Chronic draft-dodger and aging cyber-bully Donald J. Trump has been itching to play commander-in-chief ever since he stumbled into the presidency over a year ago. He’s got the presidential bomber jacket, loves to tweet tough about fighter jets and “nuclear options,” and salivates at the idea of being grand marshal at a giant military parade down Pennsylvania Avenue.
But the man who skipped Saigon because of bone spurs and privilege is now getting bogged down in his own personal “Vietnam”: the Mexican border. It’ll be a lot less violent than the original Vietnam, but a lot worse than Trump’s last “personal Vietnam,” when he tried to navigate the battlefield of casual sex in the ’80s.
On Tuesday, Trump used his limited vocabulary and a strange future continuous sentence structure to say “we’re going to be doing things militariarily [sic] until we can have a wall and proper security, we’re going to be guarding our border with the military.” Trump elucidated his point with a touch of historical context: “That’s a big step, we really haven’t done that before, or certainly not very much before.”
Trump is sorta right. You have to go all the way back to the days of the Obama administration to find another example of a U.S. president deploying troops to the U.S.-Mexican border. President Obama deployed 1,2000 National Guard troops in a 2010 policy called “Operation Phalanx,” an extension of President George W. Bush’s 2006 “Operation Jump Start,” which sent 6,000 U.S. troops to the border. Those operations had names, because there was an actual plan.
Or perhaps Trump is thinking back on history to President Woodrow Wilson’s 1916 orders to send Gen. “Black Jack” Pershing and 10,000 U.S. troops across the Mexican border to capture Pancho Villa. Then again, maybe Trump is saying his militarization of the border will be like “something we certainly not very much have done before” because he’s ignorant of history.
In any event, Trump wants to ramp up his unpopular, unwinnable, and asymmetrical “war” on immigration by deploying troops to the border without a strategy, with no clear measures for success, and no exit plan.
How many troops will it take to “properly secure” a nearly 2,000-mile border? And at what cost? How do you defend the country against an unarmed civilian “enemy” who blends in with the population. What’s the mission? What are the rules of engagement against people seeking asylum, family reunification, and economic opportunity? And what’s the point of any of this at a time when border apprehensions are at 40-year low and more Mexican immigrants are leaving the U.S. than entering.
Rest assured that Trump has not thought through any of this. Further militarizing the border is a neanderthalic approach to dealing with our broken immigration system— like using a hammer to fix a paper jam on the printer. Deploying troops to act as a human wall along the entire border is even more foolish than trying to build a concrete wall there in the first place.
Rather than employing such primitive and futile attempts at stemming immigration flows, the U.S. would be wise to understand how its behavior and policies in the world contribute to the immigration problem in the first place. After all, it was U.S. war meddling in Central America in the 1980s and subsequent mass deportation policies that led to the culture of violence and gang problems that are now immigration push factors in countries like El Salvador. More recently, the U.S.’ recognition of the fraudulent presidential elections in Honduras last December is likely contributing to the caravan of Honduran refugees coming up through Mexico today.
Sadly, many of us never seem to learn from history. And Trump is so busy denying some parts of it and lying about other parts that he’s become a man out of time.
But Trump’s ignorance will catch up with him on the Mexican border. This will become his interminable Vietnam, a will-o’-the-wisp that beckons him ever deeper into the swamp.