Aaron David Miller argues in Foreign Policy that you better get used to the U.S. taking a backseat in world affairs. Chief among the reasons he cites is the aftermath of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, which have blunted most – if not all – future temptations to boldly remake places with centuries-old histories of dog-eat-dog into Jeffersonian democracies. The following part of his column stood out:
(The wars) were an effort to counter a perceived existentialist threat after 9/11, not just by taking the fight to the enemy or denying him sanctuary, but by transforming battlegrounds into functioning nations. Indeed, they were not just discretionary wars; they were driven by the unattainable goal of constructing states. There was never really any way to define victory other than by leaving.
Had there been a draft in the United States, it would have been highly unlikely that America would have stayed in these wars for a decade or more. In fact, there is something very wrong about having the two longest wars in the nation’s history waged by 0.5 percent of the population, particularly when there is little sense of shared obligation, challenge, or sacrifice. Is it really OK for the military to be at war if the country is not?
(Editor’s note: Maybe Rep. Charles Rangel was right when he introduced a bill in 2003 to reinstate the draft so more people – more families across America and every Member of Congress – have skin in the game. War is no longer an abstraction when you know someone who’s going off to war. I do disagree with Rangel’s motivation for introducing the bill, which was the assertion that servicemembers participating in the wars were disproportionately minorities or poorer. If you believe research (e.g., you’re not some annoying conspiracy theorist who likes to argue), that’s simply not true. See for yourself: http://media.iava.org/iava_2012_member_survey.pdf or http://www.fas.org/sgp/crs/natsec/RS22452.pdf. According to data compiled by the Congressional Research Service, 3,697 white service members were killed in Iraq and Afghanistan, or 82.6% of all fatal casualties. The next closest racial group was blacks, with 444 deaths or 9.9% of all fatal casualties, followed by Hispanics with 230 deaths, or 5.1% of all fatal casualties.)
Back to Miller’s column:
… It will be a long time before another president from either political party gets into another one of these trillion-dollar social-science projects. Our economic travails and the downsizing of the military and changing nature of how we plan to fight wars guarantee it.