GREETINGS!….If George Bush is reelected, will he reinstate the draft? Merely asking the question has raised such howls of indignation from conservatives that it’s pretty clear this question is hitting pretty close to the warblogger bone.

And why shouldn’t it? After all, Bush has made his military stance clear: he will take the fight to the terrorists. Iraq is the central front in the war on terror. Iran will not be allowed to build nuclear weapons.

But everyone knows this is meaningless rhetoric given our current military strength. In Iraq alone, there’s virtually unanimous agreement that we’re too undermanned to successfully fight the growing insurgency there, which means there are only two realistic options: pull out or increase troop levels. “Staying the course” is a recipe for defeat.

So what’s going to happen? Bush says he won’t pull out, and it’s also clear that as long as he’s in the White House (and maybe even if he isn’t) we won’t get any serious assistance from other countries. What’s more, as this Defense Science Board report makes clear, there are no more Army troops available right now, and Donald Rumsfeld knows perfectly well that his “modularity” initiative won’t change that. So where will the additional troops come from? Not from the National Guard, that’s for sure.

Basically, then, the troop strength question boils down to this:

  • Bush will not pull out of Iraq, but he also cannot afford to lose there. And while he doesn’t have the political courage to say this before the election, there’s clearly only one way to turn things around: more troops. More American troops. All the fatuous Rumsfeldian “by gollys” in the world won’t change that simple reality.

  • There’s no reason to think that Bush will change his philosophy of preventive war in a second term. Neither the neocons nor the garden variety hawks that control his administration will allow that. Unless you’re an incurable optimist, this means more wars in the Middle East.

  • Iran is building a nuclear bomb. Does anyone truly doubt this? There are only two ways to prevent this: serious negotiations, including concessions from the United States, or military action. But Bush has refused to negotiate with Iran, and there’s no reason to think this will change in a second term. That means it’s either military action or a nuclear Iran. And if it’s military action, that means more troops. A lot more troops.

The conclusion to all this is pretty obvious: either George Bush dramatically changes his military policy in a second term or else we’re going to need a lot more teenage boots in the Middle East. A suprising number of moderates seem to be desperately pinning their hopes on the former ? based on some wishful thinking that I have a hard time grasping ? while conservatives are loudly blustering that the latter is just laughable ? although they don’t present any particular evidence for this. In the end, they like sounding tough, but as long as an election is on the line they aren’t prepared to level with the country about the logical consequences of that toughness.

It’s easy for me to be philosophical about this: I’m 45 and I have a bad back. No tours of duty in the Khyber Pass for me. But if I were 18, or if I were the father of a 16-year-old, I’d be taking a much closer look at the plain realities of George Bush’s policies and setting aside the pre-election happy talk. It’s naive to think he’s suddenly going to become a new man in his second term, and it’s foolish to think his current policies won’t lead to further wars. After all, that’s what a lot of his supporters are actively rooting for. As this Zogby poll shows, it looks like draft-age men are finally starting to realize this.

Bottom line: You can vote for Texas bluster and a draft, or you can vote for real-world common sense and a volunteer army. It’s naive to think you can get one without the other.