After the Senate debate on the requirement for women to register for selective service, Senator Ted Cruz made an intriguing statement.
Mr. Cruz, who voted against the measure and had previously invoked his own daughters to underscore his opposition, said in a prepared statement, "I could not in good conscience vote to draft our daughters into the military, sending them off to war and forcing them into combat."
Although not his primary intent, with this statement Senator Cruz made two important points. First, requiring women to register for selective service is altogether different from conscripting women into the military. The United States hasn't used conscription since 1973.
More importantly, Mr. Cruz implied that in order to send our men and women to war, Congress would need to--with a good conscience--vote. Before Senator Cruz's daughters could be drafted and sent to combat, Congress would have to both authorize the use of military force and pass legislation to modify the Military Selective Service Act and initiate conscription.
Mr. Cruz brings up an underlying question about the personal stake our leaders in Washington have in the use of military force. Fewer than one in five members of Congress have served in the military, and even less have children who currently serve. But, if the possibility existed that members of Congress could be sending their own sons and daughters to war, they would certainly further contemplate the gravity of their votes.
Creating a gender-equal selective service requirement would not only provide Congress with a more tangible stake in the use of military force, it should also make citizens examine the issue more closely. Civic participation is foundering in this country. Voter turnout is low, national service funding is constantly threatened, and the military struggles with recruiting.
President Clinton told Congress in 1994 that "Maintaining the Selective Service System and draft registration provides a hedge against unforeseen threats...."
But what if the new gender-equal selective service system could do more than provide for military enlistment? What if the system could allow young citizens to become more civically engaged?
A national database of all 18-year-old U.S. citizens should also be an automatic voter registration process, allowing our country's newest adults to more easily participate in the democratic process.
Young people who complete a year of national service--like that promoted by General Stanley McChrystal--could be exempt from potential military conscription. After all, they would have already served their county.
Most importantly, any future reinstatement of the draft would not have to be in the form of a lottery--as it was before 1973. We have the technical capabilities today to enact a "smart draft," through which military recruiters could proactively target individual Americans with skills that are in high demand and short supply. For example, a smart draft in the wake of 9/11 could have sought out citizens with Arabic language skills, asked them to volunteer, and provided a monetary incentive for their service.
Mr. Cruz has given us a lot to think about. Most crucially, we all have a role to play in the way the country manages our military, and we all might benefit from having a bit more at stake.
Chris Marvin is a former Army helicopter pilot and a veteran of the war in Afghanistan. He's a Truman National Security Fellow and the father of two young daughters.