NEW YORK (AP) – After touching off a firestorm by calling for a new military draft, Harlem Rep. Charles Rangel said Monday that what he wants foremost are answers to whether and why more troops are needed in Iraq.

The congressman insisted that his push for reviving a military draft wasn’t just a political pot stirrer. He told an audience at Baruch College that his primary objective in calling for the draft was to ask frank questions about the basis and objective of the war.

“The draft is an option,” he said. “We’ve got to find out why we need the draft.”

On Sunday, during an appearance on CBS’ “Face the Nation,” the New York Democrat said “there’s no question in my mind that this president and this administration would never have invaded Iraq, especially on the flimsy evidence that was presented to the Congress, if indeed we had a draft.”

The incoming chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee said he will introduce a bill next year requiring Americans to sign up for a new military draft after turning 18.

The war in Iraq never would have occurred if “members of Congress and the administration thought that their kids from their communities would be placed in harm’s way,” Rangel said.

In his speech at Baruch College, Rangel said he wants to hold hearings into current troop levels and future plans for Iraq and other potential conflict regions, noting that the Bush administration has said more troops may be needed.

If they are, the congressman said, it is impossible not to ask where more troops would come from – making the draft an egalitarian way to meet those demands.

“If the country’s in danger, everyone should share in the sacrifice,” Rangel said.

Speaking with reporters afterward, Rangel said, “You cannot increase the military without raising the possibility of the draft.”

He said the purpose of a hearing would be to ask questions, such as, “Mr. President, share with me what is victory, and if you have any clue what you’re talking about, who is the enemy … who do we negotiate the victory with … who sets the agenda in the Middle East?”

Rangel said he was pushing for a hearing because as a wounded veteran of the Korean War, he hoped “other veterans, when they come home, can have a clearer idea why we are in Iraq.”

In response to a question about former Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld’s contention that many soldiers now fighting in Iraq would gladly continue, Rangel said, “that’s crap.”

The military drafted conscripts during the Civil War, both world wars and between 1948 and 1973. An agency independent of the Defense Department, the Selective Service System, keeps an updated registry of men age 18-25 – now about 16 million – from which to supply untrained draftees that would supplement the professional all-volunteer armed forces.

Rangel has unsuccessfully sponsored legislation on conscription in the past. He has said the all-volunteer military disproportionately puts the burden of war on minorities and lower-income families.

In 2003, Rangel proposed a measure covering people age 18 to 26. It was defeated 402-2 the following year. This year, he offered a plan to mandate military service for men and women between age 18 and 42; it went nowhere in the Republican-led Congress.

At a time when some lawmakers are urging the military to send more troops to Iraq, “I don’t see how anyone can support the war and not support the draft,” said Rangel, who also proposed a draft in January 2003, before the U.S. invasion of Iraq. “I think to do so is hypocritical.”



Associated Press Writer John Heilprin in Washington contributed to this story.



On the Net:

Selective Service System: http://www.sss.gov

AP-ES-11-20-06 1142EST


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