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Mark Shields is a nationally known columnist and commentator.

An American Foreign Legion?

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WASHINGTON (Creators Syndicate) -- There is an old Washington maxim that holds: Personnel is policy. People do matter.

That is obvious with the news that the U.S. Army, the Army Reserve and the Army National Guard will all fail to meet their recruiting goals for fiscal year 2005.

This will be the third consecutive year in which the Guard fails to meet its recruiting target, which is militarily important because today the Guard and the Army Reserve together constitute approximately 40 percent of all U.S. forces in Iraq.

These recruiting shortfalls recall a January 19, 2000, speech at Harvard given by the then-chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Hugh Shelton. He argued that if the United States were to send the nation's warriors into combat and count on "the support of the American people as well as the Congress" needed to sustain that national commitment, the decision to go into battle first "must be subjected to what I call the 'Dover test.' Is the American public prepared for the sight of our most precious resource coming home in flag-draped caskets into Dover Air Force Base in Delaware. ..."

The Bush administration simply chose to courageously duck "the Dover test" by imposing a press blackout to deny any pictures of the military honor guard in white gloves somberly delivering from the aircraft a coffin covered by Old Glory containing the remains of their fallen hero to waiting loved ones.

Casualties have obviously hurt enlistments. Asked to explain why earlier this year even the Marines were most uncharacteristically missing their monthly recruiting quotas, one Marine general told me, "Doonesbury has it about right."

He was referring to the biting strip of cartoonist Garry Trudeau's, in which the older, wiser heads were effectively discouraging younger characters from joining the U.S. military by reminding their juniors about the downsides of danger and possible death.

You may have been just as surprised as I was to learn that the Young College Republicans were not all abandoning fraternity row, homecoming parties and interviews with investment bankers to sign up to fight in Iraq. Where, when you so desperately need them, are all the youthful neo-cons who thought Mr. Bush's war of choice was so historically peachy-keen?

Let's be blunt. Neither George Bush nor the Democrats have the political will to seek a return to a draft without deferments that would, by definition, inconvenience the well-orchestrated lives of young men from prominent families -- i.e., major supporters.

One solution to the military manpower shortage seems to have been inspired by the Jewish proverb, which holds that "if the rich could hire the poor to die for them, the poor would make a nice living."

Max Boot, a senior fellow of national security studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, rejects the option of a draft and instead proposes offering "U.S. citizenship to anyone, anywhere on the planet, willing to serve a set term in the U.S. military."

There you have it. We own nothing to each other or to our country. The U.S. military today is 7 percent foreign-born, but why not an "American Foreign Legion," which is 77 percent foreign-born? Does anyone else remember the American Revolution and the British subcontracting the fighting to Hessian troops?

During the Civil War, a citizen facing the draft could negotiate by privately paying another individual to take his place as a "substitute." But the Boot Plan would be wholesale, not retail. Go into battle, face death, and if you survive, you become a citizen.

It is true in the third, bloody year of the U.S. war in Iraq that personnel really is policy and traditional American patriotism, with rare and admirable exceptions, is sadly missing in action.


Click here for more from Creators Syndicate.

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