The United States Army is proud that it has met its goals in the first month of its five-year recruiting plan, but the remaining 59-month effort to find 65,000 new soldiers might not be going as well as Army officials would like the public to believe.
The Boston Globe reported last week that “Pentagon statistics show the Army met that goal by accepting a higher percentage of enlistees with criminal records, drug or alcohol problems or health conditions that would have ordinarily disqualified them from service. … The October statistics show that at least one of every five recruits required a waiver to join the service, leading military analysts to conclude that the Army is lowering standards more than it has in decades.”
That situation shouldn’t surprise anyone given that the nation is involved in an increasingly controversial war in Iraq. It’s naturally harder to find recruits during such a situation. Often the waivers are granted for minor drug and other offenses or for recruits who are overweight. This isn’t necessarily a huge problem, but the Army’s inability to meet its recruiting goals without lowering standards is a reminder that there are limits to the number of Americans who will volunteer to serve in the military, even when tax money is no object — i.e., the Globe reported that the plan simply to increase Army enlistees is expected to cost as much as $70 billion.
It’s not just the Army that has trouble fielding recruits. In May, San Francisco TV station KGO reported, “California’s National Guard troop strength is down dramatically, because of the war in Iraq and because people are not volunteering to join the Guard. It’s caused a ripple effect for California’s needs around the state, and it’s prompted a proposal to offer tuition benefits.”
Unfortunately, some people are learning the wrong lesson from the shortages. The Congressional Budget Office, in a report completed last summer, noted an increasing call for a military draft. We can think of few things more destructive of liberty than forcing Americans to serve in the military. That idea should be a nonstarter.
The better lesson is that the United States should be more careful about waging war and more cognizant of the limits of its foreign policy.