Stanley McChrystal says the U.S. should reinstitute the draft

February 19, 2013

Retired U.S. Army General Stanley McChrystal speaking at a January 2013 Brookings Institute conference. (BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)

"America suffers right now from the fact that many Americans don't meet or deal with anybody outside their social or cultural circle," retired Gen. Stanley McChrystal tells Foreign Affairs in a lengthy interview. "I think mandatory national service would have a huge effect to help us in that direction."

It's not a fundamentally new argument to say that the U.S., if it had a draft military, might be more careful about using military force and more restrained in deploying its service members. Still, it's interesting to see McChrystal, who led the international force in Afghanistan before resigning in disgrace in 2010, making that case himself.

The "reinstate the draft" argument is typically associated with liberal Democrats and with opponents of U.S. military action, not with the generals who lead that action.

Here's more from the interview:

So was it a mistake to move to a volunteer army?

I'm not sure it was a mistake, because the volunteer army I served in was this extraordinary fighting machine. But having said that, I now believe we need a draft. America's defense should be performed by a representative cross section of the population. With a draftee army, there'd be some new challenges, but I think we could solve that.

What would the consequences be for American foreign and security policy if everybody had skin in the game?

Oh, I think it'd be much better, because right now, there's a sense that if you want to go to war, you just send the military. They're not us. But if you wanted to go to war and your son or your daughter had a very high chance of going, you'd be more invested. It wouldn't be just tax money; it would be emotional.

So we'd go to war less often and take it more seriously when we did?

I think that would be the outcome.

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Max Fisher | February 19, 2013