The Corner

Military Path to Citizenship

We need more troops. I’ve been saying this since 9/11, and developments over the last five years have only driven the lesson home. It isn’t just a question of Iraq. Iran and Korea, not to mention the potential for unanticipated crises in a place like, say, Pakistan, all raise the prospect of untenable burdens placed on our already overstretched armed forces. Yet the country is unready and unwilling to institute a draft. What to do?

Democratic strategist Michael O’Hanlon and Republican hawk Max Boot have joined together to offer a novel solution to the problem of our overstretched military: offer a stint in America’s armed forces as a path to assimilation and citizenship for immigrants.

Boot and O’Hanlon say that, on a national scale, the numbers would have only slight effects on the demographics of the military and society. And of course, a few years in the American military would be a pretty secure way to assure assimilation. To begin with, Boot and O’Hanlon suggest, we ought to recruit from English speaking areas of the developing world.

I’m a bit divided by this proposal. Citizen soldiers would certainly be preferable to foreign recruits, even English speaking ones. And as Boot and O’Hanlon acknowledge, we’d have to carefully screen for commitment, given the dangers of terrorist infiltration. On the other hand, they argue, we stand to gain in language and cultural capabilities, the lack of which is severely hampering us now. Most of all, we need more troops. We’re in the midst of an expanding, multi-front, long-term war, with a military not even as large as it was during the latter stages of the Cold War. Our volunteer forces are almost at the breaking point, and a draft is a political non-starter. We’ve got to do something, and the Boot-O’Hanlon plan is the first serious idea for a solution I’ve seen in years. It will take some time to consider and debate an “out of the box” idea like this, but we’ve got to take it seriously.

Stanley Kurtz is a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center.

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