Will Obama's Defense Cuts Lead to a Military Draft?

House Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon (R-Calif.) today echoed the concerns of those who fear President Obama has shown a willingness to break the military through repeated cuts and a low prioritization in saving operational and maintenance funds over pet domestic programs.

“The cuts he continues to insist on, while below the level of sequestration, are still severe enough to hollow out our force. This approach forces me to conclude that the president, for all his stump speeches and props, wants the sequester to happen,” McKeon wrote in a Los Angeles Times op-ed. “The president is forcing America to indulge him in this dangerous experiment with national security.”

That experiment, as military leaders have told committee after committee in hearings leading up to Friday’s sequestration, would scar military readiness to a point where this superpower may not be able to bounce back.

Training will be skipped. Flight hours will be cut. Even Special Forces are not immune from the hit.

Obama has ordered military pay to be excluded from the cuts, even as roughly 750,000 civilian employees — political appointees and foreign nationals excluded — face furloughs that amount to a 20 percent pay cut. That cuts into the support staff for military operations.

And a recurring theme under the surface of the daunting figures thrown out by the chiefs of staff lately is fear for the very future of America’s all-volunteer military force.

If the military continues to be gutted under Obama, fewer men and women are expected to walk through the doors of recruiting offices. If there aren’t enough men and women in uniform come the next conflict, will this administration or the next — which will be left to mop up the damage at the Pentagon — be forced to institute the draft?

At a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing earlier this month, Marine Corps Commandant James Amos warned that sequestration “invalidates the careful planning of the services to manage a predictable resource decline, replacing it instead with a dramatic resourcing cliff that guarantees inefficiency, waste in its accommodation.”

“The effects of sequestration, over the long term, will threaten the foundations of the all-volunteer force, putting the nation’s security on a vector that is potentially ruinous,” Amos said. “It dramatically shapes perceptions of our government, as both an employer and as a customer, reducing confidence throughout institutions.”

Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno predicted cuts “will impact our units’ basic warfighting skills and induce shortfalls across critical specialties, including aviation, intelligence, engineering, and even our ability to recruit soldiers into our Army.”

The Pentagon was hit by $487 billion in cuts and a continuing resolution that tied its hands in directing funding to needed operations before the $500 billion sequestration tab was added on.

“We must be mindful of the corrosive effect of this uncertainty on the morale of our people and be vigilant regarding the potential effects of sequestration on the propensity of our force to stay with us and of new recruits to join,” said Adm. Mark Ferguson, vice chief of Naval Operations.

Leaders reiterated these warnings to the House Armed Services panel the next day.

“The effects of sequestration over the next 10 years will threaten the foundations of the all-volunteer force, putting the nation’s security on a vector that is potentially dangerous,” Amos said.

At a House Armed Services subcommittee hearing this week on the impacts of budget cuts on military strength, lawmakers heard confirmation that despite Obama’s pledge to put troops first that many may be on the chopping block.

“In the case of the Army, we will come to a point where unfortunately we’ll have to use some involuntary separation measures,” Army Deputy Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Howard B. Bromberg testified. “In the case of the Army, it will probably be about 24,000 enlisted and about 7,000 officers.”

Why Obama has been lackadaisical about the risks posed by force reduction and readiness cuts may reflect his unwillingness to fight new battles after campaign-talking-point pullouts from Iraq and, next year, Afghanistan. His desire for major cuts in nuclear weapons and endorsement of the Global Zero initiative reflect a worldview willing to power down regardless of moves taken by nefarious regimes or terrorist entities.

Even Obama’s proposal to avert the sequester, which puts 50 percent of the cuts on a department that uses 18 percent of the budget, would take $250 billion out of the military in addition to tax hikes.

His new Defense secretary, fueled by opposition to the Iraq war, said in 2004 he was “not so sure that isn’t a bad idea” to bring back the draft.

Appearing with Chuck Hagel on an episode of the Today show back then, Sen. Joe Biden said he didn’t rule out a draft, adding, “I don’t think it’s necessary now.”

“The whole notion of shared burden is something we should be talking about well beyond the issue of just the draft,” Biden said in a statement that could similarly apply to the administration’s fairness doctrine on tax rates.

Rep. Charlie Rangel (D-N.Y.) this month advocated the use of a draft as an anti-war tool, saying “if a president can’t convince the Congress to support the draft, then he should not be bringing the question of war in front of the Congress or the American people.”

“If this country has its security threatened, I would like to believe that all of us, no matter how old we are, would want to do something. And in this case, it will be universal,” he said. “…Listen, the military takes what it can get.”

Rangel introduced a bill after the Pentagon’s announcement women would be allowed in combat roles to require Selective Service registration for all, effective 60 days after the bill’s passage. It has one co-sponsor, Rep. Jim Moran (D-Va.).

Still, Reps. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) and Mike Coffman (R-Colo.) have re-launched a quiet effort to eliminate the Selective Service altogether, arguing that the office is antiquated and is a waste of $24 million a year.

“The Selective Service System was never meant to be permanent. Now, 31 years and over $700 million later, Congress has yet to give serious consideration to establishing a conscripted force,” Coffman, a combat veteran, wrote in 2011 after first introducing the bill. “It is time to end the registration requirement and dismantle the Selective Service System.”