Conscription is not the answer;
Real transformation is.

by SteveD

February 7, 2005
Republished with permission.

[DNI Editor's note:  "SteveD" is a retired intelligence officer with considerable experience in Middle Eastern affairs.  We are bringing our visitors his most recent comment not because we agree with everything he says—that would not be true of virtually any article that we have ever published—but because it offers a refreshing contrast to the Panglossian tone that infects so much of post-election analysis. 

In this piece, he often uses the term "Islamism," for which he offers the following definition: 

The belief that Muslims are required by their faith to live in accordance with the Qur'an under Muslim rulers, and sharia law, with "religious teachers" (imams or mullahs) as judges who are the ultimate source of authority in society, and that non-Muslims should be reduced to dhimmis—essentially tolerated resident aliens.

A corollary, drawn from the Qur'an, is that all lands that were once under Muslim rule are inherently and properly Muslim, and believers cannot rest until they are once again Muslim rule— and this righteous struggle is a defensive jihad (holy struggle).]


The Administration's defense/military/national security policy for the Global War on Islamism has totally failed—I can't put it more nicely.  They genuinely seem to believe that a Shi'ite-dominated Iraq in which the major political movements all have close ties to, if not dependencies upon, Islamist Iran is good for America and the world. They seem to believe that building schools and hospitals and creating Iraqi military and police forces is going to make Iraq into a stable, pro-US, pluralistic, secular democracy. We are not seeing a "transient spike" in ops tempo that will soon decline to some never experienced "peacetime," but are in the midst of a steady ramping up to a total war ops tempo not really seen since World War II—our last total war.

The Army is certainly overstretched as a result of these failed policies—especially when it comes to fielding combat-capable maneuver forces. However, we don't need a draft. Conscription will not save the army from the results of the Iraq fiasco, nor will it replace it with anything remotely comparable in capability after Iraq.  What the US needs to fight and win the Global War On Islamism is first and foremost an acknowledgement that our enemy is vast, multi-faceted, implacable, and willing to pay a price in blood for victory that we would blanch at. This will be a long, painful war—especially if the US insists on trying to fight it on their terms while trying to demonstrate how moral and benevolent we Americans are by rebuilding our enemies even before they fully surrender. Second, the nation also needs to throw off the deadly self-delusion that the US can win this war while maintaining a huge, bloated domestic government and a peace-time civil economy. The country must return to Cold War era military spending and a more efficient use of money, especially in the Army—moving away from extraneous gee-whiz info-warfare gear and back to optimizing individual and small unit soldier equipment—uniforms, weapons, personal protective gear, comm/nav equipment, hand-held sensors, etc.

Officer management

The armed forces, and especially the Army, need to implement the sort of reforms that officers like Macgregor and Vandergriff have long been advocating. Presidentially requested, Congressionally-imposed artificial end-strength limitations on the Services must be eliminated, and the artificial up-or-out promotion systems for officers and NCOs must be eliminated as well. Every competent person in the Services should be retained as long as they are willing and able to stay—and promote those who demonstrate the ability to handle greater responsibility and who have a broader grasp of the "big picture." As a corollary, the services, especially the Army, need to substantially increase the number of captains, majors, and lieutenant colonels in maneuver units and battalion/brigade-level staffs, and drastically trim the number of general officers (GOs), especially CONUS GOs serving in staff jobs that should be filled by "career colonels." Most GO/FOs (flag officers) in all of the services should be commanding combatant commands, joint task forces, or deploying service component forces, or should be retired. They get their substantial pay and perks because they are expected to make the tough decisions, fast and under the pressure of combat, and take the responsibility for the good and the bad alike. They should earn 'em.

Reserve forces

The US also needs to fully mobilize the Reserves "for the duration," and kill the absurd notion that reserve personnel can be mobilized for a year or more every two to four years and still have a civilian career, meet their family and community commitments, etc. To complement this, Americans must not only realize that we are not safe—that probably came about after the 9/11/01 attacks, but that we need a substantial military force to back up our civil authorities in protecting our coasts, airspace, and borders, and in dealing with domestic emergencies. America needs its National Guard back home for homeland defense/homeland security—not serving as brigade-sized rent-a-forces to compensate for a severely undersized active force. The Total Force made sense for the Cold War's unique combination of central European sitzkrieg and third world proxy wars. It doesn't make sense for the permanently mobilized force needed to maintain the US' hegemonic position west of the Indus River and in SE Asia (East Asia and South Asia are Chinese and Indian hegemonic belts). We don't need non-mobilized "Selected Reserves" for a long-term, total war.


If you want to REALLY recreate the "Vietnam experience" on a much larger scale, bring back the draft for the Global War on Islamism. A draftee force will have far higher casualties than our current professional force, will have far more friendly fire incidents, more "collateral damage" and "atrocities," and even less chance of winning against a determined, "nothing to lose but honor" enemy. With our current doctrine, tactics, and structures, we put enormous responsibility on J.O.s and junior NCOs and even first-term corporals/specialists. Most Americans today are not like the generation that was drafted into WW2 and Korea. They are not the Depression-hardened, farm/mill-hand types. Today's "couch-potato youth" run through a Vietnam-style "basic training mill" and dumped into combat will DIE FAST over there. While these video-game whiz kids could be trained up for high-tech, net-centric conventional warfare, they will be totally out of their league in the complex, dirty, alien, demanding environment of counter-insurgency warfare. Even worse, conscription ties up the valuable, already over-stretched senior NCOs and mid-grade officers nurse-maiding conscripts through induction, basic training, pre-deployment prep, and post-deployment demobilization. Conscription will ensure that the Army will be destroyed, just as it wound up being in the late '50s after Korea and again in the mid-late '70s after 'Nam. That will leave the US even more dependent upon nukes, airpower, and the Marines (as we were in the 70s and 80s) until we kill the draft AGAIN and spend another decade re-professionalizing the forces.

On the political side, bringing back the draft will do more than just about anything else to guarantee that the US will lose the war to the Islamists, withdraw from the eastern hemisphere, and allow the Radical Islamists to conquer it within a quarter century. Why? Because in a democracy, one cannot sustain an empire or an imperial war with an impressed military that was a major reason why Britain, France, etc. lost theirs. A conscripted force in a defensive fight for immediate survival is one thing. A conscripted force for an endless battle to govern the ungovernable and "free" the unworthy is another story entirely. As was the case with Vietnam (and almost was the case with Korea), the endless progression of casualties, the constant scandal-mongering about atrocities and mistakes, and the growing disgust with a costly, unwinnable war with no positive end state, will bring it to a humiliating close.

Women in combat

As for the demise of the "no women in combat" and other sociological conveniences, that is long overdue. that should have died the very same day the decisions were made to eliminate women's auxiliaries and put women directly in the regular and reserve and Guard forces. If they are going to compete with men for promotion and positions and schools, etc., they should have the same requirements to get those perks—including combat time in combat arms. Of course, this means no gender-norming or quotas—it means that units must be made up of those fully mentally and physically qualified for the hard work of war (another reason why conscription won't work—even fewer draft-age women are qualified for the real demands of Co-In warfare than draft-age men).


Hegemonism (dominating a world full of nominally independent countries through a mixture of economic muscle, diplomacy, subversion, and military force) is unstable and unsustainable—it is a constant struggle to assert and sustain dominance ultimately relying upon indirect and insufficient means. The only way one nation can sustainably dominate another is by becoming unabashedly imperialist—not like the British in the 19th or 20th century (far too costly), but like the Ottomans or Habsburgs did—and don't relent or get "liberal" about it. If the US insists on "fixing" the Islamic world, it must occupy and exploit the Persian Gulf littoral for a long period—decades—funding the operations by controlling the oil directly (Uncle Sam's Oil Company becomes the sole exporter of Gulf oil) and making it self-sustaining the way the old British East India Company started out to be in the 17th and 18th centuries. If the US controls everything, it can then manipulate the shaykhs the way they used to be manipulated by the Ottomans, the British, and by their indigenous rulers—a combination of carrots (money, prestige, privileges) and sticks (expropriation, imprisonment, holding hostages to ensure compliance, and if necessary, liquidation).