The Cable

The Cable goes inside the foreign policy machine, from Foggy Bottom to Turtle Bay, the White House to Embassy Row.

McChrystal: Time to bring back the draft

Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the former top commander of international forces in Afghanistan, said this week that the United States should bring back the draft if it ever goes to war again. “I think we ought to have a draft. I think if a nation goes to war, it shouldn’t be solely be represented by a ...

Craig Barritt/Getty Images
Craig Barritt/Getty Images

Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the former top commander of international forces in Afghanistan, said this week that the United States should bring back the draft if it ever goes to war again.

"I think we ought to have a draft. I think if a nation goes to war, it shouldn't be solely be represented by a professional force, because it gets to be unrepresentative of the population," McChrystal said at a late-night event June 29 at the 2012 Aspen Ideas Festival. "I think if a nation goes to war, every town, every city needs to be at risk. You make that decision and everybody has skin in the game."

He argued that the burdens of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan haven't been properly shared across the U.S. population, and emphasized that the U.S. military could train draftees so that there wouldn't be a loss of effectiveness in the war effort.

Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the former top commander of international forces in Afghanistan, said this week that the United States should bring back the draft if it ever goes to war again.

“I think we ought to have a draft. I think if a nation goes to war, it shouldn’t be solely be represented by a professional force, because it gets to be unrepresentative of the population,” McChrystal said at a late-night event June 29 at the 2012 Aspen Ideas Festival. “I think if a nation goes to war, every town, every city needs to be at risk. You make that decision and everybody has skin in the game.”

He argued that the burdens of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan haven’t been properly shared across the U.S. population, and emphasized that the U.S. military could train draftees so that there wouldn’t be a loss of effectiveness in the war effort.

“I’ve enjoyed the benefits of a professional service, but I think we’d be better if we actually went to a draft these days,” he said. “There would some loss of professionalism, but for the nation it would be a better course.”

The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq placed unfair and extreme burdens on the professional military, especially reservists, and their families, McChrystal said.

“We’ve never done that in the United State before; we’ve never fought an extended war with an all- volunteer military. So what it means is you’ve got a very small population that you’re going to and you’re going to it over and over again,” he said. “Because it’s less than one percent of the population… people are very supportive but they don’t have the same connection to it.”

Reservists following multiple deployments have trouble maintaining careers and families and have a “frighteningly high” rate of suicide, he said. 

“The reserve structure is designed for major war, you fight and then you stop, but what we’ve done instead is gone back over and over to the same people,” he said. “We’re going to have to relook the whole model because I don’t think we can do this again.”

McChrystal was speaking at a panel focused on how to manage marriage in the military. He was joined by Annie, his wife of 35 years, and the discussion was moderated by CNN’s Suzanne Malveaux.

Multiple deployments often result in divorces and split families, he said.

“The marriages I see most strained are the senior NCOs and officers who have four or five tours… you’re apart so much that it’s hard to have a marriage if you’re not together at least a critical mass of time, and that’s tough,” McChrystal said.

Malveaux asked McChrystal how he has managed to get through 35 years of marriage.

“One day at a time,” he responded.

Josh Rogin covers national security and foreign policy and writes the daily Web column The Cable. His column appears bi-weekly in the print edition of The Washington Post. He can be reached for comments or tips at josh.rogin@foreignpolicy.com.

Previously, Josh covered defense and foreign policy as a staff writer for Congressional Quarterly, writing extensively on Iraq, Afghanistan, Guantánamo Bay, U.S.-Asia relations, defense budgeting and appropriations, and the defense lobbying and contracting industries. Prior to that, he covered military modernization, cyber warfare, space, and missile defense for Federal Computer Week Magazine. He has also served as Pentagon Staff Reporter for the Asahi Shimbun, Japan's leading daily newspaper, in its Washington, D.C., bureau, where he reported on U.S.-Japan relations, Chinese military modernization, the North Korean nuclear crisis, and more.

A graduate of George Washington University's Elliott School of International Affairs, Josh lived in Yokohama, Japan, and studied at Tokyo's Sophia University. He speaks conversational Japanese and has reported from the region. He has also worked at the House International Relations Committee, the Embassy of Japan, and the Brookings Institution.

Josh's reporting has been featured on CNN, MSNBC, C-Span, CBS, ABC, NPR, WTOP, and several other outlets. He was a 2008-2009 National Press Foundation's Paul Miller Washington Reporting Fellow, 2009 military reporting fellow with the Knight Center for Specialized Journalism and the 2011 recipient of the InterAction Award for Excellence in International Reporting. He hails from Philadelphia and lives in Washington, D.C. Twitter: @joshrogin

More from Foreign Policy

Volker Perthes, U.N. special representative for Sudan, addresses the media in Khartoum, Sudan, on Jan. 10.

Sudan’s Future Hangs in the Balance

Demonstrators find themselves at odds with key U.N. and U.S. mediators.

In an aerial view, traffic creeps along Virginia Highway 1 after being diverted away from Interstate 95 after it was closed due to a winter storm.

Traffic Jams Are a Very American Disaster

The I-95 backup shows how easily highways can become traps.

Relatives and neighbors gather around a burned vehicle targeted and hit by an American drone strike in Kabul.

The Human Rights vs. National Security Dilemma Is a Fallacy

Advocacy organizations can’t protect human rights without challenging U.S. military support for tyrants and the corrupt influence of the defense industry and foreign governments.

un-sanctions-inspectors-china-foreign-policy-illustration

The Problem With Sanctions

From the White House to Turtle Bay, sanctions have never been more popular. But why are they so hard to make work?