IN THE NEWS
Since everyone else has use the recent announcement of the Army's recruitment shortfall as a springboard to discussions about the draft, I'm going to steer in a somewhat different direction. The news is pretty grim, no matter how you look at it. Not only is the US Army falling short of its normal recruitment goals (see this Washington Post article for the numbers), but the Department of Defense has been quietly cutting back the amount of training soldiers receive before seeing combat. The Marines, for example, already announced that they have cut pre-deployment training in half.
That, perhaps, is even more significant a statistic than the intake number, since the whole concept of a volunteer army depends on the quality of its soldiers. What we cannot make up in numbers, we can make up in quality, through both training and technology. The major axis of conflict now, counterinsurgency and counterterrorism, already reduce the effectiveness of whatever technological advantages we have. Laser- or GPS-guided missiles are of little use fighting house-to-house in Fallujah, for example. If soldiers are less prepared when they're first deployed from a US training camp to Fallujah, US combat effectiveness drops even further.
And it gets worse. The training we're discussing is designed around conventional warfare, not counterinsurgency and counterterrorism. At a time when we should be talking about additional training in languages, cultures, insurgent and counterinsurgent tactics, and other critical skills for our current wars, the Department of Defense is cutting back on the already inadequate training it provides.
You can win some kinds of wars by shoveling conscripts into the fray. You can't win the counterinsurgency war in Iraq that way, nor any war from Afghanistan to Colombia that we are directly or indirectly fighting.