In a move that generated surprise among veterans, military contractors, and lawmakers, President Trump has signed a broadly worded executive order authorizing the Secretary of Defense to institute a mini-draft of retired military personnel. The order cites “the continuing and immediate threat of further attacks on the United States,” as its rationale and comes at a time when the Trump Administration is preparing to ramp up military activities in Afghanistan and as tensions with North Korea continue to mount.
Administration officials have clarified that while broadly worded, the purpose of the order is to allow the Air Force to address a shortage of approximately 1,500 pilots by recalling retired officers to uniform. The language of the order, however, keeps the door open to recall additional veterans from all branches of the military if the Secretary of Defense determines there is a need.
The order amends a previous order signed by President Bush following the September 2001 jihadi attacks on New York, Washington, DC, and Pennsylvania. The previous order allowed the recall of veterans still in the Ready Reserve. President Trump’s amendment expands that to allow those who have retired from the military to be recalled and removes the current cap on recalling retired generals and flag officers, which had been set at 15.
President Trump has signaled an increased desire to use America’s war-making capabilities abroad. Earlier this month, while at a dinner with military officials, The President told reporters that this was the “calm before the storm.” When asked what he meant he responded: "you’ll find out.” In a statement on the recent executive order a Pentagon spokesman said: “You’re going to see more actions in Africa, not less. You’re going to see more aggression by the United States toward our enemies, not less.” The Trump Administration and Pentagon have also begun making improvements to Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana, seen by some as a precursor to putting America’s nuclear bomber force back on 24-hour alert.
For its part, Congress has been reluctant to exercise its oversight and decision-making authority over war-making and has authorized more military spending than the White House requested. The House and Senate have approved $632 billion and $640 billion, respectively, significantly more than the $603 billion in the President’s budget proposal. However, it remains unclear whether Congress can make a deal to appropriate these numbers before the current stopgap budget expires in December.