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Tuesday, October 26, 2004

 

conscription


there's been a great deal of speculation during this election about the possibility of the resumption of the draft. i've generally pooh-poohed it as political anathema -- if you want to get re-elected in emancipated individualist america, you can't start drafting kids for elective wars.

but there are dark warnings out there from knowledgeable sources about what is happening to our armed forces as a result of iraq and afghanistan and the imperial overreach that has become for the united states -- like so many empires before it -- a symptom of reaching their apex.

the latest came tonight, from a "frontline" interview with gen. thomas white, secretary of the army from 2001-2003 (when he was relieved by rumsfeld for backing gen. shinseki's congressional testimony about troop deployment):

Is the Army broken?

Yeah, I think so. We're on the brink. We are in a situation where we are grossly overdeployed, and it is unlike any other period in the 229-year history of the Army. We have never conducted a sustained combat operation with a volunteer force, with a force that we have to compete in the job market to hire every year. Every other force that we've ever done this with, going back to the Vietnam period to something comparable, has been a draftee conscript force.

So what we are all worried about is that the manpower situation will come unglued. ... The Army is people; it's not weapons or platforms. Somebody once said, "A soldier's not in the Army; they are the Army."

And the quality of the soldiers [has] been the enormous advantage we've had since the volunteer force was put in place, and the quality of the noncommissioned officers corps. Well, that is a married Army, among other things. You may recruit soldiers, but you retain families. And I think we're all concerned that we are teetering on the brink here and that if we can't get to a lower operational tempo, or at least have some point in the future that we can set our sails against where it might occur, that the Army on the manpower side's going to come unglued.

So that Army that we talked about at the beginning that was happy to see the grown-ups finally come, that military is how different than the one the next administration will inherit?

Enormously different. The one that they inherited had very low Reserve component mobilization, for example. That Army maybe had seven or eight brigade-sized units deployed overseas. So maybe one brigade in five was deployed; now we have two brigades out of three, or three brigades out of four. ... So while the good news is you have a veteran, higher level of combat experience between the active component of the Reserve of any Army since the Second World War, the price is that particularly Reserve component people will say, "I'm as big a patriot as anybody else, but I've been gone three years out of the last four, and that's not what I signed up for." And I think we're all concerned that that's where we're
headed.
i don't know what will happen, and there are many routes to go. one is conscription. another is increased reliance on mercenaries, a habit the united states has already grown accustomed to even in combat operations. another is territorial armies, as the british used to conscript from the sikhs and gurkhas -- it is possible that the future iraqi army, should iraq remain an american territory, will become essentially a division of the american army.

but the intersection of systemic overdeployment and the pre-emptive military posture of an aggressor nation has not yet found an equilibrium. until it does, conscription remains in play -- regardless of rumsfeld's lying about what he cannot know.


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