told an Army sergeant who’d just returned from Iraq and asked about the draft at a town hall meeting in Fort Bliss, Texas on Aug. 23.

Noting the size of the U.S. population, more than 290 million people, Rumsfeld said, “If you add up everyone we are looking for in the active forces, 1.4 million and the Guard and Reserve and the selective reserve and individual ready reserve and if you add them all up, it’s about 2.5 million. And all you have to do is alter the incentives and we can attract and retain all the people we need. We do not need to go to compulsion.”

Rumsfeld recalled that as a member of the House of Representatives in the 1960s, he introduced legislation to create an all-volunteer Army.

He thought in the 1960s that “we owed it to people to pay them and treat them like we would if we had to go out and in (the labor) market, attract and retain them.”

And in today’s all-volunteer military, Rumsfeld said, “That’s what we do.”

Use of stop-loss orders
But Rumsfeld’s’ critics, including Kerry, have noted that the Pentagon has had to resort to stop-loss orders, which allow the military services to keep both active and reserve soldiers and Marines on active duty beyond the end of their obligated service.

Michael O’Hanlon, a defense strategist at the Brookings Institution in Washington, said in a recent article in the Army War College journal that “after criticizing the Clinton Administration for over-deploying and overusing the U.S. military in the 1990s, the Bush administration is now doing exactly the same thing — except on a much larger scale.”

He warned that “large numbers of active-duty troops and reservists may soon leave the service rather than subjecting themselves to a life continually on the road.”

But O’Hanlon also said “the draft is not the answer.” Instead he called for an expansion of the size of the Army and perhaps the Marines as well.