Monday, May 15, 2006

Primetime Farce

President Bush’s desperate attempt to boost his nose-diving poll numbers with a national address on illegal immigration is likely to produce exactly the opposite result, if early previews of his speech are accurate.

The White House formally insisted that no decision has been made and that Bush was still considering options yesterday. But aides left little doubt that the president intends to call for an expanded Guard deployment at the border involving several thousand troops, a significant increase from the 200 or so now there.

Officials suggested their mission would be to play a supporting role by providing intelligence, training, transportation, construction and other functions, while leaving the actual guarding of the 2,000-mile line separating the United States and Mexico to the Border Patrol. The National Guard would be a stopgap force until the federal government could hire civilian contractors to take over administrative and support functions from the Border Patrol, freeing more agents to actually hunt for immigrants slipping into the country.

"This is not about militarizing the border," national security adviser Stephen J. Hadley said on CBS's "Face the Nation." "The president is looking to do everything he can to secure the border. It's what the American people want, it's what he wants to do."

If this is the extent of President Bush’s plan, then expect to see his remaining conservative base desert him in disgust. Several thousand National Guardsmen are entirely insufficient to defend the 2,000-mile border. The numbers of National Guardsmen needed to adequate seal the border would be much, much higher.

Some in the president's conservative base called on him to be even more aggressive. Rep. Charles Whitlow Norwood Jr. (R-Ga.) said Bush should send 36,000 National Guard troops and eventually up to 48,000, drawn from around the nation. "If President Bush signed that order Monday night, our border would be secure for the first time in decades by Memorial Day at the latest," Norwood said in a statement. "Mr. Fox and [the National Council of] La Raza wouldn't like it -- but the American people sure would."

Unfortunately, the president’s ill-fated exercise in nation-building and "democratization" in Iraq has severely strained the National Guard, leaving it unlikely that such large numbers could be sustained (if actually mobilized in the first place) for any length of time.

Worse, the president has already assured his good friend, Mexican President Vincente Fox, that the dispatch of National Guardsmen to the border would only be a temporary action.

Mexican President Vicente Fox called to express concern over the prospect of militarization of the border, and Bush reassured him that it would be only a temporary measure to bolster overwhelmed Border Patrol agents, the White House said.

"The president made clear that the United States considers Mexico a friend and that what is being considered is not militarization of the border but support of Border Patrol capabilities on a temporary basis by National Guard personnel," said White House spokeswoman Maria Tamburri.

What Ms. Tamburri meant to say was that President Bush had told President Fox not to pay any attention to tonight’s address, that the National Guard deployment was nothing less than a ruse meant to deceive American voters into thinking that their government was doing something to protect the borders when in fact, their government had absolutely no intention of doing anything of the sort. In short, President Bush told President Fox, "don’t worry, it’s still business as usual."


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