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U.S. Soldier Files Lawsuit Over Extended Service Catch-22

by Andrew Tully

Expect Return Of Military Draft If Bush Reelected

The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have left the U.S. military desperate for troops -- so much so that it has had to keep some 20,000 personnel on duty even though their military terms have officially ended.

That policy, known as "stop-loss," is now being legally challenged by a U.S. Marine. The soldier says he was kept in Iraq longer than his scheduled tour of duty. Later, he was allowed to resign from the Marines in exchange for a year of service in the United States as a member of the Army National Guard. But now his National Guard service is being extended by as much as two years. Moreover, he could face another tour of duty in Iraq. The Marine has filed a lawsuit in California.

The Pentagon says the "stop-loss" policy is an important way to ensure that it has enough experienced personnel to handle difficult duty in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Michael Sorgen, a lawyer for the U.S. Marine who has filed the lawsuit -- whose name has not been released -- says the Bush administration is improperly applying the policy. Sorgen says it would be appropriate during a time of war or a national emergency. But, as he points out, Congress has not declared either.

So how does the U.S. military ensure it has sufficient personnel without policies like stop-loss? One way is to reinstitute the draft, which was abolished in 1973 toward the end of the Vietnam War. Many analysts say the draft would be a bad idea, because it would mean a lower-quality fighting force than America's current voluntary military.

Some cite other reasons to be skeptical of the draft. Professor Peter Kuznick specializes in the politics of war at Washington's American University and says that the social egalitarianism of the draft system -- with young men of every class being selected to serve in Vietnam -- eventually made it a political liability.

That, Kuznick said, is something the current administration wants to avoid. "The draft wouldn't solve the problem," he said. "The draft could be more egalitarian than it has been in the past, except there's a good reason for the political leaders to try to avoid that [egalitarianism in the draft]. In Vietnam, when middle-class kids were being drafted and being killed, then the middle-class parents -- who have a lot more political clout than the poor do in the United States -- started to denounce the war in Vietnam. The government started to pay a lot of attention and ended the draft."

Kuznick said the current controversy over the stop-loss policy is growing simply because an increasing number of soldiers and other Americans are beginning to question U.S. military strategy, particularly in Iraq.

Mounting U.S. casualties in Iraq and Afghanistan are to blame for some of those doubts. But, Kuznick said, for many Americans, the more urgent issue is whether the Bush administration had a legitimate argument for going to war.

"I think that the American people, in a just cause, would be willing to accept 1,000 deaths and many more. You know, in World War II, the United States suffered about 310,000 combat losses. So it's not the absolute numbers. It's more the illegitimacy of the cause. For an illegitimate cause, even one death seems to be far too many," Kuznick said.

© 2004 RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.

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