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The Merchant of Baghdad | The Nation

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Katrina vanden Heuvel

Katrina vanden Heuvel

Politics, current affairs and riffs and reflections on the news.

The Merchant of Baghdad

Item 1: Proving that the Republicans have no problem ignoring Biblical strictures against usury, the Congress passed a bankruptcy bill that makes life far more profitable for credit card companies and far more onerous for people who have fallen into debt. The government hasn't started building debtor's prisons or shipping off Mastercard defaulters to Australia yet, but more and more Americans will find themselves indentured servants to Visa as a result of this bill.

Item II: 48 towns in Vermont have called for the return of Vermont's National Guard troops. Army recruitment numbers have fallen off a cliff. Tours of duty in Iraq have been extended and extended again. Even the most hawkish neocons admit our forces are stretched to the breaking point.

These two news stories seem unrelated, but they are not.

We pride ourselves on our all-volunteer army, but volunteer armies are based on a series of carrots (cash bonuses, tuition payments, professional training, land grants, promises of citizenship) and can only be maintained if the upsides are sufficiently attractive to outweigh the risks.

As has been proven repeatedly since the Revolutionary War, Americans will not voluntarily sign-up in sufficient numbers unless the nation's wars are short, relatively painless, and infrequent. If they are not, as was the case in WWI, WWII, Korea, Vietnam and now in Iraq, some sort of conscription has been needed to maintain the war effort.

Bush has said a draft is a political non-starter, which makes sense: it would put rich Republican donors' children at risk. But, given the fact that it's now much more difficult for poor people to be enticed, how can the American empire find a legal means to press them into service? Or to put it in Shakespearean terms, how is Bush to get his pound of flesh?

As we saw in Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11 recruitment officers in Detroit targeted strip malls looking for idle young men who were dreaming of college or starting a music career. Don't be surprised if we soon find Army recruitment officers loitering outside bankruptcy courts.

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