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National security debates on the border and beyond

By Mark Alexander
web posted January 7, 2019

Sometimes, the first column of the year is an easy one — just a few reflections about the year past and the year to come.

Unfortunately, the last week of 2018 was marred by a couple of political confrontations that are casting a long shadow over the new year. Most notable among those issues are two significant national security issues.

The first of these is a rather straightforward interruption of some "non-essential government bureaucracies" beginning on 22 December, which President Donald Trump implemented after Democrats failed to provide sufficient federal funding to secure our border with Mexico.

The second is a policy shift in the Middle East — much more a chess move than the mainstream media's typical portrayal of this policy change as a game of checkers.

Regarding the border security/shutdown showdown

I have covered in detail how all the key Democrat Party leaders, including incoming House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-NY) and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), have repeatedly advocated for border security and strong immigration laws — until it was no longer politically expedient to do so. Democrats oppose securing our southern border for two reasons: first, because Trump supports it, and second, because these illegal immigrants and their progeny represent the Democrat Party's most promising and powerful source of new votes.

Demos, therefore, don't want "immigration solutions." They want to appease their Hispanic constituents with smoke-and-mirror political rhetoric. In addition, they are using immigration as diversionary fodder to undermine the Trump administration's considerable economic policy success.

Thus, by advocating for open borders, Democrats hope to create a socialist-voter pipeline by flooding our nation with illegal immigrants who are likely to require long-term, taxpayer-funded government assistance.

However, an unforeseen problem with this strategy is that a growing number of Latinos and Hispanics in our country now, legal and illegal, don't want the job and wage competition from more illegals flooding in from Mexico and Central America. Democrats say they support a "living wage" but then advocate, in effect, an open border, which ensures that millions of working men and women will never break free of the minimum wage.

The Democrats' refusal to secure our border with Mexico, and their so-called "sanctuary city" agenda, has, over the years, invited millions of illegal immigrants to invade our southern border, many of them using children as human bargaining chips in order to stay in the U.S. Some are seeking economic welfare, while others pose a significant threat to our citizens.

Three recent and tragic deaths should constitute a low benchmark in the never-ending border-security debate.

In late December, there were two deaths of immigrant children in Border Patrol custody. The first was an eight-year-old boy whose Guatemalan mother declared, according to press reports, that the boy's father brought the sick child with him "because they figured he'd have an easier chance of gaming the American immigration system to gain an illegal foothold here." His sister said, "We heard rumors that they could pass [into the United States]. They said they could pass with the children." Another Guatemalan child, a seven-year-old girl who was sick when she and her father were apprehended by the Border Patrol, also died.

President Trump noted correctly, "Deaths of children or others at the Border are strictly the fault of the Democrat ... immigration policies that [encourage] people to make the long trek thinking they can enter our country illegally. ... The two children in question were very sick before they were given over to the Border Patrol. The father of the young girl said it was not their fault, he hadn't given her water in days. The Border Patrol needs the Wall and it will all end. They are working so hard and getting so little credit."

But there was another death in December, also the direct result of Democrat inaction on border security, that should be a rallying point for all Americans.

The day after Christmas, Newman, California, police officer Ronil Singh, himself a legal immigrant from Fiji, was murdered by an illegal immigrant. Arrested for that murder was Gustavo Arriaga, a Mexican national with reported ties to the violent Surenos gang and previous arrests that should have resulted in his deportation.

Tragically, California's incomprehensible "sanctuary" restrictions prevented his arrest from being reported to immigration officials. In other words, Democrats opened the door for Officer Singh's murderer to enter our country, and Democrat policies prevented him from being rightly deported. Seven other illegal immigrants have been arrested in connection with Singh's murder. (A week earlier, another illegal immigrant in California murdered two people in a crime spree.)

Singh's brother Reggie expressed his family's grief and his gratitude for the apprehension of the assailant: "I'd like to thank you from the bottom of my heart. ... I wish I could thank all of the law-enforcement agencies, Homeland Security in San Francisco, everyone."

Stanislaus County Sheriff Adam Christianson, whose agency led the investigation into Officer Singh's murder, issued this condemnation of the California laws that allowed for this cold-blooded murder: "While we absolutely need to stay focused on Officer Singh's service and sacrifice, we can't ignore the fact that this could've been prevented. ... This is a criminal illegal alien with prior criminal activity that should have been reported to ICE. We were prohibited — law enforcement was prohibited because of sanctuary laws, and that led to the [murder of Cpl.] Singh. ... This is not how you protect a community."

This murder by a violent illegal immigrant — and countless others before it and to come — demands an answer to the following question: "Sanctuary for whom?"

On these senseless murders, Don Rosenberg, whose son Drew was killed by an illegal alien, said, "We relive what happened to our loved ones. It's just another stab in the back, particularly in California by our government that doesn't give a damn about our families. They don't care about us. They don't care that their policies and their laws are killing people."

Officer Singh now joins a tragic and ever-growing list of Americans murdered by illegal immigrants, including Kate Steinle, Jamiel Shaw, and Mollie Tibbetts, as well as countless others whose violent deaths apparently didn't warrant widespread media coverage. (Two days after Singh's murder, in nearby Knoxville, Tennessee, an illegal immigrant was arrested for the criminally negligent homicide of a 22-year-old local resident.)

We extend our prayers for officer Singh's family and for all law-enforcement personnel who man that wall 24/7, providing protection for their fellow citizens.

Responding to the latest instances of violence and the epidemic issues of drug- and sex-trafficking of minors across our southern border, President Trump, who has already deployed military personnel to assist with border security, declared that inaction on securing our border with Mexico will result in shutting it down entirely: "We will be forced to close the Southern Border entirely if the Democrats do not give us the money to finish the Wall and also change the ridiculous immigration laws that our Country is saddled with."

Regarding the enormous financial cost of illegal immigration, Trump noted, "It's a national embarrassment that an illegal immigrant can walk across the border and receive free health care and one of our Veterans that has served our country is put on a waiting list and gets no care." Indeed it is.

The taxpayer burden of illegal immigration is conservatively estimated at $155 billion per year — versus a one-time expense of $7-$9 billion for Trump's border barrier.

And for the record, Congress has already authorized redistributing $10.6 billion in taxpayer funds to Mexico for its own southern border security.

Regarding the so-called "shutdown showdown"

President Trump has already signed legislation approving $900 billion of $1.2 trillion for federal agency operating expenses, but the partial shutdown is having a significant impact on 800,000 people on the federal payroll.

The interruption of "non-essential government services" and furlough of 380,000 government employees could be viewed as "paid vacation," as Congress has always restored back pay retroactively. However, many of those affected live on tight margins, and missing paychecks means potentially missing loan and mortgage payments and other bills. They will begin feeling the pinch in January, but taxpayers, who are footing the bill, are already bearing the shutdown burden. The same is true of the 420,000 essential government employees who remain on the job, most in security positions, who will not receive pay in January, but are guaranteed their back pay. Those employed by government contractors will not see their back pay restored.

How did we get here?

In short, President Trump requested $5 billion in additional border-security funding in order to begin construction of barriers along our southern border with Mexico. Before recess, in one of the last actions of the Republican-controlled House before Democrats take over this week, lawmakers passed a bill approving $5.7 billion in additional funding. But that bill was dead on arrival in the Senate, which only agreed to $1.3 billion for border security, and none of that for a border barrier.

When Senate Democrats denied additional border-barrier funding, including a $2.5 billion compromise offer from Vice President Mike Pence, Trump ordered the partial shutdown. For how long? According to the president, "I can't tell you when the government is going to reopen. ... [Not until] we have a wall, a fence, whatever they'd like to call it. I'll call it whatever they want. But it's all the same thing. It's a barrier from people pouring into our country."

Trump drew attention to the necessity of security walls by mentioning one in particular: "President and Mrs. Obama built a 10-foot Wall around their D.C. mansion/compound. I agree, totally necessary for their safety and security. The US needs slightly larger version!"

Democrats are weighing their options for a rebuttal. They're likely to pass a package of Senate spending bills to reopen the government — in an attempt to shift blame for the shutdown to Republicans, as Trump will not approve such spending.

Trump, the consummate dealmaker, is looking for some concession from Democrats by using Obama's illegal Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) deceit as a bargaining chip, but he may not get one. Notably, he has also issued an executive order putting a hold on pay increases for all non-military government employees — another bargaining chip.

The president called key members of Congress to the White House last week for negotiations.

But the biggest obstacle to border security is, as Trump noted, this: "The Democrats don't want to let us have strong borders, only for one reason. You know why? Because I want it."

Regarding our military presence in Syria and Middle East policy

Whether in domestic or foreign policy matters, Trump has shown a penchant for strategic unpredictability that inevitably comes with varying degrees of perceived instability — which he happens to thrive on.

In 2016, Trump laid out his priorities for defeating the resurgent Islamic State, along with his policy objective in Syria: "What we should do is focus on ISIS. We should not be focusing on Syria. You're going to end up in world war three over Syria if we listen to Hillary Clinton. You're not fighting Syria any more, you're fighting Syria, Russia and Iran, all right?" He added that dealing with Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad was "secondary ... to [ISIS]."

A week before Christmas, the White House announced President Trump's "slow and highly coordinated pullout of U.S. troops" from Syria. According to Trump, "We have won against ISIS ... Our young women, our men, they're all coming back and they're coming back now. We won."

Trump elaborated, "American and coalition forces have had one military victory after another over the last two years against ISIS, including the retaking of both Mosul in Iraq and Raqqa in Syria. We've liberated more than 20,000 square miles of territory ... and liberated more than 3 million civilians from ISIS's bloodthirsty control ... I made it clear from the beginning that our mission in Syria was to strip ISIS of its military strongholds; we're not nation building. ... Our presence in Syria was not open-ended, and it was never intended to be permanent. The men and women who serve are entitled to clear objectives, and the confidence that when those objectives are met they can come home and be with their families. Our objective in Syria was always to retake the territory controlled by ISIS. Now that we have done so, the nations of the region must step up and take more responsibility for their future."

He concluded, "There will be a strong, deliberate, and orderly withdrawal of U.S. forces from Syria — very deliberate, very orderly — while maintaining the U.S. presence in Iraq to prevent an ISIS resurgence and to protect U.S. interests, and also to always watch very closely over any potential reformation of ISIS and also to watch over Iran."

Notably, he reiterated: "I never said that I'm gonna rush out. ... ISIS was all over the place when I took over. It was a total mess in Syria. We've almost eradicated all of them. We think all of them will be gone by the time we get out."

Predictably, criticism of Trump's decision came in droves from both sides of the aisle. Perhaps the most controversial of the president's assertions was "We won," leaving many to ask what, exactly, did we win? Amidst the flood of opinion still pouring in from critics and supporters alike, what follows are the most valid pros and cons of the Syria departure.

Supporting the departure:

  1. Troops in Syria, an Obama-era decision, were never congressionally authorized, so the departure is a win for the Constitution. National Review analysts Andrew McCarthy and David French, who otherwise have a difference of opinion on the Syria withdrawal, both agree that the Iraq/Afghanistan Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF) did not extend to Syria. French notes, "President Obama should have gone to Congress and sought the necessary authorization to respond." Likewise, McCarthy declared: "[If] you want to fight that enemy in an elective war, the Constitution demands that the people give their consent through their representatives in Congress."
  2. We'll continue to monitor Syria and deny it as a safe haven for terrorism, according to President Trump. One of the foremost critics of the decision to leave Syria was initially Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC). However, Graham reversed course after meeting with the president, stating: "[I] feel a lot better about where we're headed in Syria." He noted that Trump remains stalwart in his commitment to preventing Syria from being a safe haven for terrorist cells, saying, "He promised to destroy ISIS. He's going to keep that promise. We're not there yet, but as I said today, we're inside the 10-yard line and the president understands the need to finish the job."
  3. To Be Determined? If Trump has taught us anything over the last two years, it's that there's always a bigger plan in play than what he and the ardently anti-Trump media reveal. Time and again, we've seen his decisions turn out better than expected. So we're going to leave this last "pro" space open — there's something else at play here that has yet to become clear, and we trust that it's in our nation's best interest. Again, Trump is playing chess while the media sees only checkers.

Against the departure:

  1. The U.S. will be less equipped to counteract its strategic enemies. The conflict in Syria is deeply complex, but of the numerous parties invested in the outcome — Syria, Iran, Russia, Turkey, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Israel, the Kurds, and the U.S., to name a few — our ability to influence outcomes in the region may be weakened as a result of Trump's decision to depart. Policy analyst Colin Dueck notes: "A sudden and unexpected drawdown of U.S. forces can only reduce America's leverage against a range of adversaries and competitors including ISIS and the Taliban." Though we retain the ability to influence the outcome through political and economic means, we are less equipped to influence change without troops on the deck.
  2. Our allies will be less secure as a result, as will our myriad interests in the outcome of the conflict. Even with a reported footprint of only 2,000 troops (assuredly, some of our presence in the region is undisclosed or classified), our presence in Syria helped to assure safety and security to our regional allies by checking our enemies. As The Jerusalem Post's Caroline Glick writes: "Despite their relatively small numbers, the U.S. forces in Syria have had a massive strategic impact on the power balance in the country. Deployed along the border triangle joining Syria, Iraq and Jordan, the U.S. forces in Syria have blocked Iran taking over the Iraqi-Syria border and so forging a land bridge linking Iran to the Mediterranean through Iraq, Syria and Lebanon." Now, in our absence, Israel and Jordan will have to become better equipped to prevent the flow of logistics, personnel, and ideology from Tehran to Beirut, the West Bank, and the Gaza Strip.
  3. There was speculation about Defense Secretary James Mattis's resignation before the Syrian shift, but he certainly signaled his disagreement with Trump's decision. As David French wrote, "Our nation has lost its foremost warrior in protest [of the decision]." Although Trump will surely identify a capable defense secretary to follow in "Mad Dog's" footsteps, his departure struck a blow to the perceived stability of our military policy. Mattis was the member of Trump's National Security Council with the most familiarity with military policy in the Middle East, beginning with his command of Task Force 58 during Operation Enduring Freedom, the invasion of Afghanistan after the 9/11 Islamist attack.

The departure of Mattis will also have a significant impact on the morale and well-being of our men and women in uniform, who rightly held him in high regard.

It should be noted that Gen. Mattis also disagreed with President Trump on other important matters of policy: walking away from the Obama administration's Paris climate agreement and tearing up its Iran nuke deal; moving our nation's embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem; engaging with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un; banning certain transgender individuals from U.S. military service; and using U.S. troops to defend our southern border.

In summary, our military analyst, Lee Crockett, concludes that Syria, Iran, and Afghanistan constitute a complex tapestry of international politics and warfare.

According to Crocket: "The Syria conflict is incredibly complicated, and it is a microcosm of the geopolitical conflict between Iran, China, Russia, and the West. One possible outcome could be that the unification of both parties against the pullout could result in a congressionally approved AUMF for any further involvement in Syria. But if history has taught us anything about prolonged wars (see Vietnam, 1964-1973, and Afghanistan, 2001-present) it is that simply pulling chocks and bringing the troops home has resulted in America failing to accomplish its desired ends.

"In 1964, we sought to prevent communism from bleeding into South Vietnam and beyond. Two administrations and three presidential terms later, our national resolve on the importance of South Vietnam faltered, and we abandoned South Vietnam to a communist takeover in 1975. We entered Afghanistan in 2001 to erode the nation's status as a safe haven for terrorism. Two administrations and three presidential terms later in 2013, our national resolve on the importance of Afghanistan to our national security faltered, and we abandoned Afghanistan to the resurgence of the Taliban and Islamism.

"President Trump wisely returned to Afghanistan in force in 2017, though we returned to a nation that was not only war-torn but also being overrun again by the Islamist Taliban. In 2014, we entered Syria (unconstitutionally though it was) to counteract the Islamic State and prevent the region from harboring terrorist cells. Now that President Trump has decided to depart, have we truly accomplished our initial objective, or will the Syrian departure result in a regional failure to secure our national interests — suffering the same fate as Vietnam and Afghanistan at our allies' expense?"

The criticism of Trump's unfolding military strategy in Syria was punctuated by a surprise Christmas visit by the president and first lady to Al Asad Air Base in Iraq.

To the resounding cheers of military personnel, Trump asserted: "Our faith and confidence in you is absolute and total. ... You are the warriors who defend our freedom. You are the patriots who ensure the flame of liberty burns forever bright. That's who you are. ... To everyone at Al Asad Air Base, and every American serving overseas, may God bless you, may God protect you, and may God always keep you safe. We love you. We support you. We salute you. We cherish you. And together, we pray for justice, goodness, and peace on Earth."

On that, we can all agree. Above all the political rancor, I ask you to join us in daily prayer for God's blessing upon our nation, especially for the protection of and provision for our uniformed Patriots and their families, and wisdom for our nation's leaders. ESR

Mark Alexander is the executive editor of the Patriot Post.

 

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