This year, $26.1 million will be spent by the Selective Service System to track 13.5 million potential soldiers.
But don't worry guys, you won't get a call anytime soon.
In this country, we don't do draft very well.
The draft is a political profanity rarely uttered in the halls of the Pentagon since its abolition in 1973. It's a staple of the foreign policy menu, but ordering it could cause bloating, diarrhea and an irreversible case of voter's revenge.
Instead, what we do is "stop/loss."
This is an executive fiat crafted in the Cold War and sculpted in the years since it ended that morphs brave volunteers into unwitting conscripts with the stroke of a presidential pen.
"...the President may suspend any provision of law relating to promotion, retirement or separation applicable to any member of the armed forces who the President determines is essential to the national security of the United States."
That tasty morsel comes from United States Code 12305, and it's being dished up in unprecedented quantities these days. In the Army alone, 20,000 men and women who had packed to come home have unpacked and returned to fighting in Iraq.
This week, the policy came under attack when an Army veteran decorated for combat in Iraq sued. The Army National Guard sergeant said he signed a contract for a year's volunteer duty, and the time had expired when his boss in the White House ordered him back. That breaks the contract and the law, the suit claims.
Legal arguments aside, this tosses another flammable agent into the fire of disagreement burning between administration officials who insist enough troops are in place to serve the country's needs, and Democrats who contend a soldier shortage is forcing excessive use of stop/loss.
The more it's used, the louder the outcry on the campaign trail. This is a pressure point that Democrats are using to criticize President Bush's handling of the armed forces.
Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry is trying to convince voters that the U.S. military is understaffed and overextended. Rather than add troops, Kerry says the stop/loss policy is a "backdoor draft" to keep the number of troops from diminishing further.
Kerry is not advocating a draft. But if he can convince others that starting a draft is President Bush's intent, maybe he can scare up a few votes.
On Thursday, Gen. Wesley Clark, a Kerry adviser, told me, "We need to increase the number of troops. You do that by increasing the resources of recruiting." Spend more to get them in, and spend more to keep them from leaving.
If Kerry wins, he can test that strategy. But victory won't likely silence talk of a draft. Last year, Rep. Jim McDermott, D-Wash., and Rep. Charles Rangel, D-N.Y., introduced a bill to require national service for young adults.
They did it to spawn a debate in Congress on how the nation's troops are arranged and scattered. They've waited impatiently. They won't go away if a "D" is in the White House, especially one they are working hard to elect.
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