WASHINGTON -- A senior House Democrat said yesterday that he will introduce legislation to reinstate the military draft, asserting that current troop levels are insufficient to cover possible future missions in Iran, North Korea, and Iraq.
Representative Charles Rangel of New York, the incoming chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, said his proposal would deter politicians from launching wars while bolstering US forces.
"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.
Rangel, a veteran of the Korean War who has unsuccessfully sponsored legislation on conscription in the past, said on
In 2003 , before the invasion of Iraq, Rangel proposed a measure covering people ages 18 to 26. This year, he offered a plan to mandate military service for men and women ages 18 to 42, but the bill went nowhere in the Republican-led Congress.
Senator John McCain of Arizona, a leading Republican presidential contender for 2008, said yesterday that the United States must send an overwhelming number of troops to stabilize Iraq or face the possibility of more attacks in the region and on US soil.
"I believe the consequences of failure are catastrophic. It will spread to the region. You will see Iran more emboldened. Eventually, you could see Iran pose a greater threat to the state of Israel," McCain said on ABC's "This Week."
At a time when some lawmakers are urging the military to send more troops to Iraq, "I don't see how anyone can support the war and not support the draft," Rangel said.
Senator Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican who is a colonel in the Air Force Standby Reserve, said he agreed that the United States does not have enough people in the military.
"I think we can do this with an all-voluntary service -- all-voluntary Army, Air Force, Marine Corps, and Navy. And if we can't, then we'll look for some other option," Graham said.
Rangel said he worries the military is being strained by its overseas commitments. "If we're going to challenge Iran and challenge North Korea and then, as some people have asked, to send more troops to Iraq, we can't do that without a draft," he said.
Rangel said having a draft would not necessarily mean everyone called to duty would have to serve. Instead, "young people [would] commit themselves to a couple of years in service to this great republic, whether it's our seaports, our airports, in schools, in hospitals," with a promise of educational benefits at the end of service.
Graham said on "Face the Nation" that he believes the all-voluntary military "represents the country pretty well in terms of ethnic makeup, economic background."
The US draft ended in 1973 and repeated polls have shown that about seven in 10 Americans oppose reinstatement of it. Outgoing Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld told Congress in June 2005 that "there isn't a chance in the world that the draft will be brought back."
McCain said he based his judgment about troop levels partly on the writings of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the Al Qaeda leader in Iraq who was killed in a US air raid, and those of Osama bin Laden. "It's not just Iraq that they're interested in," McCain said. "It's the region, and then us."
With about 141,000 US troops in Iraq more than 3 1/2 years into the war, the American military has strained to provide enough forces while allowing for adequate rest and retraining between deployments.
Democrats poised to take control of the House and Senate are pressing for a substantial reduction of US troops in Iraq and a timetable for their withdrawal, as a way of forcing the Iraqi government to rely more on itself.
"We must tell the Iraqis that we would begin, starting in four to six months, a phased reduction of our troops," said Senator Carl Levin, Democrat of Michigan, the incoming chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee. "Because if you don't do that, they're going to continue to have the false assumption that we are there in some kind of an open-ended way."
Incoming House majority leader Steny Hoyer, Democrat of Maryland, agreed. "As a practical matter, there are no troops to increase with," he said. "Our objective was to remove Saddam Hussein and create an environment in which a democracy could be established. That has been done."
Senator Joseph Biden, the incoming chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said he hopes a special commission considering options for the way ahead in Iraq will assert that US troop commitments are not open-ended; propose a clear political road map for Iraq; and recommend engaging Iraq's neighbors in a political solution.
"We are past the point of adding more troops. We are past the point of vague policy prescriptions. It is not an answer just to stay," the Delaware Democrat wrote in yesterday's Washington Post.
"The fundamental question we must answer is whether, as we begin to leave Iraq, there are still concrete steps we can take to avoid leaving chaos behind," he said.