By Alan W. Dowd

New War, Old Argument

Rep. Charles Rangel (D, NY) has raised eyebrows—and more than a few tempers—this spring with a proposal to reinstate the draft. Given the global war on terror, the disarmament of Iraq and the looming challenges on the Korean peninsula, Rangel may have point. The military seems to be stretched thin. 

However, by his own admission, Rangel isn’t really motivated by a desire to make sure the Pentagon has the manpower it needs to meet the rising demands of war. In fact, he voted to oppose military action against Saddam Hussein. Rangel, a Korean War veteran, wants to make sure Americans “shoulder the burden of war equally,” which sounds reasonable. Who could argue with the principle of shared sacrifice? According to Rangel, “A disproportionate number of the poor and members of minority groups make up the enlisted ranks of the military,” and hence bear a heavier burden in times of war. Renewing the draft, he concludes, will spread that burden across US society and force the nation’s leaders to be more cautious.  

Rangel’s stated objectives are honorable. The problem with his proposal is that he’s operating under a false premise.  

As Mackubin Owens, a professor at the NavalWarCollege, recently explained, “The claim of disproportionate minority casualties wasn’t true during the Vietnam War…[And] it is even less true today.” In Vietnam, 86 percent of the Americans killed were white; 12.5 percent were black, which was actually less than the corresponding Census numbers of 13.1 percent.  

In today’s wars, where pilots and Special Forces do much of the fighting and dying, the numbers are even less reflective of the country as a whole—but not in the manner Rangel would have us believe:  As a recent USAToday analysis revealed, African Americans comprise about 2 percent of Air Force pilots, 2.5 percent of Navy pilots, 5 percent of Army Green Berets, and 10.6 percent of Army combat infantrymen.  

Rangel has every right to oppose the war, but it’s a sad commentary on our times that he is using race to make his case. By the way, 54 Americans were killed and about 260 wounded in the Afghan campaign. The Pentagon didn’t break down the dead and wounded by race. In fact, the only thing they had in common was the flag on their uniforms. 

DC in the Crosshairs

According to a recent Washington Post investigation, the Pentagon deployed an elite combat unit in and around Washington in late 2001 in response to concerns that terrorist might use a crude nuclear or radiological weapon. Operating under the codename “Ring Around Washington,” the unit used special vehicles and radiation sensors to monitor streets, waterways and buildings for radiological signatures.  

The “Ring Around Washington” has reportedly been deactivated, but not for a lack of threats. According to Gen. Wayne Downing, former White House adviser for counterterrorism, al Qaida is “obsessed” with “radiological dispersion devices…[and] nuclear weapons.” Al-Qaida materials recovered in Afghanistan are loaded with references to unconventional weaponry. Moreover, once they have a target in their sites—whether it’s an embassy, a warship, or the WorldTradeCenter—al-Qaida operatives have shown an unwavering ability to keep attacking it until it is destroyed. As Downing told the Post, “These guys continue to go after targets they have tried to get before.” Most observers believe Flight 93, which crashed in Pennsylvania, was aimed at the White House or Capitol Dome, making those buildings likely targets for future al-Qaida attacks.  

These reports are sobering, but they shouldn’t be surprising. Only those who believe that the fall of the Twin Towers marked the end of terrorism’s war on America—and the fall of Kabul marked the end of America’s war on terrorism—could be surprised by al- Qaida’s wickedness or Washington’s newfound preparedness. 

Third Place in the Space Race

China is prepared to join the ranks of space-faring nations. China’s state news agency reports that the country’s first manned spacecraft—the Shenzhou V—will blast into space later this year. As in the early days America’s space program, China’s astronauts—known as “taikonauts”—will be chosen from a cadre of elite fighter pilots. The root “taikong” means cosmos.  

According to Space Daily magazine, China’s great leap into space was propelled by a secret pact signed between Beijing and Moscow in the mid-1990s. Under the agreement, “Moscow provided intensive training to Chinese astronauts on Russian soil.” In addition, Russian President Boris Yeltsin shared information, technology and equipment with the Chinese. Although Beijing boasts that the Shenzhou is homegrown, according to Space Daily, “Western analysts say the capsule appeared in pictures to be little more than a slightly modified version of the old Soviet workhorse of space, the Soyuz.” 

21st-Century Coast Guard

In an effort to extend the Coast Guard’s range and improve its vision, the service that specializes in homeland defense will acquire and deploy a fleet of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) to monitor and protect America’s coasts.  

The bulk of the new UAV fleet will be Eagle Eye drones, which lift off like helicopters and fly like fixed-wing planes. According to the New York Daily News, the Eagle Eyes can fly faster and farther than the USCG’s existing reconnaissance aircraft, such as the HH 65 helicopter. Moreover, since they are unmanned, they remove any risk to Coast Guard personnel. 

Further down the road, the USCG will also deploy a fleet of seven Global Hawk UAVs, which have been featured in the US-led war on terror. The range and capabilities of the Global Hawk dwarf the Eagle Eye. 

The upgrades are just a small part of the Coast Guard’s $17-billion modernization, which could last up to twenty years.

Published monthly in the American Legion Magazine, Under the Radar provides a snapshot of current challenges in international politics, U.S. foreign policy and national security.