I thought it might be worth saying a bit more about the popularity of this notion of raising an army of foreigners to fight the Iraq War for us. I think this is a problematic concept on its own merits, but beyond that it’s illustrative of the unseriousness of a lot of hawkish commentary these days. We all understand why a draft is politically unfeasible and regarded by the military brass as undesirable anyway. But what about a more serious effort by the big minds behind the endless war policy to get people to sign up?
Michael O’Hanlon is slightly too old for the army, but I bet he’s got some fighting-age research associates and interns over there at Brookings. Barbara and Jenna Bush could sign up, and so could the seemingly unemployed Meghan McCain. Fred Kagan’s eligible to serve at 38 as are various other AEI fellows. But beyond individual people, the institutions of the conservative movement writ large could be encouraging young conservatives to go sign up. They could be selflessly offering to wage the battle of ideas purely with the too old, the disabled, and the openly gay as their comrades in arms, while urging young and healthy rightwingers to go sign up. Not only would that have some direct impact on the manpower situation, but the demonstration effect on the remaining pro-war 30-35 percent of the country could be large. Meanwhile, if it worked it would be a significant rejoinder to criticisms from Democrats and others that the force is being unduly strained.
But it’s not happening and it’s not going to happen. And the significance of that observation isn’t to call the people who aren’t making it happen “chicken.” The point is just that if, chicken or not, you really thought Iraq was the central front in a world-historical struggle against Islamofascism you’d be leading recruiting drives. You’d be signing up yourself if eligible to serve, and you’d be encouraging young people over whom you have some sway or influence to do the same. But though a lot of people say all kinds of things about the enormously high stakes in Iraq, few people’s revealed preferences indicate that they believe it. I don’t think it makes sense to say that everyone who favors some given military operation has an obligation to join the service (among other things, I’m familiar with more than one person who decided to enlist after 9/11 in order to fight al-Qaeda and wound up in Iraq) but in light of the fact that there are very real recruiting problems it seems like something that ought to be taken more seriously. But at a minimum, it seems to me that people ought to bring their war-related rhetoric more in line with their actual war-related behavior.
UPDATE: Important factual error-like thing in the post, Jason Zengerle notes that McCain has a son in the Marines and another in the naval academy. I didn’t know that McCain even had sons. That obviously puts the point about Meghan McCain in a very different context.