When asked about his thoughts on implementing a draft on CBS’s Face the Nation, General Stanley A. McChrystal said national service would have a positive impact because it would “bind people to their nation” and “pull people together in shared experiences.”
The only legitimate purpose for a draft is to provide sufficient soldiers for an army. Congress specifically has the power to raise armies. Given the forthcoming budget cuts for DoD, the services primary personnel problem will be trimming its ranks, not expanding them.
As for “national service” I’m highly dubious of any supposed benefits of binding people to their nation or pulling people together in shared experiences. I’ve read the Constitution a time or two, and don’t seem to recall that ever being one of the roles of the government. I suspect also that any attempt at compulsory national service would also run afoul of the 13th Amendment prohibition of involuntary servitude.
Any program of national service would be immense. Already the federal government is spending vastly more money than it is raising through revenues. Just how would such a program be paid for? Where would these multitudes be housed? How many tens of thousands of bureaucrats would be needed to manage and lead this national service mob?
Just how “national” would this service be? Let’s face it, there’s a certain percentage of any population that is simply unsuited for employment, either by physical handicap, mental issues, or just because they are so ill educated that they cannot effectively contribute to any workforce. So what screening would be in place to exclude this tranche of unsuitables? And given that there will be a screening process, I can assure you that it will become rife with loopholes and temptations to graft to be exploited by those who wish to avoid compulsory service. Will teenagers with felony records be required to serve? How about people with drug convictions? Does anyone realistically expect Congress to institute a system of service where they couldn’t find a way to exclude their own children or the children of wealthy campaign donors?
And just what would all these people be doing? Virtually any large infrastructure project would be dead on arrival, both because of the costs of the project itself, and the inevitable, interminable lawsuits to stop projects by the environmental lobby. There’s only so many small projects to go around. You say, “they can clean parks!” I say, why not have non-violent prisoners at the county jail clean the park? Or people sentenced to community service. You say, “they can teach in inner city schools!” I say, we already have teachers in inner city schools. And the teachers lobby certainly doesn’t want anyone to get the idea that kids can be taught by anyone without extensive credentials.
Just about any tasking that any notional national service corps would be asked to perform would also tend to crowd out private companies already in the market. Is that what we really want? For the federal government to crowd out private business, especially in these weak economic times?
GEN McChrystal is a smart guy. Probably smarter than me. But he’s certainly not put any deep thought into the ramifications of any scheme of national service. And given his fall from grace after the Rolling Stone piece on him, you’d think he’d have learned to be a tad more circumspect about answering questions outside his area of expertise.
If GEN McChrystal really want to rehabilitate his reputation, he’d do well to keep his mouth shut, and let other folks say stupid things.