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The Draft

I respectfully dissent.



A lot of people thought the federal government should help with the contaminated-water problem in Flint, Mich. Said Sen. Mike Lee: "I respectfully object."

A lot of people believe the Senate should hold hearings the president's nomination to the Supreme Court. Said Sen. Mike Lee: "I respectfully dissent."

A lot of people and most senators hate Ted Cruz. Said Sen. Mike Lee from a Florida dais in March: "It is time to unite" around Cruz as the GOP nominee.

A lot of people in Utah have been targeted by the right-wing Super PAC FreedomWorks for America with re-election ads for Sen. Mike Lee asserting he has been "making Utah proud." I respectfully dissent.

I think Lee is often an embarrassment to Utah. Recent examples include single-handedly blocking federal aid to Flint and a piece of specious legislation titled "Only Congress Can Change The Draft Act." The latter represents Lee's knee-jerk response to a congressional hearing in which the Commandant of the Marine Corps and the Army Chief of Staff testified in favor of registering women in the Selective Service System (SSS). Opined Sen. Lee: "There is a real danger that either the Obama administration or federal courts could try to change current policy and force American women into combat."

With Armed Forces Day coming up on May 21, it is a good time to examine the current policy Lee wants to shield from "unelected bureaucrats and judges."

The country's first military draft was in 1917. After World War I, an on-again, off-again draft became a lottery in 1969. It was eliminated in 1973 coincident with the military's shift to an all-volunteer force. Then, in 1980, as the Soviet army invaded Afghanistan, the SSS was resurrected. At the moment, all male citizens must register with SSS within 30 days of their 18th birthday.

Meanwhile, more and more women were enlisting. They now make up 15 percent of the force. Restrictions on where they serve have been eased. In 2013 the Pentagon lifted the ban on women in combat units, and, at the request of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the four services were given three years to "implement these initiatives successfully without sacrificing our war-fighting capability or the trust of the American people." At the time, Lee wasn't interested in what the Pentagon was doing. He was playing Sancho Panza to Cruz's Don Quixote, a performance that ultimately cost the economy $24 billion and shut down government services for 16 days.

The three-year implementation period ended in December with an announcement by the Secretary of Defense. "There will be no exceptions," he said. Women "will be allowed to drive tanks, fire mortars and lead infantry soldiers into combat. They'll be able to serve as Army Rangers and Green Berets, Navy SEALs, Marine Corps infantry, Air Force parajumpers and everything else that was previously open only to men." Lee had little to say even as two women graduated from the Army's grueling Ranger School amid great fanfare. He did defend his parliamentary maneuver to withhold federal aid from Flint, however. Said Lee: "The only thing Congress is contributing to the Flint recovery is political grandstanding." To which I say, it takes a grandstander to know one.

Lee's grandstanding on SSS policy is embarrassing because it is so simplistic. Conscription is a 20th century artifact. Lee was 2 years old when it was last used.

It is unbecoming for such a bright guy to be raising alarms about women being forced into rifle platoons and howitzer crews. Had Lee any military experience, he would realize it ain't gonna happen regardless of changes to SSS registration rules.

A self-described reformer, Lee advocates "open, rigorous, transparent debate about ideas." In this case, the idea deserving debate is not so much about bringing the SSS in line with 21st century norms as it is about a citizen's responsibility vis-a-vis the national defense. Who should don a uniform to protect the homeland? Only men? Only volunteers? Everyone? These are important questions for Lee to address if he is really serious about reform.

The SSS is predicated on the fact that the government can impress 18- to 25-year-olds into the military when the need arises. However, for the last 40-plus years, our all-volunteer military has sufficed. When you get down to cases, then, all that America requires of the citizenry is to pay taxes, vote and serve on juries. That modest investment returns outsized dividends—chiefly in the area of security—and it is ironic that the majority has come to expect a tiny minority will do the heavy lifting. Is it fair that 1 percent of the population endures successive combat deployments while the rest of us take our ease? Answering that question inevitably leads to an idea promoted by the Aspen Institute—universal national service. Crafted by such notables as Jon Huntsman, Robert Gates and Ariana Huffington, the Franklin Project proposes a year of fulltime national service as "a civic rite of passage for every young American." While they could choose to serve in such areas as "health, poverty, conservation or education," the military would be an attractive option to many—maybe even to Lee's three children.

Armed Forces Day is this weekend. Since 1950, the third Saturday in May has been designated as a day for educating the public about the military and for honoring those who serve in uniform. It is an opportunity for Lee to make me proud. As a member of the Armed Services Committee, he could lead a debate on national service. As a father, he could instill in his kids the importance of serving their country in uniform.

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