Where Will the Soldiers Come From?

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

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
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

‘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

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