Saturday, November 25, 2006

The real truth about America's military and the draft

Charlie Rangel should have done a wee bit of fact checking on today's military.

It is staggering at how completely and utterly wrong Charlie Rangel is about who makes up today's military.

Charlie Rangel belief that today's military is made up of mostly poor black Americans is so far off base and he could not be more wrong.

Charlie Rangel also believes that if young people are drafted into the military we would never go to war:

"There's no question in my mind that this president and this administration would never have invaded Iraq, especially on the flimsy evidence that was presented to the Congress, if indeed we had a draft and members of Congress and the administration thought that their kids from their communities would be placed in harm's way," Rangel said.

The Wall Street Journal has an article out today that Charlie Rangel should read:

Harlem Congressman Charles Rangel created a stir once again this week with his call for renewing the military draft. His own party leaders quickly disavowed any such plan, suggesting just how unpopular the idea is among most Americans. Yet the proposal deserves some further inspection before it vanishes, if only to expose its false assumptions about the current U.S. military.

A vocal Iraq war critic, Mr. Rangel told CBS News recently, "There's no question in my mind that this President and this Administration would never have invaded Iraq, especially on the flimsy evidence that was presented to the Congress, if indeed we had a draft and members of Congress and the Administration thought that their kids from their communities would be placed in harm's way."

In other words, Mr. Rangel's real argument is about class in America, not over the best way to fight Islamic terrorism overseas. He's suggesting that somehow only the poor serve in Uncle Sam's Army. But his views are both out of date and condescending to those who do serve. Alas, they are shared by many on the political left, who think that the military places an unfair burden on the working class.

In this mythology, the military is overly reliant on uneducated dupes from poor communities because those from more affluent backgrounds don't want to serve. But the truth is closer to the opposite, according to a recent Heritage Foundation report on the demographic characteristics of the military. It's titled "Who Are the Recruits?" and Mr. Rangel, a Korean War veteran, might want to read it before implying that the military doesn't look like America.

According to the report, which analyzed the most recent Pentagon enlistee data, "the only group that is lowering its participation in the military is the poor. The percentage of recruits from the poorest American neighborhoods (with one-fifth of the U.S. population) declined from 18 percent in 1999 to 14.6 percent in 2003, 14.1 percent in 2004, and 13.7 percent in 2005." Put another way, if military burdens aren't spread more evenly among socio-economic groups in the U.S., it's because the poor are underrepresented.

Or consider education levels. In the general U.S. population, the high school graduation rate is a little under 80%. But among military recruits from 2003-2005, nearly 97% had high school diplomas. The academic quality of recruits has also been rising this decade. According to Heritage, the military defines a "high quality" recruit as someone who scores above the 50th percentile on the Armed Forces Qualifying Test and has a high school degree. The percentage of high quality recruits had climbed to 67% in 2004 and 64% in 2005, up from 57% in 2001

And what about race? In 2004, about 76% of the U.S. population was white, which was only slightly above the 73% of military recruits (and 72% of Army recruits) who were white. Blacks made up 12.17% of the population in 2004, and made up 14.54% of recruits in 2004 and 13% in 2005. Hispanic Americans are also slightly overrepresented in the military compared to their share of the population, but also not to a degree that suggests some worrisome cultural chasm among the races.

The overall truth is that today's recruits come primarily from the middle class, and, more importantly, they come willingly. This makes them more amenable to training and more likely to adapt to the rigors of military culture. An Army of draftees would so expand the number of recruits that training resources would inevitably be stretched and standards watered down. Meanwhile, scarce resources would be devoted to tens of thousands of temporary soldiers who planned to leave as soon as their year or two of forced service was up.

It's true that such training would help to shape up more young Americans who could use a few weeks of Marine discipline at Parris Island, and if this is what Mr. Rangel has in mind he should say so. But the price would be a less effective fighting force, and precisely at a time when experience and technological mastery are more important than ever in a fighting force.
"The military doesn't want a draft," says Tim Kane, an Air Force veteran and author of the Heritage study. "What the military wants is the most effective fighting force they can field. They want to win wars and minimize casualties. And you don't do that when you're forced to take less-educated, unmotivated people."

What about Mr. Rangel's point that conscription would have made intervention in Iraq less likely? It's impossible to know, but this is a dangerous argument for the future in any case. The main reason for having an effective Army is to deter enemies by making them believe we have the will to fight if we must. Mr. Rangel is saying the U.S. needs a conscript Army precisely to show an adversary we'll never use it. This is a good way to tempt Iran, say, into provocations that could lead to larger conflicts in which we would have no choice but to fight.

Mr. Rangel insists he will reintroduce a draft bill "as soon as we start the new session," but for all of these reasons it isn't likely to go anywhere. In 2004 GOP House leaders scheduled a floor vote on Mr. Rangel's Universal National Service Act, which would have required "all persons" to perform military or civilian service "in furtherance of national defense." The bill lost 402-2, and even Mr. Rangel opposed it.

Charlie Rangel is now part of the leadership in the House. He is set to take over the House Ways and Means committee.

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