True to form, Donald Trump is building the Wall he promised. Equally true to form, he is doing it in a surprising and unorthodox way – and yes, at least to a degree, other nations are “paying for it,” or at least sharing the burden.
The President’s know-it-all critics are fond of calling his Wall “a 14th-century solution to a 21st-century problem.” But Trump’s blueprint does not look at all like a curtain wall around a medieval stronghold. Instead, maintaining the fortifications metaphor, it is more like the complex multi-level designs of the 17th-century military engineer Sébastien le Prestre de Vauban. It is emerging that Trump’s Wall is really a strategic system comprising a wide spectrum of physical obstacles and dynamic measures to block, certainly, but also to fix, absorb, and hamper intrusions, diverting them into the channels where they can be dealt with most effectively. Most importantly, Trump’s version of a border Wall provides both new strategic depth and opportunities for an array of flexible responses depending on the nature of the specific threat.
Consider, for instance, the manner in which Trump’s agreements with Mexico and Guatemala have altered the anti-illegal immigration “battlefield” for the US. Rather than defending a single, nearly 2,000-mile line from Brownsville to San Diego, the first point of engagement is now the less than 400-mile aggregate borders between Guatemala and Honduras, and Guatemala and Belize. Behind this first line is a second one, at the 700 miles of boundaries between Mexico and Guatemala, and Mexico and Belize. Of course, some of the costs for Mexican and Guatemalan enforcement activities will be subsidized by the US, but this assistance creates opportunities for US authorities to influence, if not steer, Mexican and Guatemalan policy and enforcement tactics. The US Border Patrol and military have amassed valuable experience in humanely apprehending, feeding and caring for thousands of unfortunate people, knowledge which can readily be transferred to their Mexican and Guatemalan counterparts. In addition, assisting Mexico and Guatemala in the new tasks they have taken on permits the administration politically to co-opt to a degree the usual calls for dealing with the illegal migrant problem at the source by turning more US aid to genuinely useful purposes. By incorporating increased guest worker programs for Guatemalans in the deal, the US is providing a significant socio-economic pressure-relief valve.
Cynics will say that what Trump is really doing is shifting the focus away from American cities and towns on the border, with the attendant ready media scrutiny, to remote jungles and rivers far away from most human rights observers’ eyes. That may be, but it must also be admitted that many people – most notably, of course, the children – will be deterred from crossing the dangerous desert terrain of Northern Mexico. According to The New York Times, Mexico’s new policy is already yielding results.
Mexican and Guatemalan efforts need not be completely successful to make Trump’s moves extremely valuable. Most obviously, more US border personnel can be freed from babysitting and humanitarian assistance, in favor of enhanced enforcement and screening at both ports of entry and the weak points in between them.
Trump’s Wall was always a metaphor for an array of passive and active border security measures and legislative action. Now it becomes clear that the Wall is also being transformed into a multi-faceted international strategic initiative that just might work.