Rangel Continues to Press Draft Bill

Rep. Charlie Rangel (D-NY) continues to back reinstatement of the military draft despite little support. Farai Chideya talks about issues of race and representation in the military with Edwin Dorn, a professor of public affairs at the University of Texas, and Tim Kane, director of the Center for International Trade and Economics at the Heritage Foundation.

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FARAI CHIDEYA, host:

From NPR News, this NEWS & NOTES. I'm Farai Chideya.

Well there's a proposal to bring back the military draft in the United States, but it doesn't have any widespread support. Democratic Representative Charlie Rangel continues to press the issue. The New York congressman says he'll introduce legislation in January once he becomes chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee.

For her part, the incoming House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, doesn't support the draft. And neither does the public. Polls show less than 20 percent support a draft nationwide.

So what's motivating Congressman Rangel? His quest brings up issues of military equitability and representation. We decided it would be a good time for us to look at Iraq, Afghanistan, and the composition of the men and women who serve us.

So joining us now we've got two people who've researched the issue. Edwin Dorn was the undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness during the Clinton administration. He's now a professor of public affairs at the University of Texas at Austin and joins us from KUTFM in Austin.

Also with us, we've got Tim Kane, who served as an intelligence officer in the U.S. Air Force. Mr. Kane is director of The Center for International Trade and Economics at the Heritage Foundation. He joins us from our NPR headquarters in Washington, D.C.

Gentlemen, good to have you both on the program.

Professor EDWIN DORN (Public Affairs, University of Texas, Austin): Good to talk with you, Farai.

CHIDEYA: Thank you.

Mr. TIM KANE (Director, Center for International Trade and Economics, Heritage Foundation): Hello, Farai.

CHIDEYA: So, Mr. Kane, most people say that Charlie Rangel's push for a draft is political. It's about making a statement about who's serving in the war. And he and others may believe that it's disproportionately low-income youths and minorities who are bearing the brunt of the sacrifice. Do you agree?

Mr. KANE: No, I think Congressman Rangel's heart is in the right place, but he has been misinformed by a pretty persistent myth. And maybe it's a bit of a Vietnam hangover that the troops that get stuck in the military are the less fortunate among us.

But, you know, when I served it was part of the all-volunteer force. Of course, I've been out of the military for I think over 10 years now. But I was curious about this question and I wanted to go back and actually get demographic data.

So we asked the Pentagon for information on all recruits in 2003, 2004, 2005 -the wartime recruits, and we actually compared them to '99 recruits. And so the findings were surprising on two levels.

One is we found that the educational level of wartime recruits is higher than civilian peers. They come from wealthier neighborhoods on average than their civilian peers, and that those two trends in particular are increasing. So you see more and more education.

For example, the recruits of about 97 percent have a high school diploma, civilian peers 80 percent. It's a very high-qualified force and it ends up being insulting when people say we need to draft for social justice. The exact opposite is true.

People are entering the military because they're heroic. They see a sense of mission. They want to do good in the world. And I really do think it's insulting to them to question their motives and to say they don't have other options.

CHIDEYA: And in your report it seems to indicate that the proportion of African-Americans is actually dropping, that African-Americans were over-represented and now we're kind closer to parity, is that correct?

Mr. KANE: I think that's a good way to put it. The military has great opportunities, and I think education is one of them. And so African-Americans have tended to want to join in the past, or have joined in high numbers.

But we have to remember these are actually highly educated, highly qualified young men and women with lots of options. What we also looked at, though, is there exploitation of certain minority groups? That is, are Army recruiters or Marine recruiters targeting urban areas or targeting high unemployment areas or targeting black areas?

We couldn't find evidence of that. In fact, the 103-digit zip codes with the highest concentration of African-Americans are underrepresented, even though African-Americans themselves are over-represented in the Army and the rest of the services.

CHIDEYA: Prof. Dorn, does this ring true to you, this analysis of the statistics? And what does it really mean for African-Americans who are serving or considering serving?

Prof. DORN: Farai, let me comment on Tim Kane's study, which is quite serviceable to fiscal analysis, and then get to the real issues here. Tim is absolutely correct that in a broad sense the military excludes the truly disadvantaged. But it also excludes the truly advantaged.

And that is what leads me to get to Charlie Rangel's real point. His real point is about shared sacrifice, and that's not simply a matter of economic - of class or race. It is a matter of who's making the decisions and who's doing the work, who's serving and who's paying for the service.

You know, Charlie comes from an old school. He was an old school of American values which says that all Americans should share the sacrifice of war. That doesn't mean that all Americans actually are involved in the fight, but it does mean that they play a role.

We now have with the all-volunteer force a situation in which only a very small percentage of American men and women have that shared experience of military service.

And unfortunately in recent years we've enacted a series of policies which keep us from actually paying for this. We are paying for this war by borrowing money from our children, essentially, and our grandchildren, sticking them with the burden of paying for this very expensive enterprise. And we are borrowing from foreign countries to pay for it.

CHIDEYA: But let me…

Prof. DORN: Charlie had…

CHIDEYA: Sorry, to interrupt you.

Prof. DORN: Go ahead.

CHIDEYA: Just digging down, though, on the issue of who serves. From what I understand, during Vietnam, African-Americans were even more over-represented because, you know, to be as it has been documented in many individual cases, a lot of people who had more means could find ways of getting out of service, you know, or could make choices. Okay, I'm going to get married or I'm going to go to graduate school.

Prof. DORN: It's a good point. It's a very good point. The draft was not equitable, either. As a matter of fact, there's a phrase in Washington about hawks and doves - hawks favoring war, doves opposing war. But there is a third phrase called chicken hawks; those are the people who support war but somehow manage to use deferments to avoid actually serving in war.

And certainly Vietnam was not equitable in that sense. Blacks were over-represented, and they were more heavily over-represented during the early days of the all-volunteer force.

They're slightly over-represented now. African-Americans comprise 18 to 20 percent of the active force as opposed to about 13 percent of the enlistment-age cohorts, so that's slight over-representation. They're not over-represented in the combat arms, I should stress. And so I think Charles Rangel is aware of that and he's aware that the concern is not really the color or race of the people in the body bags coming home from Iraq and Afghanistan. His concern I think is a broader one and a legitimate one about shared sacrifice - who's serving, but also who's paying for service.

CHIDEYA: I want to get both of you to comment on the whole question of how strong our military is in terms of numbers, in terms of recruitment. I'm going to ask Mr. Kane first and then Prof. Dorn.

So we've got a situation where, according to some analysts - not even ones that are particularly out there, people who have been long-time military insiders -we just don't have enough troops to send to Iraq. And so if that is the case, which is still an argument, then how do you increase troops without something like a draft? Mr. Kane.

Mr. KANE: Yeah. You know, one of the papers that I wrote at the Heritage Foundation talked about this question, is Iraq another Vietnam, just in terms of troop levels. And to put things in perspective, at this point during the Vietnam War there were nearly half a million U.S. soldiers in country.

In Iraq, we all know it's around 140,000 now. Vietnam used a draft. We have an all-volunteer force. I think it would be, I don't want to say easy, but I think we could get the force up to strength and I'm certainly in favor of using more troops, trying to secure the peace, and getting the victory in Iraq.

And probably we need to do that with more forces, but you don't need to go to a draft. We already had the Army meet its recruitment goals during a period of a very strong U.S. economy. And, you know, they've had problems in the past, but it's when the economy has been strong. So there's a really important story here that there are 80,000 men and women going into the Army in the last year alone, eyes open, understanding the stakes, wanting to win. Could we expand the size of that? Absolutely.

CHIDEYA: All right. Prof. Dorn?

Prof. DORN: Farai, I've been saying for a couple of years now that we either need a bigger army or a smaller empire. That is, it is very clear that the force, particularly the Army and the Marine Corps, are being greatly strained by these two conflicts, Iraq and Afghanistan, so that we have soldiers who are going back on their third and fourth rotations.

That is very tough on people who are trying to maintain a family life, trying to build their careers and so on. It is, however, and I go back to the study that you mentioned earlier, it is an extraordinarily fine force of well educated, highly motivated, and disciplined men and women. We need to be very proud of them.

And one of the things I commend to your audience is the following: When you see one of these young men or young women in uniform strolling through an airport, go up and thank them for their service because they are doing a terrific job and we are all grateful to them.

CHIDEYA: All right. We only have a minute and a half or so left. Under what circumstances would we increase the U.S. forces? I mean do you think, Mr. Kane, that there would ever be more voluntary recruiting and it would be successful in order to deal with the situation in Iraq and Afghanistan?

Mr. KANE: Yeah, I think so, and I think we get back to the point that we all agree on. There should be shared sacrifice. A draft is the wrong way to go about it. A draft would force people into the military that don't want to. It's offensive to liberty. But if we believe in the mission and if we want to make sure that the troops that are there now aren't exhausted, absolutely; we need to probably go to a slightly larger military.

And the shared sacrifice means maybe less pork barrel projects, right? Maybe less spending in Congress and things that we know are inefficient - the farm bill, and maybe we could just run through a list. And everybody in Congress and the incoming leadership really needs to address spending and put it on priorities. And I think the military deserves a bit more than it's getting right now.

CHIDEYA: All right. Prof. Dorn, not much time. Do you think, you know, you have dealt directly with personnel and readiness, could the U.S. increase its troops without a draft?

Prof. DORN: Sure. It's a market system: You pay more; you get more people. That's relatively straightforward. There are also provisions that allow us to grant fast-track citizenship to recent immigrants who serve.

We don't need to increase the size of the force dramatically. Another 50,000 to 100,000 would be sufficient, and we can do that over a period of a few years if we work hard at it, if we're willing to pay for it.

Let me mention something else about Charles Rangel, to get back to him. He's been interested in this idea of military service but keep in mind that come January when the Democrats assume control of the House, he is likely to be chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee. That's the committee that worries about how the nation pays its bills. And we're usually running up…

CHIDEYA: We're going to have to leave it there -

Prof. DORN: …some terrific bills already.

CHIDEYA: All right. I'm very sorry. All right. Edwin Dorn, professor of public affairs at the University of Texas at Austin. Tim Kane of the Heritage Foundation. Thank you so much.

Mr. KANE: Thanks, Farai.

Prof. DORN: Thank you, Farai.

CHIDEYA: And coming up, after the shooting of an elderly woman, Atlanta questions its police department's no-knock policy. Plus, a member of the Congressional Black Caucus loses out in battle for leadership. We'll discuss these topics and more on our Roundtable next.

This is NPR News.

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