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Wednesday, October 27, 2004 - Page updated at 12:00 A.M.

Guest columnist
There is no 'secret plan' to reinstate a military draft

By Donald H. Rumsfeld
Special to The Times

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The peculiar thing about myths is that even the most farfetched can be nearly impossible to extinguish. This is especially so when there is a vested interest in some quarters in keeping them alive.

Like many Americans, I have recently heard a great deal of misinformed talk about a so-called "secret plan" to bring back the draft. This plot is so secret that it doesn't exist. Neither our commander in chief nor the secretary of defense knows anything about it. That's because it simply is not true.

Let me be even more emphatic on that point. To my knowledge, in the time I have served as secretary of defense, the idea of reinstating the draft has never been debated, endorsed, discussed, theorized, pondered, or even whispered by anyone in the Bush administration.

When asked about it, the president has flatly rejected the idea. Similarly, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff has said a draft is not needed or desirable. And the U.S. House of Representatives voted down a bill to reinstate the draft by a resounding 402-2 just three weeks ago.

Yet, based on absolutely no actual evidence, partisans, conspiracy mongers and troublemakers are attempting to scare and mislead young Americans by insisting that a draft is coming. This is mischief-making masquerading as a serious policy debate. It is shameful.

This entire deceit is underhanded and just plain wrong. Unfortunately, regrettably, inexcusably, thanks to the available transmission belt in the media, it seems to be working. One recent opinion poll suggests that about half of America's young people surveyed believe that President Bush favors reinstating the draft.

I take this issue seriously and personally. As a member of Congress in the 1960s, I was one of the first to support an all-volunteer force. I know the inequities and the problems — for both our society and our military — associated with compelling people to serve against their will in the armed forces.

Quite beyond the draft's inequities and inefficiencies, the United States simply does not need a draft. America has about 295 million people and some 2.6 million serving in the active and reserve components of our military. We don't need compulsion to attract and retain the people we need to serve our country.

As it stands today, the active Army and Marine Corps continue to exceed their recruiting goals despite the high pace of activity. Retention is also doing well. Particularly striking are reenlistment rates for units that have deployed overseas. Of the Army's 10 active duty divisions, nine are exceeding re-enlistment goals by 5 percent or more.

The United States is so fortunate that every day so many brave and talented young men and women willingly sign up to serve their country, knowing full well — just from watching the nightly news — the dangers and sacrifices involved.

Each one is a volunteer, and if it happened that we were to not have enough people to serve, all we would have to do is what any other organization would do — and that is increase the incentives and make military service a more attractive option for the best and brightest young people.

There is stress on our forces — but not because of any shortage of uniformed personnel.

For example, there are over 1 million soldiers in the active Army, Army Reserve and National Guard. Of those, less than 12 percent are actually deployed to the Iraq and Afghanistan theaters. And the Army has already increased its active strength by as many as 30,000 troops since Sept. 11, 2001.

The issue is that our forces, particularly the Army, are not properly organized for the post-Cold War era. Too many skills needed on active duty are heavily concentrated in the reserve components. Too many of the active forces are not readily deployable. Too many military personnel — tens of thousands — are performing tasks that could and should be performed by civilians.

We have undertaken a range of initiatives to increase the pool of deployable troops within the armed forces and the quality of life for service members and their families. The result will be that individual troops will be deployed less often, for shorter periods of time and with more predictability.

With a professional, all-volunteer force, the U.S. military won the Cold War, liberated Afghanistan and Iraq, and has kept the peace in Asia and Europe. And the all-volunteer force will win the global war on terror.

Donald H. Rumsfeld is the U.S. secretary of defense.

Copyright © 2004 The Seattle Times Company

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