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The Backdoor Draft

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My wife and I hear little from our son, who has been fighting in the mountains of Afghanistan for the past year. A handful of e-mails and a few phone calls. The calls come in the middle of the night. We're groggy, trying to will ourselves awake, while his voice crackles and we miss words and phrases in the fragile satellite connection, and we all try to hold on to the few moments we have together.

It was disturbing recently to hear on such a call that, as if the fire fights and harsh conditions aren't enough to consume him, he is worried about a buddy with whom he served a tough twelve months in Iraq in 2004. His friend left the Army after that tour. He was finally getting his life back with a job and school when he was recalled to service through the Bush administration's backdoor draft, the Individual Ready Reserves. Our son worries that he too may be sent to back Iraq, after serving one tour there and another in Afghanistan-and after he planned to leave the Army. He would fall under that other backdoor draft known as Stop-Loss.

These are two ways our country meets its vast military entanglements-the Individual Ready Reserves and Stop-Loss. My son's friend comes under the first, and my son under the second. In theory, their obligations may be endless. According to Section 9c of the Army contract, "In the event of war, my enlistment in the Armed Forces continues until six months after the war ends, unless my enlistment is ended sooner by the President of the United States." The final clause is just a bad joke under the current administration. On September 14, 2001, Congress gave President Bush virtually unlimited power to wage a nebulous, undefined, and apparently endless "war on terror" under the War Powers Act. With a second carrier group now heading for the Persian Gulf to confront Syria and Iran over their support for insurgents in Iraq and over Iran's nuclear program, it's difficult to imagine this warlike administration seeking any solutions that don't involve overstretched American military forces.

One response to the unfair burden on our service men and women has been Congressman Charlie Rangel's effort to reinstate the draft. I don't agree that this is the answer, but I do applaud Rangel for calling the bluff of all who supported Bush and his war in Iraq. If this conflict is the ideological Armageddon they would have us believe it is, then why is a country of 300 million out shopping while 150,000 soldiers and their families bear the sacrifice of repeated tours in Iraq and Afghanistan?

Ironically, sacrifice is a theme of the Bush administration. In his recent address to the nation on Iraq, Bush used the word three times, twice referring to soldiers and their families, and once to unspecified sacrifices by Americans not in the military. Having sat through too many holidays and birthdays with an empty chair at my dining room table, I found it offensive that Bush would invoke "the quiet sacrifices of lonely holidays and empty chairs at the dinner table" to further his misguided agenda of adding more troops to Iraq. He followed this with a dazzling one-two punch of his trademark backhanded criticism and loopy logic: "Fellow citizens: The year ahead will demand more patience, sacrifice, and resolve. It can be tempting to think that America can put aside the burdens of freedom."

What sacrifice?-aside from perhaps numbing ourselves to the body counts from Iraq. He's never called on America for any other sacrifice, though after 9/11 it would have been willingly given. Were Americans ever asked (or required, as they were in World War II) to cut back on their use of oil and oil-based products? Were Americans asked (or required) to pay more taxes or to participate in some form of national service? And has the administration sought ways to reduce America's oversized footprint in the Middle East, or to offer anything other than "stay the course" (in all its guises, including the latest speech) to resolve the disaster of its reckless war in Iraq? I would suggest that if such sacrifice had been asked (or required), the torrent of criticism we're now seeing for this war would have come a lot sooner.

Meanwhile, the administration has played politics with the lives of American service men and women, who find themselves on a treadmill of call-ups and stop-losses, while the "war on terror" turns into an Orwellian nightmare. Over two hundred soldiers were killed in Iraq while Bush postponed announcing his "new way forward" until January 10th so he could go on his "listening" tour, and listen to no one.

The sacrifice now needed is not for more service men and women to extend their deployments overseas or to endure three and four tours while they play the lottery of whether stop-loss will drop on them before a tour ends. Rather, it's time for the Bush administration to sacrifice its ideological paranoia and simplistic thinking, and to accept the advice of its generals, the recommendations of the Iraq Study Group, and the will of the American people to resolve this endless war.
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Bob Sommer is the author of WHERE THE WIND BLEW (a novel). His work has appeared widely in literary, scholarly, and commercial publications, including Centennial Review, Studies in American Fiction, American Book Review, New England Quarterly, (more...)
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