Jewish World Review March 5, 2003/ I Adar II 5763


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Bring Back the Draft? A Middle-Aged Timesman is Gung Ho | Do we really need the second coming of Father James Fallows mucking up magazines? Fallows, the self-appointed conscience of the media, attracted attention years ago when he bared his soul in print about the belated guilt he felt at not serving in Vietnam. Safe at Harvard as a youth, Fallows recalled seeing middle- and lower-class Bostonians of his age lining up at bus stations on the way to boot camp, unable to escape the draft as he and his fellow intellectuals had.

In Sunday's New York Times Magazine, James Traub, nearing 50, duplicated Fallows' tortured confession and endorsed Rep. Charlie Rangel's race-baiting legislation for the return of mandatory conscription. Never mind that Def. Sec. Donald Rumsfeld, among others, scoffs at the idea, arguing that the all-volunteer forces are far more effective because the men and women made a conscious choice to join the military and aren't distracted or demoralized by those, as in Vietnam, who were forced into service. Unlike Fallows, at least Traub didn't have to pull strings to avoid that war. Like myself, he received a draft card in 1973, although it was just another form of identification after Richard Nixon opted for an all-volunteer military. But now, in his middle-aged contemplation, the Times contributor believes Rangel's gambit (which attracted just 11 co-sponsors) is simply dandy. Not that Traub himself has temporarily abandoned his career to offer his talents to Tom Ridge.

He writes: "[T]he ultimate justification for conscription must be moral... [A] truly democratic draft might also, as Rangel suggests, alter the strategic calculus: if the children of journalists, legislators and policy experts were called to military service, we might do a more thorough, and a more honest, job of deciding exactly what it is that's worth fighting for.. [I]t's true that we live in a genuinely threatening world; that is, alas, the very reason that military service, or at least some kind of service, should be mandatory, rather than a matter of individual conscience or marketplace choice." Traub's logic doesn't survive even cursory scrutiny. Currently, there's hardly a consensus among journalists, legislators and policy experts about the imminent invasion of Iraq. Sen. John McCain, a hawk, doesn't favor the draft. Most mainstream journalists, if only because they detest George W. Bush (or his policies), are antiwar. As for the Democratic presidential candidates, forget it. Supporting Rangel's half-baked idea isn't likely to win the youth vote. Obviously, Traub is aiming at conservative advocates of Bush's visionary foreign policy, believing that pundits like the Weekly Standard's Fred Barnes (who has draft-age children) or Republican congressmen with either kids or grandkids would be "more honest" about today's global crisis if their kin faced danger. I don't believe this is true. Does Traub really think Bush's goals would be different if his draft-age twin daughters were required to perform public service? And I doubt Hillary Clinton's calculated position on Iraq would change if her daughter Chelsea was eligible for a draft.

Traub's essay is Bush-bashing dressed up as a "think" piece. In the Times Magazine of Jan. 14, 2001, his Florida recount bitterness was noisy from the get-go. Writing about the second debate between the president-elect and Al Gore, Traub said: "After a brief, failed attempt to get Bush to concede that he would not necessarily intervene abroad even to prevent genocide, Gore essentially gave up trying to draw sharp distinctions with his opponent, apparently reasoning that deploying his immensely superior knowledge of the world might seem pedantic rather than seasoned. (Bush was held to have won the debate after successfully reciting the names of four large Middle Eastern countries.)... "The core issue is not whether Bush is smart enough to grasp the nuances of a complex world-he has smart advisers for that-but whether he cares enough."

In fairness, Traub's dismissive pre-inauguration piece was written pre-9/11, but now that Bush is a foreign-policy president, he implied last Sunday that the United States is rushing recklessly into combat overseas. Traub might've received a hearty handshake from Howell Raines for his goofy essay-maybe even an invitation to have a cocktail with the boss-but a man should listen to his wife. "I have a 12-year-old son," Traub writes. "The idea that in six or seven years Alex might be drafted is a little bit comical [huh?], but mostly appalling. My wife thinks I'm crazy even to suggest the idea."

She's right, Mr. Traub: You're certifiable.

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JWR contributor "Mugger" -- aka Russ Smith -- is the editor-in-chief and CEO of New York Press ( Send your comments to him by clicking here.

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