Border Security and Potemkin Solutions

BY Herschel Smith
2 years, 9 months ago

Dan Riehl conveys a report on one of Governor Rick Perry’s solutions to the war at the border.

MANCHESTER, N.H. — Gov. Rick Perry of Texas said on Saturday that as president, he would consider sending American troops into Mexico to help defeat drug cartels and improve border security. He indicated that any such action would be done “in concert” with the Mexican government.

“It may require our military in Mexico working in concert with them to kill these drug cartels and to keep them off of our border and to destroy their network,” Mr. Perry said during a campaign appearance here.

Dan observes that:

As I suspect there’s little to no support across America for deploying troops to Mexico under any circumstances – and it would likely never happen in the first place – it was, in a word, dumb to even bring it up. Pssst, Rick, if you have to cross the border to deal with a problem, maybe the border IS the problem to stay focused upon if you’re running for President of a, you know, sovereign nation? Imagine that. Suggesting sending troops into Mexico only reinforces the idea of a reluctance, or inability to deal with the core issue – sealing the border. It may even be somewhat honest on his part. But it’s simply not good politics. Perry may not only be in Texas right now. But if this keeps up, he will be and will remain there after 2012.-

I suspect that Dan is right and there is no stomach for sending troops of any kind into Mexico.  I have advocated some variant of what Perry is suggesting, although it’s difficult to know exactly what he is suggesting since he has given no detail.  In Texas Border Security: A Strategic Assessment (and also previously) my advocacy has included (but has not been restricted to) the following:

  1. Searching every vehicle that crosses the border checkpoints.
  2. Increased sting and undercover operations by law enforcement to root out corruption.
  3. Sending the U.S. Marines to the border to (a) construct and occupy combat outposts and observations posts, (b) conduct regular foot patrols of the border, and (c) be allowed (by the U.S.) to cross the border if necessary to chase Mexican insurgents.
  4. Taking Congressional action to remove legal requirements such as the SCOTUS decision in Tennessee v. Garner, thus allowing the Marines to conduct combat operations at the border rather than law enforcement operations.
  5. U.S. Special Operations Forces raids against Mexican cartel high value targets inside of Mexico (with or without the permission of the Mexican government, unilaterally, and without Mexican involvement).

Several military and former military friends and contacts have weighed in with me recently with the view that the gravest national security risk faced by America today comes from South of the border, not Pakistan or Yemen.  I have recommended treating this as a war against warlords and insurgents rather than a law enforcement operation, and my sense of things is that the American public, even if they don’t support sending U.S. troops into Mexico in companion operations with Mexican troops, support some sort of militarization of the border.

For the American public, however, it always seems a legitimate solution to send the National Guard to the border.  We tried this, and because of lack of training, the application of Tennessee v. Garner to their operations, arming orders that focus on prevention of incidents, misunderstanding of the Posse Comitatus Act and why it doesn’t really apply to border troops, and host of other problematic bureaucratic entanglements, a National Guard outpost was overrun by Mexican fighters partly because the troops didn’t even have weapons.

Sending National Guard troops to the border is a Potemkin solution as we have previously demonstrated.  But military operations alongside Mexican troops – as Perry has suggested – will be equally ineffective while the border isn’t secure.  There is absolutely no replacement for securing the border, regardless of how the solution might be dressed and served up.

Another Potemkin solution is given to us by Terry Goddard, Attorney General of Arizona (lengthy quote).

As the Attorney General of Arizona, I have been part of law enforcement on the southwestern border for most of the past decade. My office confronted border crime on an almost daily basis. From that view, it is clear that much of the “secure the border” debate is nonsense. Again and again, symbols trump reality, misinformation buries the truth. Programs like building a bigger border wall or enlisting police in the local enforcement of immigration laws are sold as ways to make the border more secure. They will not. In the latter instance, the “cure” could actually make the crime problem worse. Equally misguided is the idea that a force buildup alone can keep the border secure in the face of increasingly sophisticated smuggling organizations—the cartels.

Since improved border security is a common denominator in the immigration debate, both sides should be anxious to know what actually works. This paper is based on the assumption that sincere parties on both sides want to go beyond the rhetoric and the symbols. I believe a more effective border defense is possible, but not on the present course. Not by the Administration’s defense-only buildup of Border Patrol and National Guard on the border, and not by the huge investment in bricks and mortar or the quasi-military responses proposed by the Administration’s critics.

A more effective border strategy starts with the money; the torrent of cash pouring across the border into the cartel pocketbooks. Cartels are, first and foremost, business enterprises.  Sophisticated cartel organizations are formed not for any lust for power or to employ the bosses’ relatives, but because they maximize profits. Cartel agents do not threaten, terrorize, and kill because they love the work, or out of religious zeal. They do it because they are very well-paid. So, go after the money. Taking away the profit cripples the organization. Conversely, as long as the money from drug sales and human smuggling—which may total more than $40 billion a year—flows to the cartels, the violence in Mexico, the sophisticated smugglers crossing our border, and the perception that nothing is being done to defend the border will continue.

We can also do a much better job of taking the fight directly to the drug cartels using the full arsenal of law-enforcement methods. We can significantly reduce the number of illegal crossers and the amounts of illegal drugs smuggled, as well as the violence in Mexico. The answers are straightforward; the mystery is why they have not been taken up long ago.

Read all of his report.  We should indeed use all tools at our disposal, including freezing assets and other tools mentioned by Goddard.  But this notion that “force alone” cannot secure the border is juvenile, and similar to the population-centric counterinsurgency mantra that “you cannot kill your way to victory.”  Of course you can, and of course force can make the border secure.  And of course the involvement of local law enforcement can help federal efforts (if such efforts exist at all).

It strikes me as silly and and stolid to suggest that something we have never tried won’t work.  It also strikes me as silly and stolid that Perry’s advisers haven’t to this date informed him that he cannot score the nomination while holding his current views of immigration and the border.  Finally, it strikes me as particularly dangerous for the American voting public not to be informed enough to know when a recommendation (such as sending National Guard troops to the border, or going after cartel assets to the exclusion of all other efforts, including border security) is a Potemkin solution.  It’s the sovereignty and security of America that is at stake.

Prior: Texas Border Security: A Strategic Military Assessment



  • Pingback: Daily Pundit » If You Kill Enough People Who Are Illegally Trying to Cross Our Borders, They Will Stop Trying

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  • http://www.firstcontactproject.org Warbucks

    “So, go after the money. Taking away the profit cripples the organization.” Terry Goddard speaks a motivational core focus that seems to form the basis for building a politically viable strategy. If we could also reach across the boarder to integrate the so-called “Poet’s War On Drugs” and its express message that the North rethink its strategies, we might shape a new strategy that both works and builds goodwill among citizens for each other on both sides of the boarder…… a true diplomacy. I agree with your fine article that drug trade strategies built upon only a US traditional (defensive) perspective will fall short … again. But I push the argument one step further by suggesting the we will only be seen and characterized as arrogant, ignorant Gringo’s unless a popularized, heroic element can be integrated into the strategy. The heroic element is the mythology of enabling the existing “Poet’s” movement in Mexico to appear to be the enlightenment voice leading the cause or so closely aligned that we become one in purpose.

  • TS Alfabet

    Notice too, that Goddard uses a common, false rhetorical tactic when he says, for example, that “force buildup *alone*” can solve the border problem.

    No one, *no one* is saying that force build up alone can solve the problem. This is a straw man that you often hear people say as a way of making it sound that building a fence, border troops and greater enforcement of laws will not work, or that such measures are hopeless. Of course, a single measure, alone, is not effective. Which is why no one is suggesting that. But taken together, these options would be very effective indeed.

  • Pingback: The Captain's Journal » Mexican Cartels Are Warlords and Insurgents


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This article is filed under the category(s) Mexican Cartels,Mexico,U.S. Border Security and was published October 2nd, 2011 by Herschel Smith.

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