An unpopular war with few to fight it may send the military abroad for recruits
A botched and unpopular war has the military routinely missing recruitment goals. Existing ground troops are stretched thin, and third and fourth tours of duty are becoming routine. Despite this bleak outlook, President Bush is trumpeting a plan to send even more troops to Iraq, leaving the obvious question: Just where will these troops come from?
So far, recruiters have looked in some pretty questionable places. As the San Francisco Chronicle noted in a piece drawing from various media reports, the number of recruits with a history of 'aggravated assault, robbery, vehicular manslaughter, receiving stolen property, and making terrorist threats' rose by more than 54 percent from 2004 to 2005. Recruits with waivers for health problems and misdemeanors have more than doubled since 2001. Recruiters have even tapped youth prisons.
More recently, the Marine Corps emailed college students invitations to 'a uniform-less summer camp to test their 'leadership potential,' with no commitment to the Corps necessary,' Tom Engelhardt reports in the Nation's blog, the Notion. Draws included payments of $2,400 for six weeks (or $4,000 for 10 weeks) and tuition assistance. Similar perks have been promised to recruits who have been heavily sought-out -- some say disproportionately -- in low-income and rural areas. All this recruiting isn't cheap. Engelhardt reports that the military just paid $1 billion for its new 'Army Strong' campaign, which includes Spanish-language ads.
Now, it seems the military may pursue yet another avenue: going abroad to recruit soldiers. Bryan Bender reported in the BostonGlobe late last month that Pentagon officials are considering the idea of opening 'recruiting stations' overseas. Though the proposal is still 'largely on the drawing board,' Bender reports that 'Army officials, who asked not to be identified, said personnel officials are working with Congress and other parts of the government to test the feasibility of going beyond US borders to recruit soldiers and Marines.'
A major promoter of the idea is Max Boot, a senior fellow for national security studies at the Council on Foreign Relations. Boot began beating the drum for such a plan in a 2005 op-ed for the Los Angeles Times and, along with Michael O'Hanlon, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, renewed the call for recruiting overseas last October in the Washington Post. In that piece, the two thinkers home in on possible geographic targets of such a plan:
'Since proficiency in English would presumably be important for those joining the armed forces, we might focus on South Asia, anglophone Africa, and parts of Latin America, Europe, and East Asia (the Philippines would be a natural recruiting ground) where English is common as a second language.'
'These regions,' they go on, 'have more than 2 billion people, tens of millions of whom reach military age each year.'
There is historical precedent for recruiting foreign soldiers, which supporters of US recruiting abroad (including Boot) cite as proof that it works. The French Foreign Legion is a primary case in point, as are the Nepalese soldiers, called Gurkhas, used by Britain. A disturbing colonial history, however, gets glossed over in the elevation of such examples. The Foreign Legion was shipped off to Algeria -- a violent front in France's colonial effort and a place where many French soldiers didn't want to go themselves. The use of Gurkhas, meanwhile, was rooted in an archaic, imperial British belief in 'martial races' -- groups of people thought to be predisposed to warfare.
Continuing such imperial traditions seems unwise, particularly with anti-American sentiment on the rise worldwide. What's more, if the United States chooses to lure young foreigners into a war Americans won't fight themselves, it's arguable that the prize for these recruits -- citizenship -- will be worth less than they bargained for.
Go there >> Join the Marines? for the Summer
Go there, too >> Military Considers Recruiting Foreigners
Go there, too >> A Military Path to Citizenship
Related Links from the Utne Reader Archives:
Comments? Story tips? Write a letter to the editor
Like this? Want more?Subscribe to Utne Reader