DRAFT ANIMAL… News that the U.S. military failed to guard stockpiles of very high explosives in Iraq is only the latest example of the consequences of the Bush administration’s insane decision to occupy that country with insufficient numbers of troops. The administration hasn’t deployed more troops in large part because we don’t have many more available, given our other commitments around the world. And that fact, in turn, has led to rampant speculation that the president, should he win reelection, will reinstate the draft. The Kerry campaign has fed that speculation; the Bush campaign has denied it.

It makes sense for Kerry to exploit the draft issue if it helps him win. And at least Kerry, unlike Bush, has offered an alternative plan for increasing the size of the military by 40,000 troops, via increasing pay and bonuses for new recruits. But the Kerry people must know that there’s a limit to how many young people you can lure into the all-volunteer force without seriously lowering your standards. And from various sources–including news stories of recruiters pursuing kids with criminal records or who can barely pass their GEDs–one senses that we’ve about reached that limit.

So what happens if Iraq gets worse, or North Korea implodes, or any one of a dozen other scenarios happens that might require further commitments of U.S. troops? How, short of garnering significant military help from allies, are we going to handle our manpower needs?

The answer is we probably can’t, short of a draft. Which is why we at The Washington Monthly have put forth our plan for a new kind of draft. You can read about it here and here. It’s a plan that guards against the kind of injustices we saw in Vietnam, while not undermining the many advantages of today’s all-volunteer military. In a nutshell, we propose that every young person headed for a four-year college be required, as a condition of admittance, to serve his or her country for a year or two in some capacity–as an AmeriCorps member, in some homeland security role, or in the military. All who complete their service would receive G.I.-Bill-type college scholarships, with the largest grants going to those who serve the longest and choose the most dangerous duty. No one, then, would be required to join the military. But even if only, say, five percent of the million-plus young people who enter four-year colleges a year were to choose the military option, the U.S. military would be getting 50,000 additional college-grade volunteers to deploy as needed (probably as MPs and truck drivers in places like Kosovo and South Korea, but possibly in Iraq).

It’s fashionable in Washington to dismiss the idea of bringing back the draft as a political nonstarter. Not only is this attitude irresponsible; I don’t even think it’s necessarily true. Last week, I laid out our draft idea to about 200 college students and professors in Twin Falls, Idaho–deep Bush country. In a show of hands, more than half favored the idea; only two opposed it. I’ve had similar reactions all over the country. Maybe, after the elections, someone in authority will at least float the idea.

Paul Glastris

Paul Glastris is the editor in chief of the Washington Monthly. A former speechwriter for President Bill Clinton, he is writing a book on America’s involvement in the Greek War of Independence.