Recently, President Trump declared war on undocumented immigrants heading for the southern border — you know, all those marauding “rapists” and their pals — and, as seems appropriate in any “war,” he promptly ordered the mobilization of the National Guard. Troops from its ranks were to be dispatched border-wards permanently, or at least until his Great Wall could be funded and built by someone or other. (“We are going to be guarding our border with our military. That’s a big step,” he said proudly, in announcing the move.) Up to 4,000 National Guard troops are officially to take on the task, except that so far only a scattered 900 or so from the states of Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona have actually made it to the border — with another 400 promised by California Governor Jerry Brown, as long as they fulfill none of the anti-immigrant duties that Trump has in mind for them. Are you with me so far? Add to this the fact that the troops going into battle will be doing so unarmed and with no authority to act directly in any way in relation to immigrants of any sort. (As the memo that Secretary of Defense James Mattis signed put it, the National Guard troops will not “perform law enforcement duties or interact with migrants or other persons detained by U.S. personnel.”)
Think of this as Syria in the Southwest. In response to presidential tweets and boasts, the U.S. military is searching for a way to visually fulfill his promises — oh, those missiles sent into Syria, more than twice as many as the last time! — while actually doing as little as humanly possible to achieve his goals. Mission accomplished! In fact, those National Guard troops could essentially hit the border and twiddle their thumbs, while the endless advanced systems of high-tech surveillance implanted in our ever more fortified and militarized borderlands do most of the work for them. TomDispatch regular Todd Miller, author most recently of Storming the Wall: Climate Change, Migration, and Homeland Security, has been following all of this for years now and today offers a sense of how ordinary — despite all the hype — Trump’s military moves have actually been in the context of recent American border politics. It’s a grim tale without an end in sight. Fortunately, Miller is on the job.