White House Pressed on Military Draft

By Dan Froomkin
Special to washingtonpost.com
Friday, April 23, 2004; 10:52 AM

It's become a daily question to White House press secretary Scott McClellan: Does the president support a return to the military draft?

And here's what McClellan says: "That is just not something that's under consideration at this time."

Similarly, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld told newspaper executives yesterday that a draft "is not useful to do at the present time."

But that doesn't really answer the question that is being asked: Is Bush thinking about reinstating the draft in the future?

The issue of the military draft emerged in the major media this week after an independent-minded Republican senator raised it at a committee hearing on Tuesday. As Helen Dewar reported in The Washington Post: "Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.), a Vietnam War veteran and an influential member of the Foreign Relations Committee, wants the United States to consider reviving the draft as part of a broader effort to ensure that all Americans 'bear some responsibility' and 'pay some price' in defending the nation's interests."

Long before that, the question had become a hot one on the Internet, particularly on blogs and Web sites that routinely express great skepticism about the Bush administration. (See, for instance, BuzzFlash.com.)

Here's how Dana Hull of the San Jose Mercury News puts it: "An Internet-driven rumor mill about the possible return of a military draft is forcing Pentagon officials to step up denials that such plans are in the works."

You can expect McClellan to face more questions in the coming days.

What They've Said

Here's McClellan at yesterday's press gaggle:

"Q Can I ask you one question about Senator Hagel's comments about -- he was saying that there should be a debate about a draft in the United States because he feels that the burden of fighting the war on terrorism might not be shared -- being shared fairly across the board. Does the President believe that having an all-volunteer military is an effective way that all citizens are equally shouldering that burden?

"MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think that our military leaders have said that they believe they have the troop leaders necessary to continue waging and winning the war on terrorism . . . and have the troop levels they need to continue our efforts to win the war on terrorism. And so I think that that's been addressed by military leaders. And the President -- as I said yesterday, that is just not something that's under consideration at this time."

Here's McClellan the previous day:

"Q Scott, Senator Hagel also talked about the idea -- the need for more troops, perhaps speaking to the notion of reinstating the draft. What's the President's position on reinstating the draft?

"MR. McCLELLAN: John, that's not something that's been under consideration.

"Q Is it something that the President keeps in the back of his mind, though, that he may have to do at some point?

"MR. McCLELLAN: As I said earlier today, it's just not something that's been under consideration.

"Q Is he ruling it out categorically?

"MR. McCLELLAN: John, it's not something that's under consideration. That's the way I would describe it."

Rumsfeld spoke at some length yesterday to the members of the Newspaper Association of America and the American Society of Newspaper Editors.

Stewart M. Powell of Hearst Newspapers reports: "Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld on Thursday ruled out resuming the military draft 'at the present time,' saying personnel strains from open-ended operations in Iraq could be eased by dipping deeper into the ranks of active duty and reserve forces."

Here's the full text of Rumsfeld's remarks (no missing bits, as far as I can tell.)

And, as I mentioned in my Live Online discussion on Wednesday, White House Chief of Staff Andrew H. Card Jr. was asked about the draft on Ask the White House on Monday. His response: "The President has said he will take the advice regarding the need for troops from the military commanders responsible for winning the war against terror. We have an all volunteer military in this country and it serves us very well. I have heard no call from any of our military leaders for a return to the draft."

What the President Said (Two Years Ago)

As far as I can tell, the last time Bush himself addressed the issue publicly was in one of his rare news conferences, this one in March 2002, when U.S. troops were in Afghanistan, but well before the war in Iraq was launched. The question came from Edwin Chen of the Los Angeles Times:

"Q The public service initiative of yours as it relates to the war, which you've just said again, that could go on for quite a while. As we all know, 18-year-old men in this country, when they turn 18, they're required to register with the draft, which is now dormant, but could be activated again. At this time, and we're looking at sort of an unlimited situation with this war, should the country expect the same of women in this country?

"THE PRESIDENT: You mean in terms of the draft? Well, the country shouldn't expect there to be a draft. I know they're registering. But the volunteer army is working. Particularly when Congress passes my budget, it's going to make it more likely to work. There's been a pay raise and then we'll have another pay raise. And the mission is clear, the training is good, the equipment is going to be robust. Congress needs to pass this budget.

"So I don't worry about, and people shouldn't worry about a draft. We do have women in the military and I'm proud of their service. And they're welcome in the military; they make a great addition in the military.

"Q You don't think --

"THE PRESIDENT: Pardon me?

"Q -- that the military will be stretched too thinly, as some people have feared?

"THE PRESIDENT: Ed, I don't think so. I think we're in pretty good shape right now. It's -- there's no question we have obligations around the world, which we will keep. If you went to -- did you go to Korea with us?

"Q Yes, sir.

"THE PRESIDENT: There's a major obligation there of 37,000 troops, an obligation that is an important obligation, one that I know is important and we will keep that obligation. But we've got ample manpower to meet our needs.

"Plus we've got a vast coalition of nations willing to lend their own manpower to the war. And as I mentioned the other day in my speech there on the South Lawn, 17 nations are involved in this first theater in Afghanistan. And we had Canadians and Danish and Germans and Australians -- I'm probably going to leave somebody out -- Brits, Special Forces troops on the ground, boots on the ground, as they say, willing to risk their lives in a dangerous phase of this war. And men going cave to cave, looking for killers. These people don't like to surrender, they don't surrender. But we've been able to count on foreign troops to help us.

"And so, Ed, I think we're in good shape, I really do. And, if not, we'll -- I'll address the nation. But I don't see any need to right now."

What the Pollster Says

Pollster John Zogby was answering reader questions Live Online yesterday when the question came up.

"Concord, N.H.: John: Have you polled on any aspect of a military draft recently?

"John Zogby : I have not, but here is what I think. I don't believe any candidate will touch it with a ten-foot pole. And I also believe that the greater intensity is with the opposition to the war and that could generate a higher turnout among 18-25 year olds, especially women."

Poll Watch

Michael Finnegan writes in the Los Angeles Times: "President Bush's popularity in California has dropped to the lowest level of his presidency amid rising public concern over his handling of Iraq and the economy, according to a new Los Angeles Times poll that found dislike of Bush driving support for his Democratic rival."

The poll shows a "sharp turnaround in attitudes toward Bush's management of the war: 56% of California voters disapprove, up from 44% in July."

There's some poll data here.

Earth Day Slugfest

Amy Goldstein and Lois Romano write in The Washington Post: "President Bush marked Earth Day on Thursday by touring a coastal marsh and defending his environmental strategies, saying that his administration 'has put in place some of the most important anti-pollution policies in a decade.' . . .

"During Bush's speech here, a rare one lately in which he did not mention the war on terrorism and the conflict in Iraq, he reemphasized his belief that conservation should rely largely on private efforts."

David E. Sanger and David M. Halbfinger write in the New York Times: "The charges and countercharges on Earth Day underscored the degree to which the Democrats seek to make the environment an important campaign issue. At the same time, Mr. Bush is saying to sports enthusiasts who hunt and fish that he has been a good steward of the environment while balancing conservation with energy exploration."

Edwin Chen and James Rainey in the Los Angeles Times describe yesterday's "eco-punch-out" between Bush and John F. Kerry.

Here's the text of the president's remarks

And hey, just what we need, another Bush book. The Sierra Club chose Earth Day to release its new book: "Strategic Ignorance; Why the Bush Administration is Recklessly Destroying a Century of Environmental Progress."

Today's Calendar

Expect more environmental claims -- and counterclaims -- today when Bush travels to the Florida Everglades.

Bush visits the Rookery Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve in Naples, Fla., before attending a Republican fundraising lunch in Naples and a Republican fundraising dinner in Coral Gables. He then retires to Camp David for the weekend.

Vice President Cheney heads to Kansas City for a fundraising lunch for Rep. Sam Graves (R-Mo.).

And yes, Maine (yesterday), Florida and Missouri (today) -- they're all swing states.

Whither Rummy?

Michael Gordon of the New York Times writes: "One of the most intriguing questions during this very political year is what President Bush's national security team will look like if the president manages to defeat his Democratic challenger in November."

He then provides "four reasons why a Bush victory is likely to prolong the Rumsfeld era at the Pentagon," and surmises that it is "Powell, a moderate pragmatist, who has been the odd man out and who, unlike Rumsfeld, seems likely to go."

Return of the AWOL Issue?

Will all this attention being paid once again to Kerry's war record (see Lois Romano in today's Post) lead the press to revisit the whole Bush AWOL controversy, which went dormant after a few wild weeks this winter?

The Columbia Journalism Review's Campaign Desk blog asked on Wednesday: "Why, exactly, did the media drop the matter?"

Blogger Kevin Drum on Thursday took readers down memory lane, then concluded: "There's no firm proof of anything aside from missing some drills during 1972, and reporters can't just keep writing stories raising the same lingering questions over and over.

"It's possible that some investigative reporter somewhere is continuing to work on this story. But if not, there's nothing new to report. For now, that's where things stand."

First Flower

Nora Boustany writes in The Washington Post that first lady Laura Bush now has a tulip named after her.

My Husb-

Al Kamen reports in his Washington Post column on the continuing buzz over national security adviser Condoleezza Rice's odd statement at a New York Times power-dinner. As I noted in my Tuesday column, Deborah Schoeneman in New York magazine's Intelligencer column wrote that "Rice was reportedly overheard saying, 'As I was telling my husb -- ' and then stopping herself abruptly, before saying, 'As I was telling President Bush.'"

Saudi Ties

Sonya Ross of the Associated Press looks at whether Bush's "deep personal ties with Saudi officials . . . will cost the president at the ballot box this year."

Late Night Humor

From NBC's "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno" via Reuters:

"On '60 Minutes' last Sunday night, Bob Woodward suggested the main reason President Bush took the country to war was that he thinks he's on a mission from God; but the problem with that is that's also Osama bin Laden's reason."

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