Deflating Salon’s Draft Paranoia

There’s been a lot of buzz floating around the Web about whether the draft is coming back, thanks to a recent article in Salon that explored the subject. The Salon article was prompted by the appearance on (a Defense Department site) of an announcement seeking volunteers to staff 2,000 local draft boards; these boards would be the critical institutions that would implement any functional draft. Salon’s Dave Lindorff takes this as the jumping-off point to declare that the Bush Administration is trying to “bring the draft boards back to life” on the sly.

However, a close reading of the Salon article and the sources Lindorff cites indicates that he’s pretty much off base. Lindorff cites three major developments to make his case that the Administration is quietly doing the groundwork to bring back the draft:

  • The DefendAmerica announcement, which he takes to indicate a sudden need for volunteers
  • The introduction into both houses of Congress of bills to reintroduce the draft
  • An unsourced citation of “local draft board volunteers” who “report that at training sessions last summer, they were unexpectedly asked to recommend people to fill some of the estimated 16 percent of board seats that are vacant nationwide.”

Let’s take each of these in turn.

First, the DefendAmerica announcement. Yes, the Selective Service System is seeking volunteers to staff the local draft boards. But, contrary to what Lindorff seems to assert, that’s nothing new — they are always seeking those volunteers. That’s because they have to maintain a skeleton crew for each of those local boards that they could quickly staff up in case of emergency. So, they keep a minimal number of volunteers — currently, about 11,000 — on the rolls, and give them some simple training every year. Now, that’s not nearly as many volunteers as they’d need to actually carry out a draft, but what matters is that they have an ongoing need for volunteers, so it’s entirely possible that this announcement is just routine and actually signals no policy change whatsoever. Lindorff found no Defense Department or Selective Service official who was willing to say otherwise, so unless he’s got some other information he’s not sharing I can’t see how this is a big deal.

Next, the bills to reintroduce the draft. These were dropped in the hopper back in January — on the House side as H.R. 163 by Rep. Charlie Rangel (D-NY) and on the Senate side as S. 89 by Sen. Fritz Hollings (D-SC). Note that both these gentlemen are Democrats — that’s your first clue that these bills are not what they seem. January was when the run-up to the conflict in Iraq was first beginning, you see, and Democrats were looking for ways to dramatize the potential costs and risks of Bush’s little war. These bills, rather than serious pieces of legislation actually intended to reinstate the draft, were pieces of political theater — bills meant to get people thinking about what war really costs. I think Rangel and Hollings would be as shocked as anyone else if these bills ever actually came up for a vote. So, this is a pretty weak reed to base an argument on, too.

Finally, there’s an offhand mention of volunteers who say they’re being pressed to find people to fill the rest of those unfilled volunteer slots I mentioned before on the local draft boards. Now, if that’s true, that would be news, since it would be a clear sign of a change in policy — but Lindorff only mentions it in passing, and doesn’t have any quotes confirming it, even from anonymous sources. He makes the assertion and then never proves it, which is odd since it’s the only real news in his story.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I think there are certainly people in the Pentagon who are anxiously sweating over the idea of a draft right this minute — and if the Bush Doctrine stays in place, I think within the next five years we’ll see a for-real-no-fooling proposal to bring it back, it’s the only way we’ll get the manpower we’ll need for all our commitments abroad. But this article is shoddy journalism and plain old fear-mongering. Salon ought to know better.