Council on Foreign Relations
[Note: The transcript begins in progress.]
ALTON FRYE: …New York congressional delegation in the House for more than 30 years. In fact, he came to the House about the same time I came to the Council on Foreign Relations. So there’s a certain synchronicity in our appearance here this morning. And he has earned in that long service wide respect on both sides of the aisle, not only as an effective party leader, but as a legislator devoted to the major issues of our time.
As the ranking Democrat on the House Ways and Means Committee, he’s a crucial leader on issues from taxation to international trade, from low-income housing to narcotics abuse and control. In fact, he chairs the Congressional Caucus on Narcotics Abuse and Controls, and has been involved in that issue for many years. I think he would also count as a highlight of his career the role he played in bringing economic pressure to bear against the apartheid regime in South Africa, with the happy outcome that we’ve observed.
Our topic this morning— ”Should the United States Reinstitute the Draft?”--is one on which he is also not only able to speak with authority, but has particular standing to do so. A Purple Heart and Bronze Star veteran of the Korean War, he came to Capitol Hill just as the nation was moving away from the draft to the all-volunteer force, which we have now deployed for many years. In the three decades since the Selective Service System was placed on stand-by, the volunteer military has won high marks for professionalism and potency. But the protracted conflict in Iraq has imposed severe strains on that force, with serious effects on recruitment and re-enlistment. I think we ought to note that even before the war, [the] congressman proposed that the nation needed to revive the draft. So he’s not a Johnny-come-lately to this issue.
Currently, both the Army and the Marines are falling short of their enlistment goals at the very time many experts are calling for an expansion of the active-duty force. Some of you will perhaps have read the January letter, published in the Weekly Standard, as well as elsewhere, from a broad, bipartisan cross-section of military experts calling for an expansion at a rate of about 25,000 slots a year, over the next several years, of the active-duty force. That letter was co-signed by people ranging from Ivo Daalder and Jim Steinberg at Brookings, to Tom Donnelly and others in the Project for the New American Century. It’s a broad cross-section of people feeling the force must indeed expand.
Now we come to the politics of the issue, which I think we have to put in context of last year’s discussion. In the presidential campaign, both President Bush and Senator [John] Kerry [D-Mass.] rejected the idea of resuming the draft, although Mr. Kerry thought that there might be a necessity to do so if President Bush were re-elected and maintained his current policy. In October of last year, a hastily called vote in the House defeated the measure overwhelmingly. So the political prospects do not look promising.
Congressman, the House voted against the draft proposal by a vote of 402 to 2. If I understand correctly, you even voted against your own proposal and urged others to do likewise. Why are we still having this conversation? [Laughter]
CHARLES RANGEL: Good morning. Was that a rhetorical question?
FRYE: But the one that is inviting you to launch your own introductory comment.
RANGEL: Thank you so much. I can’t tell you how flattered and proud I am to be here with this august body. And I thank you so much, Dr. Frye, for the introduction, and seeing my dear friend, [former Transportation] Secretary [William T.] Coleman here. When I left the office last night, my chief counsel, George Dalley, had prepared for me a book the size of the Manhattan telephone book. So it was 11:00 and I figured I’d read it until 1:00 or 2:00, until I saw for the first time that it said, “a conversation.” So I kept the book— threw the book away. How can you go wrong with a conversation? I’ll only tell you what I think.
And to get the politics out of the way, anybody running for president and supporting a draft— which means fear and sacrifice— and they’re running for president, it would be a silly thing for them to advocate supporting it. But because there was a general feeling that the war demanded more and more personnel, and the re-enlistments and the retentions were not keeping up with the demands, which both Senator Kerry and the president had indicated that they thought was necessary, what they did was in order to reject the idea that the Bush administration would have a draft, they went to the Rules Committee, which is used merely to bring up non-controversial issues without any hearings and any debate and to bring it up. And I thought, under those circumstances, that this thing that we’re talking about this morning was far too important just to have a vote to determine on which side people really thought they were on. It was not on the substance, it was on the procedure. So our bill never really hit the floor for a vote on the substance of the issue.
So let’s get to why I did it and the circumstances that we find ourselves today, and whether or not I still feel the same way as I did when I introduced the bill, and the conclusion I reach is that now, more than ever. Having served in combat, I know the horrors of war, but I don’t believe that you have to be a combat veteran in order to understand how serious the issue is today that we’re facing. When I saw those two buildings in New York having been struck by terrorists, I was praying that it was just some type of an accident. But there was a certain fear that grasped me in recognizing that it was an outside force that had done it. And I immediately rushed to be with my family— George Dalley was in New York— wondering where they were going to strike next, where did the forces come from, and what could we do to defend our country against them.
It became abundantly clear after a while that the people that committed this terrorist act had come from Saudi Arabia, and that the president couldn’t be found. The mayor of the city of New York did a fantastic job in keeping us together until we can get more information. As the information came, it became clear to members of Congress that Osama bin Laden had created a terrorist atmosphere, and that this [was] one of many acts that had been committed against democratic actions, and certainly one that struck us as though this was our Pearl Harbor and New York was it.
For the first time, when the New York delegation got back to Washington, I realized that this was not a New York City, New York state, East Coast thing, this was an attack on my great country. And there was a sense of patriotism that we had to strike back, we had to do something, no matter how serious it was.
When the president started revealing our plan, one that I thought everyone in the House and Senate would be supporting, it became clear also that it was not Osama bin Laden, it was not Saudi Arabia where the people had come from but, rather, it was Saddam Hussein. And that’s where the doubts started shifting— Why Saddam Hussein? And the reason was because he was a mean, terrible man, that he had weapons of mass destruction, that he’d killed his own people, and that we had known, because we had given him the chemicals and the dangerous weapons and, therefore, he still had them, and that somehow, if we could eliminate him, then we could eliminate terrorism.
Well, the argument didn’t make sense to a lot of us. And I guess the most frightening vote I had was here the commander in chief was asking for a vote in order to strike against Iraq and I was about to vote against the president of the United States, the commander in chief— something that I felt very, very uncomfortable with.
It seemed to me that when we talk about going to war, there is no question, if we’re talking about Pearl Harbor, that you strike back immediately. As a matter of fact, yesterday at the National Defense College, the president spoke about 9/11 as though it was Pearl Harbor. But we hit the right country when we struck Japan because we knew that it was they that attacked us.
The president asked a lot of questions as to what would the implications be if we went into Iraq. And he was told by our Intelligence Committee it was a slam dunk— you just get in and you get out.
We had inspectors there. We had expanded searches. Some of us thought— and I still think that even if there were weapons of mass destruction with massive inspectors, supervised by the United Nations, whether we found weapons or we didn’t find weapons, there would have been very little that Saddam Hussein could have done. We couldn’t find a connection between Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda. We couldn’t find the connection between Saddam Hussein and what happened at 9/11. We were not directly attacked by Iraq or Saddam Hussein. And certainly it’s abundantly clear under any standards that when a country is in imminent danger that we have not only the obligation, the right, but we must strike back to avoid our great country from being hit.
What happened is historical, and for the first time in our nation’s history, the question of imminent danger is no longer a criteria in striking a country. The president said in various press conferences that we have to strike back before the danger is imminent, or then it is too late. And so we struck. And clearly, instead of striking the core of the danger of the United States, we have organized the terrorists from all over the world to come into Iraq. And they would want us to believe that we will have to keep our men and women fighting over there to keep the war from coming over here. That doesn’t fit with what [Defense] Secretary [Donald] Rumsfeld said. He said he didn’t know whether we were winning or losing the war, that it was a “slog,” and that he did not know— and this is key— whether we were creating more terrorists than we were killing.
And so since I asked [former Secretary of State] Colin Powell, as one combat soldier to the other, “What does a terrorist look like? What uniform does he or she wear? What flag do they carry? How do you know— how do you prepare one of our American soldiers to go over there to kill the terrorists in order to protect our families and our nation?” We all know we don’t have an answer to that. A terrorist is anyone that is there to harm you. A suicide bomber is a terrorist. The one who puts the bomb by the side of the road is a terrorist. The one that shoots the mortar at you is a terrorist.
And what does a trained soldier do? You strike back at that terrorist, wherever he is— if he’s not concerned for his own life. They shoot at you from mosques, they shoot at you from hospitals, they shoot at you from schools, they shoot at you from homes. And your job is to kill that terrorist. And whoever is around, that is not the issue, because those of us that’s been trained to fight and to kill cannot think about the loss of innocent lives, because we describe that as collateral damage.
Now we see the blossoms of what happened as a result of the invasion. Even though there is an increased number of troops that are there, even though we have minor support from international communities. We see democracy beginning, the courage of the Iraqis to come to go vote. The president talked yesterday at the National Defense University about the extension of his speech, in saying that the United States of America has a responsibility to bring liberty and freedom throughout the world, to get Syria out of Lebanon, to let Iraq know and Iran know that we won’t tolerate weapons of mass destruction, to let the people in North Korea know, to let just everyone know that we have this mandate— not a threat to our national security, not an imminent threat of attack, not even an attack— but they can depend on us supporting those who are oppressed in the fight against dictators wherever they go, and that they can depend on the United States being there.
It reminded me when I was in public school there was always people trying to let other people know there’s going to be a fight, and they would tell you, “You go fight, and I’ll hold your coat.” Where does the president think he’s going to get all of the people to go to all of the countries to be able to make certain that democracy flourishes in all of these countries?
And as good as we feel about the progress that’s being made in Iraq, and hoping that it will be a symbol for the Middle East and indeed the world, if America had known that this would be what we would get, are we willing to pay the 1,500 lives of Americans that are lost? The 12,000 that are wounded and maimed for life? The additional 10 or 12,000 that were wounded over there, but they were not in combat? The $400 million that we’re talking about?
In August of 1950, the Second Infantry Division, which I was a part of, went to war in Korea. That Second Infantry Division is still in Korea today, and there’s nobody that can tell you how long the troops will be in Iraq, or any other place that the president of the United States decides that we were mandated to bring freedom.
FRYE: Congressman, let me interrupt and focus— I hate to break up your good flow here—
FRYE: But let me get you to focus a bit on how this expansive view of America’s mission that the president has described, how that bears on the proposal that you have advanced to reinstitute the draft. Does that sound like, as many experts have called for, there will be a need for an expanded force at a time when recruitment is in fact going down? How would you phase in a revival of the draft in the context of the existing volunteer force? I assume a draft does not abandon the volunteer force—
RANGEL: First of all— first of all, I don’t think America would have accepted an invasion of Iraq if they thought for one minute that their children would be in danger. I have talked with the supporters of the war in New York City and around the country, and I ask, “Would you still feel the same way if your child was going to be a part of the invading force? If there was a draft there, would you accept that foreign policy?”
The president has expanded this beyond imminent danger. And I have said even before the war that if we have terrorists there and we have a million and a half people in the active service, and we have young people who have no idea of the danger of terrorism, would it not be in our best national interests to have everyone involved? Only a fraction of those— out of 36 million eligible people for the draft, less than a million would have to go into the military. But they could be our eyes and ears in our airports, our seaports, our hospitals, our schools; and to be able to go overseas and to talk about democracy not with a gun, but the same way we were able to do it with our Peace Corps.
And it’s easy to assimilate it in every war that there is. You have people like me who volunteer, who are professional; and we have people who’ve never known war, never known the sense of national security that have to be taught. And this sense of patriotism, I believe, is far more important not only to the United States, but to show what we believe in, in the world.
Today’s papers would say to you that there is a sharp decline in the number of minorities that are joining the military. What does that mean? It means, why did we have this excitement about minorities joining the military? It’s all economic. They draft— they don’t draft the people, they recruit the people from the areas of the highest unemployment. That’s why your casualties and your military are composed of people from the inner cities and from the rural areas— based on unemployment. Now they’re saying that, because what?--the employment market is improving, the death rates are still up, and people are not enlisting.
In my community, I’ve had Hispanics fighting— parents fighting because they wanted to know where the $80 million were— for what? For their kid who’s not even a citizen who got a GED [general education development, or high school equivalency exam] that the recruiting people were giving him— $20,000 for a three-year period, $60,000 in educational opportunities. And [Congressman] Ike Skelton [D-Mo.] tells me that you can get up to $160,000 for re-enlisting. That is not patriotism. That is not going to allow us to win. It has to be from your heart and not from your wallet. And so we can no longer believe that we can keep up a fighting force in Iraq and around the world just by paying people who economically need the money.
FRYE: Could we stay with this for a moment, because in the professional military, as you well know, there is pride in the quality of the force that has emerged from the volunteer Army and related services, and there is concern that a return to the draft would have a negative impact on the quality of the force in the high-tech era. So one of the questions that arises in thinking about the revival of conscription is: Would you in fact use the selective service system for targeting high-skill areas to be drafted? Or would you in fact disregard the qualitative concern and simply take an across-the-board approach to a draft, even though that might have a negative impact on the quality of the force?
RANGEL: I refuse to accept the implication that because a person is drafted that they cannot be trained to do what has to be done in terms of our national security. And in answer to your question, it has to be a universal draft. And like everything else, people do what they can do best, and you need so few people to actually deal with this so-called professional military. But to say that those people that were drafted in World War II were inferior to those people that enlisted before World War II, I don’t accept that.
FRYE: No, I don’t think the professionals would say that either. I thought what’d they say is that war has become so complex, so advanced technologically that the advantage of a professional force is that there is sustained training over a long period of time to upgrade the quality of those who come into the force. One of the professors at the Army War College, for example, says you can’t draft people into a profession. And therefore their view is you do in fact maintain the quality of the force with a draft across the board.
RANGEL: Yes, well, you tell me just how much technology and just how much training you need to avoid being bombed on a road in Iraq. How much do you need to be able to detect that there is a terrorist there? How many lives have been saved because of high-tech in Iraq? You are dealing with terrorists, and that is where all of your sophistication means absolutely nothing— absolutely nothing. And the fact of the matter is that the people that are making these decisions have no experience at all in terms of war— none.
FRYE: One of the aspects of this discussion that strikes me— and perhaps you would have had it in mind too— is that this line of argument, which is powerful and important in terms of spreading responsibility across the society— was very much a part of the debate at the time the volunteer Army was created, you may recall Gus Tyler, the labor leader for example, and others who argued strongly against the abandonment of selective service, very much on the sharing-of-the-burden logic that I think is an important part of your argument. I’m not trying to argue with you; I’m trying just to be sure we clarify the elements of the argument.
RANGEL: But we go in a different direction. I have no problem with a volunteer Army when war is not imminent. I have no problem in having those people or training those people that are going to be drafted.
But we’re not talking about protecting us in case something happens. The president is telling everybody, “If you love liberty and freedom, do what you have to do, and America is going to be there.” Which America is going to be there? The poor Americans, those that need the money, those that depend on this for their families? And to be able to have a war that’s costing $400 billion, not included in the budget, and to give a lousy $12,500 to the families who lost somebody— I think that the difference between being a professional soldier and being a draftee should not be the issue that’s here before us as a country. And it’s not what we’ve done now; it’s where we’ve got to go with this thing. I want to stop this insane policy that was started by the Project for a New American Century, which dictated that we prevent war by deciding which countries we have decided to bring freedom and liberty.
And that policy can only be stopped if you believe that your child and your grandchild is going to be there to tell these countries what America will not tolerate. Not the United Nations. And to send as an ambassador to the United Nations someone who has already said we don’t need a United Nations is an indication of how far we’re going with the inaugural address and the speech that the president gave yesterday.
So a lot of this draft idea is that. If you support the president and you think that we have a moral responsibility to bring liberty and freedom around the world at the end of a gun, then you would have to be prepared to say, “I’m prepared to fight myself or to have my son and daughter to fight or my grandchildren to fight, because I think the policy is right and I think the president is right and I think the Project for a New Century America is right.” And I don’t think it’s right.
And every one of the people that developed this policy in 1998 and 1999, before Iraq— the [Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul] Wolfowitzes, the [Vice President Dick] Cheneys, the [Governor] Jeb Bushes [R-Fla.], the [Defense Secretary Donald] Rumsfelds— all indicated in writing in the book that George put together, writing [former Speaker of the House Newt] Gingrich, writing [Senate Majority Leader Trent] Lott, writing President Clinton, saying a free America means that you have to go after Saddam Hussein. They said nothing about the 1,500 lives, nothing about the 12,000 injuries and nothing about the will of the country, except to say it will take a Pearl Harbor-type of incident to get America to understand how important this is. Once we got 9/11, Osama bin Laden didn’t matter, nor the country matter; Saddam Hussein, who is really the instigator of allowing this new idea that America and America’s men and women, young Americans that can’t afford get a job, that join the military, will be bringing freedom and liberty to these countries throughout the world.
FRYE: You know, Congressman— and we’re going to go to the floor in just a moment— one of the classic arguments for conscription, and one that worked very effectively during the 1950s and 1960s, was that having a draft hang over the head of young men, particularly, at that time, in fact induced enlistment rates to go up.
RANGEL: It did for me.
FRYE: It did for you. OK. Well, that’s an example that also bears on the logic. If you know that the draft is coming into view, maybe the enlistment rates for the volunteer force will also go up. Is that a part of the objective you have in mind?
RANGEL: No. No. I was conned. They said they were going to draft me, and some of my friends went down to enlist. And when I heard the offer that they gave them in terms of money, uniforms, looking good— I was a high school dropout— I bought it for one year and then re-enlisted for an additional three years. No, when it’s based on economics, that in and of itself is unfair. You should not have to fight for your country because you can’t afford to get a job.
FRYE: That’s a very concise and powerful conclusion for us to use as the transition to discussion around the table. And I will ask you to follow the Council’s customary practice. Even though you have name tags, the congressman may not— if he’s like I am— may not be able to read every name tag at the distance, so please state your name as you offer your question.
QUESTIONER: Congressman, Stephen Cheney with Business Executives for National Security. I served in the military from 1967 to 2001, and my last job was running recruiting for the majority of the Marine Corps. And I saw first-hand, certainly in the late ‘60s, early ‘70s, the quality of the force we had there. And whatever statistic you want to use— discipline rates, physical fitness, education levels— across the board today there are quantum differences between the quality of the force now and what we had in the late ‘60s, early ‘70s. It’s a huge difference. Most of those kids, of course, in the late ‘60s were draft-era kids. Whatever you want to, however you want to describe it, I as a former military commander wouldn’t want to use the draft as a social welfare program. What you’re interested in is a professional military that can do the job, that can fight, that will respond when you order them to respond. And I think virtually anybody in the military would reaffirm that same thought, that a draft does not give you that level of quality that you’re looking for.
RANGEL: Well, I think that’s an indictment on the military. My son served four years in the Marines, and I’ve discussed my position with him. And he believes that the military is so good and technology is so high that you have the ability to train anybody that is involved in the draft. If what you’re saying is that you can only make professionals out of those people who are poor and don’t have any other job options, then that’s a sad indictment of the Pentagon. I believe— I believe— that you and people like you are so good that you’re able to take people like me, who knew hardly anything, and make me a director of fire direction in charge of 18 155-millimeter guns, to identify the enemy wherever it was, to give commands and to bring the fire power on that enemy. I didn’t know what the hell I was doing, but I was trained to do it.
And I still believe that even if you are right, you should not have the pool of those people that are going to die in Iraq just because you can professionally say that they are more professional than those that are behind encouraging the policy that drives this, knowing that they never will be placed in harm’s way. I think the ability to decide whether you’re going to fight should be also included as to what sacrifice are you prepared to make. In no war in the history of the United States have the wealthy been able to get a tax cut while the veterans that have served are getting a reduction in the service. And that’s a fact.
So that I can’t argue with you that if you take 20 hungry people, maybe some of them prisoners, and they want to volunteer to serve their country, that you can do a better job rather than a reluctant guy that says “I have to do it,” but something happens to draftees when they get in the military. They get to understand that they love their country, to know that in order to enjoy democracy, you have to make sacrifices. And maybe it may take you a week, a month, a year longer for them to understand than someone that’s volunteering, but when you’re talking about life and death and sacrifice, I don’t see how, because you feel better with professionals, that you cannot make draftees professionals.
QUESTIONER: Well, can I just rebut for a second? When you’re talking life and death, you want the best person on the battlefield you can get. Do I want the non-high school grad, the person who doesn’t have the education level or the desire to be there? Absolutely not.
RANGEL: Why don’t you ask the mothers and the families that are left behind whether they were more concerned that their kid died because of your professional concerns and that other people that could have shared in this sacrifice. Perhaps they may not have been as good as you would want, but I’m the one that goes to the funerals. I see the regions that they come from. And never have I gone to a funeral where they said that their loved one at least was more professional than someone that decided that they didn’t want to serve.
So I’m not arguing with you. I am saying on the question of life and death, for a country that decides that people have to die to achieve our foreign policy, that there should be a shared sacrifice. That’s what I’m saying. That’s what I believe. And that’s what I believe really can’t morally be challenged. It has nothing to do with what you would want to see as being the epitome of what could be a perfect army. I’m talking about the right to live and the right to avoid dying even though you’re just as patriotic as someone else.
And if I were wrong and if this policy the president has was right, we would not be discussing this. We would go home and tell our sons and our grandchildren, “We got to win this war against terrorism; enlist in the Marines— Semper Fi, the Army, but do something, because our country is threatened.” And you wouldn’t need a draft.
FRYE: Congressman, I don’t normally introduce our intervenors from the floor, but I have to mention that the next person who is about to intervene or comment from the floor, Bob Gard, at the end of the room there, has played a crucial role on many fronts, but one that is of particular interest to you is Bob Gard, as a young general officer in the Army, was absolutely instrumental in addressing the serious drug problem in the Army that came out of Vietnam and many other issues that hollowed out the Army as Vietnam went over its long and unhappy history. Bob, I know that is not what you’d expected me to do, but I thought the congressman needed to know who you are.
RANGEL: Sergeant Rangel reporting for duty, sir.
QUESTIONER: Happy to have you aboard, Congressman. Let me take issue with my friend Steve Cheney, because we’re sort of in a different generation. I think there’s no doubt that in time of peace, with relatively high unemployment, you can develop the kind of all-volunteer force that Steve described. The problem now is that with this conflict in Iraq and the casualties, and having to employ the Guard and the Reserve, we’re seeing a downward trend in people enlisting in the Guard and Reserve to the point that I think our reserve forces are going to be in crisis.
We’ve jacked up, as you described, Congressman, the enlistment and the re-enlistment bonuses to at least they’re the largest in my memory in the military. So what’s the alternative now? Are we going to continue to have to buy the manpower? I read that already, now, we’re taking in people who did not graduate from high school, who are in the lowest mental group. Indeed, I saw a study recently of who’s re-enlisting and who isn’t, and as you might expect, the people who do not have the opportunities outside the military, those in the lower mental groups, are enlisting at a far higher— re-enlisting at a far higher rate.
What’s the option now? Suppose these trends continue. Suppose the casualties continue in Iraq. I remember very well, having been in Vietnam and having to run a training center when the volunteer army came in with the backlash of the Vietnam experience. We were taking in people who could not read at the fifth grade level. Try training them when you’ve got field manuals written by Ph.D.s at the 16th grade level.
Now, we recovered from that, because we went through a long period of not being engaged in a place like Vietnam, or in a place like Iraq now. But our armed forces, particularly the Army and the Marine Corps, are on a course that reminds me of what occurred in the late ‘60s and the early ‘70s. I don’t know what the option is. The draft does have its problems. The best army I ever served in was as a battalion commander in 1963-64 during the period of the draft with college graduates in the enlisted ranks. And it was great for the country, and it was great for the Army.
QUESTIONER: Congressman, do you want to react to that?
RANGEL: That’s why he’s a general. [Laughter]
FRYE: [Laughter] Ed, did I see your hand?
QUESTIONER: Edwin Williamson, from Sullivan and Cromwell. Congressman, just by way of background, I wanted— a couple of questions I had. Is— what is the size of the military at the time we had the universal draft? How long do draftees serve? And— this is the third question, sort of related to the first question: what do they do with— I would assume that a universal draft would produce a tremendous number of people which would vastly expand our military from the current size it is now.
RANGEL: It would be about 36 million people between 18 and 26. We couldn’t possibly need more than a million, probably far less than that, for military activity. We have a tremendous dropout rate in the poorer communities: 50 percent of high school, and only 10 percent of them actually go on to college. We also are losing our edge, competitive edge in the world in terms of technology and competition. So it would seem to me that, as the general says, [laughter] you bring everybody in, and then you determine what can you do with them, what contribution can they make? National security is not just guns and bombs, it’s education, it what contribution can you make.
And as I said, even if they went overseas, we have a big move now by Halliburton and private companies to substitute what military were doing. They get tremendous salaries. One of the reasons why you don’t get a lot of reenlistment is because a sergeant can make a hell of a lot more money joining Halliburton than reenlisting at the end of his term and doing the same thing. I know people that have had fantastic jobs in the military; they get better jobs in the private sector. We can train people to do these non-military jobs. They can go overseas. They can stay here. They could be the eyes and ears. No one, with all of the security you have at the airport— I mean, there’s none in the railroads— we all know we don’t feel more secure. But if you had people with uniforms that felt proud of what they were doing, helping kids to learn, helping old folks, being in our railroad stations, our seaports, it’s just saying we are at war. And you don’t have to be poor and a draftee in order to be a part of the defense of this great country. There’s just so many things we can be doing. Capitol Hill, we got wall to wall policemen, we got barriers, we got— it’s impossible to negotiate. But I would suspect that if we had interns and if we had students and we had people studying government in their uniform, helping the tourists and doing those things that— I would feel far more secure than I do just with Capitol police. There’s just a lot of things that young people can do. And knowing at the end of the day someone may ask, “Well, what did you accomplish,” you can say, “Well, I don’t know, but I served for two years and I feel better for it.”
FRYE: Let me just introduce one point of fact, and then I’ll go to Toby in the back row. It’s important to understand, as the older people in the room might not, that if selective service were to be revived, it would be a very different system from the one that existed prior to the 1970s. The 2S [student] deferment that the vice president enjoyed, that I enjoyed, and I suspect some others in this room enjoyed during the college and graduate school period, would not be available. Deferments would consist of only allowing students to finish high school; if they’re in college, if they were called, they could only finish that semester. So it’s a much tighter approach to draft service.
RANGEL: Men and women—
FRYE: Men and women—
RANGEL: --if you don’t finish high school by 19, you serve. Everybody. And you should be proud that you’ve been called.
FRYE: So that— those are important facts to have in mind when we think about this image of the resumption of the draft.
RANGEL: No exemption, even from your congressman. [Laughter]
FRYE: [Laughter] And the system would be a lottery system, unlike the process that prevailed prior to the 1970-71 period, a lottery system in which numbers would be drawn, and the person would know from the lottery number where he stood or she stood in the rank of selection. So they would not have great uncertainty chronically hanging over them being in this pool of 36 million or so, forever able to be called. So there are important technical changes that I think people need to be aware of. The younger people in the room never had any knowledge of this. The older people probably have the older image. It is not the same kind of conscription that would be involved.
RANGEL: And like Dr. Frye said, if you say you want to do your two years and get it over with, you can do that, too.
FRYE: Toby, I think I saw your hand.
QUESTIONER: Thank you. Toby Gati, Akin Gump. I was the assistant secretary for intelligence and research in the Clinton administration. I was against the war in Iraq. Perhaps one of the reasons is, I do have two children who were draft age, although at the time I don’t think I thought about that. In other conflicts, I did. During the Cold War, I thought, “Would I want my child to fight, or would I fight?” And the answer was yes. So I think your question is very valid. But, you know, there’s a difference between military service and service. So my question is, not every soldier fights on the front line. And as the 9/11 Commission report said, our tests are not all military. They’re going out and have Americans be around and teaching about what our system is like and other tasks. Not every war for democracy would require an invasion— I would hope. Otherwise, I think we’d be kind of busy for the next couple of years. Why don’t we have the distinction between military service and service so that people could, in effect, choose that option? You would get your volunteer army, so to speak, from that pool, but the other people would have things to do. A lot of my daughter’s friends who are 22 are going into TeachAmerica. They’re going to get, like, $12,000 a year. There’s no bonus for doing that.
RANGEL: I’d agree with you on that. That’s my legislation exactly. There would be 36 million people that would be eligible. Out of that, there’d be— one-fortieth would be eligible, I mean— that would be involved in military service. There’ll be— it would be infinitesimal, the number of people that would actually be included in the military. My bill is universal service, not universal military service. Military/national service. It should be something like Dr. Frye said, what someone said, I shouldn’t have to be drafted for that, I want to serve in the domestic corps, I want to serve in the Foreign Service, I want to do my time at teaching in schools or in hospitals. I want to be a part of this national, international war against terrorism.
So I agree with you. I’m not an expert, but if we had inspectors in Iraq and had young people in Iraq and talking about freedom, we wouldn’t have a hundred thousands Iraqis dead and 1,500 Americans dead. I think we can take a group of young people and send them all over the world. They’re the ambassadors, not the military, that can do these things. But I’m not throwing that with the draft, I’m just agreeing with you that there are many, many jobs Americans can do, because Americans are true ambassadors for freedom and liberty, and not the military.
FRYE: Other comments? Let me see hands, if you will, or turn your card up.
RANGEL: Can I ask one question?
FRYE: You certainly may.
RANGEL: Can I find someone here that is a parent or a grandparent that truly believe in this war and the philosophy of the president in taking this— OK. Great. Good.
QUESTIONER: My grandson didn’t know what to do. And I figured he’s in high school and wouldn’t make it through college, or— he enlisted and he went to Kuwait. They— he started writing anyway from Baghdad with a tank. And he said, “Granddad,” he said, you know, “the best thing I ever did.” These people are better off. We are fighting for democracy, which I believe in, and freedom. He said, “I’m proud I went there, I’m proud to be there.” He said, “and I hope every son would go there. I’m glad that you supported me to go.” There you are.
RANGEL: Well, then, I support that. I believe every son of anybody that supports it should be able to say every son that goes there, even those that don’t enlist. What about you, sir?
QUESTIONER: I’m sorry, maybe I misunderstood. I’ve just been to the— I have a son who’s in the Marines, but not in Iraq. And I certainly—
RANGEL: No, no. Then— then people like you should be able to support the war, because in the [inaudible]--the goals, objectives of the Pentagon. The people that I was really looking for would be those that would say, as I hear the wives say, as I have these different meetings in New York, some of my friends say, “But Charlie, you got to support the president. This is wartime. He knows best.” Sometimes their wives, the mothers of the children are with them. And I said, “Would you feel the same if your son was in the military, or your son was drafted?” And I tell you, 99 out of a hundred of the people that have kids that support are not talking about their kids being on the front lines.
QUESTIONER: Congressman, I will have to disclose that my wife disagrees with me. [Laughter]
FRYE: As you can tell, the Council prides itself on honest discourse. [Laughter]
RANGEL: Well, I came here, really, to learn. I’ve been getting beat up all around the country, and it’s helped me a great deal, because I’d want someone to show me how the elimination of this bum Saddam Hussein and these elections that were had were worth the price that we’re paying.
I asked Condoleezza Rice. I said, “Assuming that these blossoms of freedom and liberty that’s taken place in Egypt and in Lebanon and to see the changes, assuming it was because we got rid of Saddam Hussein, is there enough now of the invasions so that we don’t have to go to Iran and we can say that we’ve proven our point?” She says, “Congressman, war— the option of war is never taken off of the table.”
QUESTIONER: At this time— you know, your argument had much more weight before the 30th of January. But when you saw how many people risked their lives to go vote in Iraq, and you see what’s happened there; when you see the thing that happened in Ukraine, where a corrupt guy is thrown out and new one [inaudible]; when you see what’s happening in Lebanon today, yes, things are moving. I just wonder, you know, if you don’t— or let me put it [laughter] in a less pejorative context— don’t you see that things are moving?
QUESTIONER: And don’t you recognize—
QUESTIONER: --and agree that things are moving for the better?
QUESTIONER: All right.
RANGEL: Yes. Yes, but my question is, since the president can only go to war with the support of the Congress that represents the American people, the question should be, would the American people support the war, support the loss of 1,500 lives, support 12,000 wounded, support not knowing how long it’s going to take, support the $400 billion if they knew what we would get out of it is this movement toward democracy?
QUESTIONER: My answer’s yes.
RANGEL: Well, I know that the answer would be no. We got so many bums like Saddam Hussein around the world, and Egypt does not overly impress me that they’re going to have an election. I don’t know what we’re going to do in Iran. We’re waving swords at North Korea. And if I thought that the Pentagon and members of Congress and the White House— they’re saying that, and we’re prepared to fight and die for it. The president said yesterday we’ll go anywhere, we’ll fight anywhere, we’ll stay the course. I mean, with all due respect to the Texas National Guard, I mean, that kind of language means that you’re prepared to make some sacrifice. And I’m telling you that as good as I felt about the people that came out to vote, there’s an estimated 100,000 people who won’t be able to come out anywhere. They were killed, collateral damage.
And so if the vote was on the question I raised, and the Congress said, “Yes, it’s worth the price, and we’re prepared to put up our kids and grandkids to spread this type of democracy around the world and support the president,” it just means I’m wrong again. That’s all. It’s no big deal. But I don’t believe I’m wrong, and I don’t believe most people believe I’m wrong.
FRYE: Congressman, Ed Rowny, who just intervened, of course, brings a very long and distinguished career himself to this discussion. And I think in your exchange we see a clear demarcation in the view about both the justification of the Iraqi intervention and the policy that more broadly favors the expansion of democracy.
I want to lead us back to the focus of our discussion here by asking: In view of the trends that we had mentioned around the table— and one we didn’t mention is the apparent turn, measured by the survey data, toward a majority of Americans having second thoughts about the war in Iraq and no longer confident it was worthwhile. We have a very substantial negative impact on recruitment and enlistment, reflected in several services’ failure to meet their contract goals for new enlistees.
In view of those trends and recognizing that last fall’s 402-to-2 vote was, in most respects, phoney; it was constructed in a circumstance which an independent analyst would say was calculated to make it an invalid vote as a measure of opinion— in light of all those factors, do you believe there’s any prospect for a serious discussion of the revival of conscription along the lines that you have advocated?
RANGEL: Not really. It all depends on what the Pentagon would say their military needs are. And if they are going to support the president’s views, as I understood it yesterday, as I understood it with the inauguration, as I see those who belong to the Project for a New American Century, which believes that we have an obligation to the world to have a military presence wherever we find dictators and lack of democracy, then we’re going to have to back that up.
And you bet your life there’s going to be discussion on the draft, because you will not be able to fulfill the requirements that’s necessary to fulfill this foreign policy, which I think is almost insane to promise people who are oppressed, [to] depend on the United States. Retention is low, enlistment is low, we’re dealing with a bad situation with the military.
So then the question has to be: How do you intend to fulfill these commitments with people who are prepared to die for their freedom, knowing that America is going to be there? And you have to talk about the draft. In my opinion, when you do that, you’re changing your foreign policy.
FRYE: Mr. Rangel, trying to think about the possible processes involved here, it is estimated that if the selective service process were activated, it would still be more than six months before the first conscript even showed up for training. So we have a long lead time here, and that leads back to the question: With no confidence that this would pass, is it possible that there are arrangements that could bring about at least serious hearings, if not in the House you have hearings in the Senate, that might be prepared to explore this in a proper set of hearings to be prepared, if necessary, to advance this issue for a decision?
RANGEL: The answer to your question would be the Pentagon needs the military to fulfill our foreign policy. And it could very well be that it would have to slow down this feeling that the president has that we can intimidate all of these countries with the military. And I tell you this— and the general mentioned it— when I introduced my draft bill, I got a call from [Senator] Fritz Hollings [D-S.C.]. He said, “You can talk about poor folks and inner-city folks all you want. My constituents in the Reserves are catching hell, and you’re going to hear from them.” They are grandparents, they’re people that have decent jobs, their salaries have been reduced, all of these pressures. It’s just like me saying I’m prepared to go to fight, and I’ve got my army with me. I look back and I find out the Army is not ready. I have to adjust my confrontation to perhaps more of a diplomatic approach to it, rather than say you can depend on me being there when you need me. I have to be very selective in using the military, when what you’re telling me I may not have the strong military I want to fulfill the goals which I said I’m going to get.
And while you’re doing this, Americans are going to have to do what we’ve done now and to find out is this approach what we want. Can the president of the United States declare war against countries when there is no imminent danger? And I’m telling you that the rules of war have changed in this administration— not defense, Japan, not imminent attack, preventive attack, pre-emptive, but to avoid the imminent danger. That is so subjective: to avoid the imminent danger we can declare war. That doesn’t bother me if the war didn’t mean that Americans were going to lose their lives or that a lot of foreigners that are innocent would lose their lives. That’s what we’re talking about, the subjective determination that a group of people can make, as patriotic as they may be, in saying, “Get rid of X,” and the rest of the world will see that you mean business, and fearful of your military power they would collapse and terrorism would vanish, or at least be diminished.
And so when you’re the president and you’re the commander-in- chief, you have to have the power to catch up with your rhetoric if you’re going to have any international credibility.
FRYE: Congressman, we come now to the moment of adjournment. I want to thank you very much for this.
RANGEL: Thank you.
FRYE: And in your last reference to the discussion with Senator Hollings, and also in General Gard’s comments earlier, it may be that the feedback of the distresses imposed on the Reserves and National Guard families will turn out to be the political catalyst—
RANGEL: I agree.
FRYE: --for a far different kind of discussion of this issue than has yet taken place.
RANGEL: I wish I had spent more time on that, because you are not talking about young people, like I was when I was 20 years old, believing that death may be for somebody else, but not for me. There is a different feeling that young people have than with the Reservists, some of whom are retired, some who are grandparents. They’re called the civilian army. They’re wonderful people. I see them off. They cry. They do the right thing. They’re patriotic. They really thought they were going to put out forest fires and help against floods. They’re prepared to serve. But when you go once, you go twice, you go three times, there’s a breaking point. And Dr. Frye, we have reached that point with our Reservists.
FRYE: Well, Congressman, Lenny Bruce was not my favorite comedian, but he once said that he needed a lawyer who would have been able to get a driver’s license for Ray Charles. [Laughter] And I think it’s sort of like needing an advocate who could persuade George Bush that John Kerry should have been elected. These are large tasks indeed, and it isn’t caricaturing it at all, I think, to say that the task you have set yourself requires an advocate of that kind of ability. I think you qualify, and we could see that this morning. And we are grateful very much to have you with us.
RANGEL: Thank you, Dr. Frye. [Applause] Now tell me: Why is the Russian press here and not the American press? [Laughter]
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