The military's most vociferous critics, including those railing against President Bush’s proposal to deploy a limited number of National Guard forces to the southern border, are too often people who haven’t a clue about that which they speak. They disguise contempt for the military – active, reserve, or Guard – behind crocodile tears of concern about the combat losses, overseas deployments, family separations, and physical and mental hardships our all-volunteer forces endure. Editorial writers and talking heads bemoan any additional mission requirements whining that the Guard is “stretched too thin.” Politicians who voted against military budgets for years now whine about “mission creep” and “operational overload.”
Is the National Guard capable of adding border protection to the kinds of international missions that have been levied upon it? Typical of critics is California Democrat State Senator Don Perata of Oakland, who considers deployment of the Guard along California’s southern border an “inappropriate use.” He threatens to put a hold on next year’s funding, saying, “I do not want to spend any money at all, invest a dime, into anything that weakens our ability to respond to a state disaster when it comes.”
California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger seemed to agree. The Governator glumly agreed that troops might provide “short-term relief,” but he also did not believe border protection was an appropriate role for the National Guard. Schwarzenegger wants to hold back the troops in case of need from natural disasters – earthquake and fire come first to mind - or in response to other emergencies. This assumes, of course, that the tens of thousands of Mexicans and Central Americans weekly streaming northward to join millions of their fellows already in the Golden State do not already compose a sufficiently threatening “state disaster.”
Others, including Arizona Governor Janet Napilitano, a Democrat, have long requested the Pentagon and White House support her state’s immigration crisis by posting troops on the border. Even so, the deployment is strictly limited in size, scope, and mission. Approximately 6,000 troops would be stationed along the border, at this stage of planning, actually too few to oversee a long, rugged area. They are there to support an already growing Border Patrol force that needs time to train sufficiently to take the field. What can the Guard do? A lot, actually. Predator units can fly missions along the border collecting real-time intelligence on movement and activities, not only immigration but also human and drug trafficking. Logistics units can provide adequate support for overtaxed Border Patrol units freeing officers for field work. Military Police units can assist with training, traffic control measures, and detainee movement. There are many ways the Guard can help.
President Bush is clearly responding to growing public concern over illegals, especially in the southern border states where the flow is virtually unchecked. “We do not yet have full control of the border, and I am determined to change that,” the president said. A Republican governor, Rick Perry of Texas, said he was glad the administration had decided the Guard had a role to play along the border. Nor was he particularly alarmed by the fact that several Texas Guard units were deployed elsewhere in the world. “We have the ability to multitask,” he said calmly.
Predictably the Mexican government has reacted harshly to the move, despite Bush’s insistence that “the United States is not going to militarize the southern border.” President Vincente Fox, who finds migration to the United States a pleasant alternative to sound economic development policies, reportedly phoned Bush, saying “comprehensive legislation” was a preferable alternative to military deployments along the borders. Apparently Bush had the good grace not to remind his Mexican counterpart and pal that the Mexican army finds assistance to human and drug smugglers an excellent income supplement and has in fact threatened Border Patrol agents and murdered DEA agents on several occasions. Winning the Immigration Chutzpah award was the Mexican Foreign Minister who darkly threatened to “initiate lawsuits” – in U.S. courts, of course – if any National Guard troops arrest or take action against illegal Mexican aliens.
The president’s National Guard initiative is just one of a wide specturm of varying initiatives designed to allay concerns about the border. Reacting predictably to a firestorm of right-wing criticism about the overall tenor of the bill that many decry as “amnesty,” NBC News reports the president’s troop deployment proposal is a way to “appease conservatives.” The NBC News crew obviously deems it a bad thing. Flying in the face of NBC’s take is the fact that many legislators, including Arizona Republican Representative J.D. Hayworth. In political terms, Rep. J.D. Hayworth of Arizona and others said Republicans would pay a price in the midterm elections if they vote for anything like the Senate legislation. “Many of those who have stood for the Republican Party for the last decade are not only angry. They will be absent in November,” Hayworth said.
A voice from the non-deployment faction, Senator Chuck Hagel, RINO-Nebraska, pontificated on ABC’s This Week, “We have stretched our military as thin as we have ever seen it in modern times. And what in the world are we talking about here, sending a National Guard that we may not have any capacity to send, up to or down to protect borders?” Speaking on CNN’s Late Edition Senator Patrick J. Leahy, D-Vermont, echoed the Hegelian pronouncement, saying, “We're stretching them pretty thin now. We're going to make a border patrol out of them?” Well, actually no, that’s not what they’re going to do.
The Guard, I have been told in several interviews with high-ranking Guard officials in various states, is eager to accept such a critical mission. “This is a mission that we can easily take on,” said a colonel who asked not to be identified. “We are now part of the overall military force structure, have deployed units into Bosnia, Afghanistan, and Iraq, and are eager to show that we can be of value in the critical task of defending America’s borders.” Such sentiments were echoed across the board. No doubt we will receive a few anecdotal stories of family hardship from the media about this mission. It is their standard response to any military activity. But the move to protect the borders is long overdue and sorely needed.
Is the Guard deployment the entire answer to the border problem? Of course not. It would naïve to think so. But it is a vital first step in the right direction. If it is a precursor to a thorough security program and pressing immigration policy overhaul, then the extra demand it places on our superb Guard forces is a small price to pay. But do not waste a moment considering whether our highly trained Guard officers can bear the burden; of course they can.
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