That's what Karl Eikenberry and David Kennedy ask in this New York Times op-ed today. Eikenberry's a retired Army lieutenant general and was the United States commander in Afghanistan from 2005 to 2007 and the ambassador there from 2009 to 2011. He is a fellow at Stanford, where David M. Kennedy is an emeritus professor of history.
They argue that the greatest challenge to our military is not from a foreign enemy but the widening gap between the American people and their armed forces.
They cite three developments widening this gap, the first being ending conscription and moving to a large, all-volunteer standing army. They point out that less than half of one percent of the population serves these days, compared to 12 percent during World War II. Among the elites, the numbers have plummeted even more. Whereas 70 percent of Congress had some military service in 1975, just 20 percent do today.
The second thing is that technological improvements, such as drones, distance us from our war-time decisions and can "breed indifference and complacency about the use of force." Third is the move to non-traditional military roles such as nation-building.
The authors say these developments mean we have "a maximally powerful force operating with a minimum of citizen engagement and comprehension."
They note that there have been 144 military deployments in the 40 years since adoption of the all-voluntary force in 1973 compared with only 19 in the 27-year period of the Selective Service draft following World War II.
Presidents have found it easier to resort to arms and not only has there been very little political downside, but perhaps even an upside.
The authors then argue for a draft lottery, one that weights to select the best-educated and most highly skilled Americans so that elites pay greater heed to military matters.
The authors also argue that the Pentagon could restore Total Force Doctrine -- which basically calls for a large-scale call-up of the Reserves and National Guard at the start of any major deployment. Because these forces include older men and women, it would force communities to think about what deployment means.
And the authors also say that Congress must return to declaring war, something it hasn't done -- despite all of our wars -- since World War II. This limits presidential power and confers greater legitimacy on military interventions. Congress should also insist that wars be paid in real time, they say, forcing Americans to realize how expensive wars are and consider the costs and benefits of same.
There are many other suggestions as well. They end:
The civilian-military divide erodes the sense of duty that is critical to the health of our democratic republic, where the most important office is that of the citizen. While the armed forces retool for the future, citizens cannot be mere spectators. As Adams said about military power: “A wise and prudent people will always have a watchful and a jealous eye over it.”