WASHINGTON -- The military draft should be resumed immediately if President Bush orders U.S. forces to drive Iraq from Kuwait, a former top Pentagon manpower official told Congress yesterday.
Two senior Democratic senators -- Sam Nunn of Georgia and John Glenn of Ohio -- agreed. They warned that conscription might be necessary even if the United States refrained from war and decided instead to maintain a large military presence in Saudi Arabia while waiting for sanctions to force Iraq to retreat.
"We cannot maintain the size of our commitment for much longer without running into problems of human endurance," James H. Webb Jr. told the Senate Armed Services Committee during its third day of hearings into the Persian Gulf standoff. "Proper planning for a ground offensive should include an immediate call for the draft."
Mr. Webb, who opposes any U.S. ground attack to force Iraq from Kuwait, warned that optimistic predictions about the success of any U.S. offensive might prove illusory.
"If the president wishes to attack a million-man army, he cannot count on a two-day bombing campaign, and be home by February," said Mr. Webb, a decorated Marine veteran of the Vietnam War who served as secretary of the Navy and oversaw the Pentagon's reserve forces during the Reagan administration. "If a bombing campaign does not work, there is no way to predict the direction or the duration of a war in this region."
Mr. Webb said that the draft was needed because the military's reserves were "unreliable assets" and the Army graduates only 100 recruits a day from basic training. Even with a draft, he noted, federal law bars sending draftees overseas until 120 days after their induction.
At the White House, President Bush said he had no plans to ask Congress to revive the draft, which was abandoned in 1972, despite a decline in enlistments since he ordered U.S. forces into Saudi Arabia in August.
"We don't need it," Mr. Bush said in an interview with Univision, the Spanish-language network. "We have an all-volunteer army. It is as strong as it can be."
The Pentagon's former manpower chief, Lawrence J. Korb, agreed with Mr. Bush on the draft and suggested that the issue was being raised to generate more opposition to the possibility of a U.S. offensive in the Persian Gulf.
Mr. Korb, who supervised Pentagon personnel during the Reagan administration, said in an interview that the nation's reserve forces would make better soldiers than draftees "pulled off the streets."
Mr. Bush would need about 1.5 million troops to keep a large force in Saudi Arabia for a prolonged period, assuming a standard rotation formula requiring three soldiers for every one in the field, Mr. Korb said.
"We've got over 2 million [active-duty service personnel], and another million reserves to call up," Mr. Korb said. "We've got plenty."
The United States had a draft during the Civil War and two world wars, as well as from 1948 to 1972.
Members of Congress expressed concern that the U.S. military commitment in the Middle East stretched the nation's armed forces too thin.
"I have deep fears about what we would do if something else happens in the world" requiring U.S. military force, said Mr. Nunn, the chairman of the Armed Services Committee.
Mr. Nunn said Wednesday night that the nation would have to think "seriously" about reimposing the draft if Mr. Bush planned to keep a large military force in Saudi Arabia for a year or more.
"We've always known from the very beginning of the volunteer force that if we got into a large conflict, particularly ground conflict, we are going to have to have the draft," Mr. Nunn said.
Mr. Glenn, chairman of the committee's manpower subcommittee, said yesterday that a draft might be required if Mr. Bush didn't scale back the U.S. plan to send nearly a half-million troops to the Middle East. "If we don't do that, we're going to have to consider a draft," Mr. Glenn said.
With more than half the nation's combat forces dedicated to the Middle East, there is no slack if hostilities break out and require replacements, Mr. Webb said. "You simply do not have anyone else in the pipeline," he said.
But Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., a Navy combat pilot held as a prisoner in North Vietnam for more than five years, said the destructive power of U.S. warplanes in the Middle East could replace large numbers of troops on the ground and avoid the need for the draft.
Two former chairmen of the Joint Chiefs of Staff also disputed the need for the draft during testimony to the committee Wednesday. Instead, they suggested that if the gulf crisis continued, Congress should reverse its recent decision to force the Pentagon to cut its manpower by 100,000 troops annually through 1995.