Border Insecurity and Worthy Refugees

W.J. Astore

Today as I was checking out at Job Lots, the cashier asked me if I wanted to donate money for Ukrainian refugee relief.  I thought quickly of the $33 billion Biden already wants from us for Ukraine and politely said “no thanks.”

Then I read Todd Miller’s new article at TomDispatch.com on the security-industrial complex along the U.S. border with Mexico and reflected on all those people risking their lives to cross the border into America, most of them refugees from wars and climate change and violence and the like.  I’ve never been asked by a company or a cashier for that matter to contribute to their relief.  Indeed, when the issue of refugees comes up along the Southern border, it’s always about more money for Homeland Security and more border control agents and surveillance technology (including drones and robotic dogs, as Miller notes), all to keep the “bad” people out of America, all those “illegals” who allegedly want to take American jobs while doing violence to vulnerable Americans.

Remarkably, Miller notes in his article how the Biden administration is following basically the same approach to border security as the Trump administration. The only real difference is that Biden is relying less on physical walls and more on “virtual” ones (towers, sensors, cameras, drones, etc.). This is hardly surprising when you consider Kamala Harris went south of the border to deliver a singular message to would-be asylum seekers. Her message to them: Do not come.

Land of the free, home of the brave?

As Miller notes in his article, you can count on one thing: America’s border with Mexico will never be secure, no matter how much we spend, because insecurity and overhyped “threats” sell very well indeed.

Is America really the home of the brave, given our fears of invasions, whether from “dangerous” brown- and black-skinned people coming up from the south or all those gangster Russians and sneaky Chinese allegedly scheming against us?

If we want to help refugees facing violence and starvation, we don’t have to look as far as Ukraine. Depending on where you live in America, you might only have to look just beyond the wall or fence or surveillance tower in front of you. As you do, you might ponder why we’re not sending $33 billion to help them survive. Is it because they’re not killing Russians with American-made weaponry?

Trump, Troop Withdrawals, and Winning the 2020 Election

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President Trump with Defense Secretary Mattis

W.J. Astore

Good news: President Trump is withdrawing troops from Syria and Afghanistan.  While the President’s stated reason for the Syrian withdrawal — that Isis is totally defeated in the region — is dubious, it’s hard to tell how the presence of a couple of thousand U.S. troops is either needed or desirable for counter-terror operations there.  In Afghanistan, Trump has ordered the withdrawal of seven thousand U.S. troops, or roughly half the force there.  One can only hope he’ll withdraw the remaining troops by the end of 2019.

Trump’s moves are consistent with his campaign promises about ending costly troop deployments and wasteful overseas wars.  Despite this, he’s being castigated by Republicans and Democrats for putting America at risk by leaving Syria and preparing to leave Afghanistan.  Ostensibly, the U.S. has two major political parties, but they often act together as a single war party.  Trump knows this and is unafraid (so far) to confront them.

Indeed, it’s possible Trump won in 2016 because he outspokenly denounced the waste of America’s wars.  Evidence suggests that pro-Trump sentiment in rural areas especially was driven in part by people who agreed with his anti-war critique: by people who’d either served in these wars or whose sons/daughters had served.

Compare this to the Clintons and mainstream Democrats (and Republicans), who’ve worked hard to suppress anti-war forces, the McGovernite wing of the party, so to speak.  Recall that it was Hillary the Hawk who warmly and proudly embraced Henry Kissinger in 2016, and look where that got her.

Adding further intrigue and disruption is Secretary of Defense James Mattis’s announcement of his resignation, effective in February 2019.  I never thought Mattis was the right candidate to serve as America’s civilian Secretary of Defense; Trump apparently sees him as too conventional in outlook (almost a Democrat, Trump has said).  Mattis has disagreed with Trump’s boorish treatment of America’s allies, especially of NATO, and there’s no doubt that Trump has been crude, rude, and socially unacceptable, as we used to say as teenagers.  But that is Trump’s prerogative.  The Americans who elected him, after all, knew they weren’t getting a glad-handing soft-talking diplomat.

Finally, Trump is still fighting for five billion dollars to extend the wall along the southern border with Mexico.  He’s threatening to shutdown the government for a very long time and (at least partially) to own the blame.  It’s a waste of money, of course, though $5 billion is a drop in the bucket when you consider the Pentagon’s budget of roughly $716 billion.

I’m a huge Trump critic (I was very critical of Obama as well), but I give him credit for taking unpopular stances even as he tries to honor campaign promises.  Pulling ground troops out of Syria and Afghanistan is the right thing to do.  The wall is a ridiculous boondoggle, but even here, Trump is willing to fight for it.  Would that Democratic leadership show similar resolve over issues like affordable health care, a living wage, and climate change.

Bring the troops home, Mister President.  End the wars and reinvest in America.  If you do these things, it’s likely you’ll be reelected in 2020.  It pains me to write that, because I’m no fan of Trump’s mendacity and greed, among his many other faults, but I think it’s true.