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More Political Haruspicy, or Not Every Chicken Little Is A Cassandra

A plea for a little help from my readers:

I had figured that after the election, most of the nonsense that was going on about the "draft to come" would calm down, and fair enough, it did. Howard Dean isn't mentioning it as a centerpoint of his campaign for DNC chair. It's not turned up on Democratic talking points in recent weeks. Indeed, now that the election's over, it's not much in the news.

There's a reason for this: it was always a pretty flimsy prediction. First it was premised a bill put forward by Charles Rangel. (This didn't bother some law professors.) Then it was premised on difficulties in recruiting for the National Guard. [1]. Now, it's premised on the idea that we're going to war with Iran.

I've referred to this kind of thing before as "political haruspicy." I'm wary of doing it myself, although I've made a prediction or two. (Most notably, that same-sex marriage or civil unions will be legal in all 50 states by 2008, although now I'm leaning towards 2010.) On the internet, it's especially dangerous, because your predictions can be so easily referenced.

But predictions about the draft seem particularly pernicious to me, because they started with a credulous acceptance of "alert" emails which left out salient information (such as Charlie Rangel), and have proceeded from distortion to distortion. So this weekend, I'll be launching a page: the Cassandras of the Draft. It'll be a permanent link from my homepage, and will allow my readers to add links and quotations from any of the Augurs of Impending Doom. I'll also include a countdown clock, giving the exact number of days, hours, minutes, and seconds until Bush has not started a draft. Who knows: if a draft actually does start, I'll be making these people look like predictive geniuses. On the other hand, if no draft occurs then no one will be able to disclaim their words.

In any event, I need a good list to get this going. So I'd like to use this entry as an initial clearinghouse while I'm designing the page. If any of my readers know of a pundit, blogger, politician, or other notable who has predicted a Bush reimposition of the draft, please drop a comment and a link below. And if you have a chance, spread the word.

Oh, and one rule: we're talking about a general draft, one actually involving the selective service. Not a "back door draft" involving the use of military contracts, drafting people into AmeriCorps, or whatever else. Let's keep it focused with this general rule: if it doesn't involve selective service cards, it probably doesn't belong here.

[1]: Chris and I recently had a discussion over why overheated rhetoric does one little good for analysis, and this is one reason. Yes, we're having a hard time recruiting for the National Guard. A serious discussion would ask whether we were having trouble recruiting for the non-reserve military, and whether, were we to reverse the troop cuts of the early 1990s, we'd be able to fill the ranks. But it's not particularly surprising to find out that when both reserves and non-reserve ranks are being called up, fewer people wish to volunteer for reserves.

There's a serious criticism of Rumsfeld's policies on troop strength, and a criticism that I have great sympathy with: that whatever the long-term costs, we should increase the size of our standing army (and even raise taxes to pay for it) because calling up reserves on a long-term basis is bad for morale and effectiveness. Pushing this would have been an excellent issue in the last election. Instead, much of the democratic intellectual firepower was focused on scaring Americans with the fantasy of an upcoming draft.


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You know, if there _is_ a draft and a drafted soldier dies in combat, you are going to feel like an absolute schmuck. I'm just sayin'.
Why limit it? Check this out: http://www.dailykos.com/story/2005/1/19/15599/9342 That is every bit as coercive as any SS draft. Further: there has been quite a bit of talk about a new selective service based draft - a skills draft similar to the parallel medical skills draft. With so much of today's forces depending on sound networks, ther has been discussion fo drafting people with those skills. Run a google search for "Skills draft" and you should be able to find a pdf that explains it further. If you want, email me and I'll email you the pdf - I have it saved.
TtP: I doubt I'd feel that schmuckish. After all, I'd merely have been wrong in my prediction. That said, I'm fairly confident that no draft is in the offing--or at least, that the only condition I believe could produce one, a massive attack on American soil by a non-asymmetric foe (one that actually poses some invasion risk or either us or Europe), is relatively rare. Why? Because a draft would be about as politically unpopular as Janet Jackson's nipple at a Southern Baptist Convention event, and the military wants a number of draftees about as much as it wants to be catering that very convention. Please note that Draft Cassandras are pretty much limited to those who already think the Republicans are politically tone deaf--despite repeated Republican election victories--and thus figure that they'll do so anyway. Question is: if someone accuses an administration of planning a draft when they aren't, and then the administration doesn't, shouldn't he feel foolish?
http://www.hackworth.com (list of articles at http://www.sftt.org/hackstarget.html) Plenty of reading material on the state of army recruiting. Little of it official, but very good at drawing the kind of non-denial we've seen on all kinds of issues that subsequently turned out to be true. I'd guess that army recruiting is suffering big time, that the quality of admitted recruits is going down and that the longer Iraq goes on for the worse it will be. Not enough to spark a draft, but certainly enough to ensure that the worlds mightiest superpower (tm) can't credibly threaten to invade and occupy even a medium sized country till it's well out of Iraq.
Err on the side of caution? No cause for foolishness, as long as you know what you're doing. Now, I don't think the draft is likely. But I think it's far more in the realm of plausibility than you do, and I don't think we need a quasi-symmetrical foe to spark its necessity. Another terrorist attack, and a sweep of Iran and Syria starts to look a lot more attractive as a political matter. And I don't think people who have concerns about the possibility of a draft are only those who think the GOP is politically dumb. A sufficient case can be made starting from the premise that the GOP perceives its political position to strengthen as the public believes they are in imminent danger and their safety depends on the president. If you believe that the WH makes this political calculation (and it's not implausible), you can get to the draft in only a few short steps. And I doubt you'd be "merely wrong" in your prediction. There's a difference between disagreement as to what will happen and implying someone's a little nutty or dishonest for thinking as he does. And I think your treatment of the draft Cassandras (nice, by the way) puts you into the latter. Just sayin'.
TtP: I'm not "implying" that various people have been dishonest or nutty for thinking as they do: I'm downright stating it. Sure, there are some plausible--though frankly, unlikely--scenarios in which a draft could occur. And as I said, if it does, then these folks will look oddly prescient. But so far, the public debate over the draft has mostly centered around misinformation: an "email alert" about Bush plans to bring back the draft that failed to mention Rangel; a CBS news report that talked about "emails circulating around the internet" without mentioning (again) their character; various other "signs" of a "coming draft" of dubious merit. These are rarely framed in analytical terms: Leiter, for instance, doesn't provide a discussion of why we'd not raise the size of the standing army rather than draft in individuals. And of course, every position paper, brief, or memo is "the Administration's new plan," even though it's likely no more than the average piece of Washington desk-clutter: an idea that someone is running up the flagpole because all options should be evaluated. There hasn't been an honest debate on the draft. There's been innuendo, distortion, and downright falsehood, culminating in the only draft bill to be proposed--proposed by a Democrat, mind you--being voted down by the entire House. You're right: everyone I list might get lucky, and something horrible enough to warrant a draft might occur. (I actually doubt that, even given another 9/11-scale catastrophe, we'd actually institute a draft or invade neighboring regimes immediately. But that's another question.) It remains a worthwhile risk, simply because the arguments put forth so far haven't been rational arguments of cool-headed prediction. Instead they've been fictions concocted because the possibility of a draft would make Bush look bad.
I don't think any of us who think the draft is a bigger worry than you do would count ourselves "lucky" in that case, but nevermind. Look, I think you're using "cool-headed prediction" to be merely a numbers game, without taking into account risk-aversion. If my mother tells me to get health insurance and I don't and then I suffer a serious injury, my mother wasn't particularly "prescient"; she was merely prudent. The talk of the draft may be, from a very cynical point of view, merely a bludgeon against Bush. But if you take a more charitable view, it's really an indictment against Bush's military leadership as a policy matter. Dean and the rest don't approve of the extensive military commitments the president has made, and they're raising this as one of the potential downsides. It's not a necessary consequence; it's a possible cost. But possible costs are worth considering, whether you're talking about health insurance or whatnot. And the fact that Rangel introduced a bill, I think, you make too much of. It's quite a separate issue from the practical point that Bush's policies have 1) left the military weaker; 2) increased our obligation; and 3) made no visible effort to address the potential shortfall, thus making all sorts of unpleasant situations (reneging on our commitments, etc., and yes, including the draft) more possible than they would otherwise be. Rangel's bill was about a principle of civic commitment, that the rich as well as the poor should contribute and sacrifice in matters of national interest. It happens to coincide in timing and subject with the other, but they're separate issues. TtP
TtP: While reasonable, your conversation above shows that you and I are no longer talking about the same thing. Look, there is no way that I can disagree with the concept that the war in Iraq has made a draft, in some marginal sense, more likely. That this margin is exceedingly slim, we both seem to agree upon, and only disagree with regards to how important the increase of risk is against any form of positive outcome. (Incidentally, by those terms any substantial military deployment, including those to Bosnia, etc.) And you would be well within your rights to criticize if I were to call those types of voices Cassandras. (Actually, the term is slightly inapposite without reference to the site design, since Cassandra was actually correct. It should make sense when the site is done.) But that's not what I'm talking about. I'm complaining precisely about those who posted about "the coming draft" while referencing Rangel's bill. I'm talking about those who just leave quotations about reserve recruitment without putting it into analytical context. I'm talking about those who predict a draft with certainty or even likelihood, because it fits their preconceptions of "life under George Bush." You say that Dean is talking about a "potential downside." What he actually said during the campaign was not some increased marginal potential, but that a draft was "a real likelihood." And note the dicotomy at the end: "Will the President withdraw from some of our military commitments or will he reinstate the draft? We need to know that before we vote, not afterwards." It's either pull out of Iraq, or start a draft--no further analytical questioning necessary. Sorry, but you're painting the unreasonable as reasonable. I'll gladly credit you with evaluating risks, and agree that this is prudence, not prediction. Your temperance, however, is far from epidemic.
Well put. While I usually make it a habit to ensure and guaranty the intellectual rigor of everyone's argument that I agree with, I can't do so here. If certain elements referenced Rangel's draft bill (an excellent idea, by the way, and certainly worth discussion) in order to suggest that such a bill had a chance of being passed, that was more than a little dishonest. But I still don't agree that the shortfall in our military assets is beneath comment. And as certain recent ... impassioned conversations with my friends in re: Larry Summers have evidenced to me, I apparently get very edgy when I think someone's trying to subdue unorthodox positions with ridicule. (Sorry, inside baseball. Translation: This is all said with as much humility as I can convey without saying in so many words that I'm a jerk.) TtP
TtP: Not at all. Actually, responses to you have now made their way into the text of the eventual page--which won't launch this weekend, since I"m not far enough ahead on my note. You pointed out that I need to make much, much clearer exactly what I'm talking about. Why comments are wonderful. ;)

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