The Pentagon's recent move to call up 5,600 former soldiers to active service amounts to a backdoor draft. And it shows that the U.S. military cannot sustain the force needed in Iraq.
On July 6, the Army began notifying these soldiers -- who are known as Individual Ready Reserves, or inactive reservists -- that they would be mobilized to active duty and be deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan. These inactive reservists will now have to leave their families, businesses, jobs and lives behind to serve in a military effort that was ill prepared to begin with.
There are more than 100,000 available members of the Individual Ready Reserves, according to the Army. They include former soldiers who have either retired or left the military but still have a reserve obligation.
Members of the Individual Ready Reserves are not currently connected to military units. They do not participate in regular drills and training. Some have started college or entered graduate and professional schools. Many others have civilian jobs and are now, essentially, civilians.
The Bush administration admits that the call-ups are "involuntary mobilizations." It is acutely aware that reinstitution of a real draft is politically risky with the presidential election mere months away, so it is compensating in this underhanded way.
The call-up of inactive reservists is an embarrassing confession by the Bush administration that things are not going its way in Iraq.
According to the Associated Press, the Pentagon had hoped to reduce its troop levels in Iraq to about 105,000 this spring, but because of months of intense battles and increasing U.S. casualties, troop levels have risen to about 140,000, where military officials say they are expected to remain for at least another year or two. Active forces alone could not maintain this level.
The United States continues to incur grave monetary and human costs with this war, and there is still no clear exit strategy on the table. More than 850 American soldiers have died in this war already. Thousands more have been wounded. Countless Iraqi civilians have lost their lives, as well.
Reserve troops are already bearing a disproportionate burden. They make up at least one-third of the U.S. force in Iraq, and last month they accounted for nearly half of all troops killed in combat.
Members of the reserves and the National Guard are getting more than they bargained for, as are the inactive reservists, who have already served. None of them should be relied on to cover for a foolish war that the country was misled into fighting.
Brian Gilmore is a lawyer and poet; he wrote this for Progressive Media Project, based in Madison, Wis.; www.progressive.org.