February 25, 2008
Bombs and Bombast
In a post today, Tom Bevan of Real Clear Politics gleefully reports that the "virtual fence" program hasn't worked well so far:
Keith Epstein of Businessweek reports that the "virtual fence" all the candidates kept referring to (especially the GOP ones) as the cornerstone of border security turned out to be a miserable failure....
Doesn't this hurt McCain, given that the virtual fence was one of the tools he was counting on to help deliver his promise of "certifying" the security of the border? Will he have commit to building the real "g**damn fence" now?
No, it shouldn't hurt McCain... any more than the early failures of the ballistic missile defense system seriously hurt the BMD program. It just means we have to keep building the physical fence -- while continuing to work on the virtual one.
For some reason, the idea of a virtual fence became the focal point of the ire of immigration-absolutists during the debate last year over McCain-Kennedy. It became vital to anti-plea-bargain conservatives to "debunk" the virtual fence, presumably on the grounds that only a real fence -- three hundred feet high and sixty feet thick, dotted with machine-gun emplacements and sporting a minefield -- could keep out the illegal Mexicans.
They saw the virtual fence as a heavily watered drink some cheapskate bartender was trying to foist on them.
Do I sound a bit caustic? Sorry, I tend to get that way when Republicans act-out like Democrats. In particular, the reflexive bias against technology has always set my teeth on fire.
Democrats in the 1980s became hysterical at the thought of a technological shield against incoming nuclear missiles; and now the conservative wing of the GOP is running around like a chicken with its legs cut off over the possibility of a technological shield against illegal immigration.
I can only conclude that they believe even breathing the words "virtual fence" amounts to "surrender" and "amnesty," as if it were always just a ruse to avoid building a real fence. But the areas suggested for the virtual fence are precisely those that have such rugged terrain that (a) there are hardly any illegal crossings, and (b) it's extremely difficult (if not impossible) to build a "real" fence in the first place.
So that those areas would not be left totally unguarded, various people proposed a network of radar installations, cameras, motion detectors, heat sensors, and a computer system tying it all together... modeled roughly on the Aegis combat system that protects many of our cruisers and destroyers.
Regardless of whether or not this particular version of a virtual fence has worked, we absolutely need one. Believe it or not, keeping out Mexicans is not the only problem we have that requires some sort of barrier:
- The border with Canada is vastly bigger than the southern border, and it would take a long, long time to toss a fence across it;
- And then, of course, there's the Gulf of Mexico; terrorists can boat up the Gulf and hop out onto the beach;
- And there are the Iraqi borders with Syria, Turkey, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and Iran;
- And don't forget the borders between Afghanistan and Pakistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and (naturally) Iran;
- Not to mention borders between our allies and their enemiess;
- Finally, any physical fence that can be built -- can be breached; cf. the fence that used to separate Gaza from Egypt. Even if we could literally build fences separating us from all potential enemies, those fences can be tunneled under, flown over, or blown up.
We need to keep working on the virtual fence because we are soon going to need it -- desperately, and in many, many places. Similarly, it's a darned good thing that we kept working on BMD, despite early failures of the components of the original Strategic Defense Initiative (particle-beam technology, railgun ground launchers, nuclear-powered pulse weapons)... because now we really, really need it for a completely unforseen adversary. Thank goodness we have it.
It's quite reasonable to argue that the virtual fence technology is not yet good enough to rely upon, so we need to build a physical barrier. But it's wrong -- one of those few actions that are always wrong -- to heap scorn upon a technological program because the early alpha-tests weren't entirely successful. Worse than wrong, it's foolish, Luddite, and short-sighted.
By all means, build the physical double-fencing along the southern border with Mexico; but don't delude yourselves that that's all we need. Or that we'll never need the virtual fence. Or even that we'll actually be able to build an effective physical fence everywhere that we need to stop people from coming... or even along the entire southern border itself.
The physical fence is a stopgap; we urgently need to do two things. As Caiaphas says in Jesus Christ Super Star, "We need a more permanent solution to our problem":
- Perfect the virtual-fence, smart-card, and employer verification technologies;
- Reform our own legal immigration system so that it is rational, just, and above all, predictable, to take the pressure of millions off the wall.
When law-abiding, eager-to-assimilate immigrants see a system that tells them what they need do to be granted residency or citizenship, they will follow the legal brick road. Contrariwise, if they see a system that arbitrarily excludes them, while welcoming much less assimilable immigrants with open arms, the pressure to just give up and sneak into the country, making a better life for their wives and chilren, becomes overwhelming.
(Imagine that you go through four or five years of university, passing all classes and tests; but at the end, somebody hands you a pair of dice... and you only get your diploma if you roll ten or higher.)
Until these two problems are solved, a physical fence is just a very wide target for bombs -- and bombast.
Hatched by Dafydd on this day, February 25, 2008, at the time of 10:09 PM
TrackBack URL for this hissing: http://biglizards.net/mt3.36/earendiltrack.cgi/2844
The following hissed in response by: eliXelx
Here in Spain we have a fence to keep Africans out; it's called, in various parts, the Med, the straits of Gibraltar, and the Atlantic.
Spain also has territories on North Africa called Melilla and Ceuta. Over there, there is a physical wall made of three rows of razor wire.
Every single day, summer and winter, attempts are made to breach these walls, with little boats, ladders and, sometimes, main force (rushing the barriers). In the summer, it is not infrequent for twenty or thirty "cayucos", 500-600 people, to beach in the Canary Islands DAILY, far too many for the overstretched CoastGuard to stop. In the course of a single summer that can be 8-10,000 in the Canaries alone, and that's just on that side; now the cayucos are taking longer, more dangerous trips to land on the Med side!
You do the Math; if there are 12million illegals in the US today, almost all Mexican, and they came since 1986, the Reagan Amnesty, that's possibly 10million in 20 years, 500,000 a year, 1500 per day, every day, for 22 years. It's a rushing river; Walls, Virtual or Concrete cannot stop it; only stem its flow slightly!
The Virtual Fence can only tell you when there is an attempted breach of the Physical Fence in progress, but neither helps once there is a breach, as the East Germans Guards on the Berlin Wall found out to their horror.
When the breakthrough comes bullets are the only answer. And now there is a new tactic in play!
Yesterday the Israelis really faced this problem for the first time; the suicide bombers have been trying to get through in ones and twos and have been virtually and physically stopped; but what happens when ten, twenty, fifty thousand determined people decide they want to get through a wall? When women and children and the elderly and the handicapped are put in the front lines?
Would the Israeli soldiers have shot to kill yesterday? Will American soldiers shoot to kill? The East German soldiers had no qualms, that's why the Berlin Wall gained it's fearsome reputation! The Spanish had no qualms in Melilla two years ago when they shot and killed a few illegals trying to storm the razor wire, actually causing that route to be far far less used than the far more difficult sea passage! But both the Spanish and the Israelis must be dreading the day that hundreds even thousands, using such new tactics, try to break through.
Will it ever happen? It already has, at Rafah, when the Egyptian guards put their guns down and 700,000 people crossed in a week, out of a population of 1.5 million. OK, they all went home, but the tactic was a success and you can expect it will be used increasingly against the Israelis, the Spanish, and in time, on the Mexican border!
Bullets will have to be deployed because the fence will not be enough! And, if it comes to that Will Americans stand for it?
Oh! and it happened once before; One of the most telling incidents of the Iran-Iraq War occurred toward the end of that conflict, when the Iraqi Republican Guard, the creme de la creme, put down their weapons and ran away from an oncoming horde of Iranian "Basijis", pre-teen and teenaged boys, unarmed except for the plastic key to the gate of Heaven given them by their instructors, possibly including one fearsomely dedicated ideologue called Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The battle-hardened Iraqis were so sickened by the wanton slaughter they were inflicting on innocents, that they simply fled. That is why Iran was able to garner an "honourable" end to a War that was lost!
The following hissed in response by: Davod
Please stop it. The main reason the anti-legislation people complained about the electronic fence was because the pro-legislation legislators specifically said the electric fence meant we did not need the physical fence.
Everywhere a reasonable physical fence has been established the tresspassing has been reduced considerably.
The issue should be whether we have the right to decide who enters the US.
The following hissed in response by: South Park Conservative
I normally agree wholeheartedly with you in these posts, but I have to go this time with Davod's point above: those most talking up the merits of a virtual fence wanted that instead of an actual fence.
By all means build a virtual fence, but just in those areas where a physical one is impractical.
The following hissed in response by: Dafydd ab Hugh
No, you've both completely missed the point.
It makes no difference what "those most talking up the merits of a virtual fence" were saying. Reality is reality, whether anybody notices or not.
For example, suppose that those most talking up the merits of freedom of speech were liberals who, in reality, just wanted to be shielded from the natural consequences of their own speech. That is not grounds for opposing freedom of speech.
You still should support freedom of speech... and tell those idiot liberals that they're just as wrong as their opponents.
In the present case, it's quite reasonable to support the virtual fence -- which is urgently needed, and will become even more vital in years to come -- while still rejecting the argument that we only need a virtual fence, not a physical one. We will probably always need both, though the exact mix may change as technology evolves.
By arguing against the virtual fence, you allowed open-border zealots to manipulate your position. You must decide what is right, then stand on that spot, refusing to be shifted by the buffeting of either Left or Right. Only better argument should move you.
The above hissed in response by: Dafydd ab Hugh at February 26, 2008 9:08 PM
The following hissed in response by: South Park Conservative
I think we are missing each other's point.
I am arguing that we should not listen to those who want ONLY a virtual fence (good), in a place where a physical fence is practical (much better).
An example that I think covers my point is the current holdup by House Democrats regarding the stalled FISA legislation. The Dems are insisting that FISA is fine as it is (virtual fence), when House Republicans, the majority in the Senate, and I (!), realize that the Protect America Act (physical fence) is much better.
That said, I totally agree with you that we should keep developing virtual fence technology while building a physical one wherever practical. I also support the continued R&D in Ballistic Missle Defense, and am eagerly waiting for the first Kinetic Energy weapon to be mounted on a navy destroyer.
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