Almost immediately after President Obama unveiled his plan to resolve the border crisis, congressional Republicans balked. There were, House Speaker John Boehner complained, no provisions in the plan about sending National Guard troops to the border.
A week later, the president was in Texas, where he met with a variety of state officials, including Gov. Rick Perry (R). The Republican governor emphasized one point above all others: he wants Obama to deploy National Guard troops to the border.
GOP policymakers may not have thought this one through. In fact, Greg Sargent talked to the head of the National Guard under the Bush/Cheney administration, who offered a valuable perspective.
[I]n an interview today, the head of the National Guard under George W. Bush said he had not yet heard a clear rationale for sending in the Guard and suggested it might not be the appropriate response to the problems at the core of the current crisis, though he did say he could envision the Guard playing some sort of part in a broader solution.“Until mission requirements are clearly defined, it can’t be determined whether this is an appropriate use of the Guard in this particular case,” H. Steven Blum, who was the Chief of the National Guard Bureau from 2003 to 2009 and has been a career military man for decades, told me. “There may be many other organizations that might more appropriately be called upon. If you’re talking about search and rescue, maintaining the rule of law or restoring conditions back to normal after a natural disaster or a catastrophe, the Guard is superbly suited to that. I’m not so sure that what we’re dealing with in scope and causation right now would make it the ideal choice.”
That seems to be an exceedingly polite way of saying, “Republican demands don’t seem to make any sense.”
Some of this seems to be the result of GOP confusion about the nature of the story itself. Many Republicans seem to believe this is a border-security crisis, which the National Guard can help address directly.
But that’s not consistent with the facts on the ground.
In many instances, unaccompanied children are simply turning themselves in once they find border patrol agents. That’s not a border-security crisis; that’s largely the opposite.
Indeed, Fox News’ Brit Hume, hardly a progressive media voice, asked Perry to explain over the weekend what the National Guard would actually do if deployed to the border. The Texas governor struggled to explain his own position, saying only that Guard troops would send a “message that gets sent back very quickly to Central America.”
Hume reminded Perry “[I]f these children who’ve undergone these harrowing journeys, to escape the most desperate conditions in their home countries, have gotten this far, are they really going to be deterred by the presence of troops along the border who won’t shoot them and can’t arrest them?”
At this point, Perry changed the subject.
This is not to just pick on the Texas governor; Republican confusion about the border seems fairly common. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) said last week, “Let’s remember, this administration went around for years saying the border has never been more secure than it is now. I think that’s been exposed as a fallacy over the last three weeks.”
But again, this is plainly at odds with reality. It’s not a “fallacy”; the Obama administration really has strengthened border security to new heights in recent years. The humanitarian crisis doesn’t undermine this fact at all. For Rubio to make such a comment suggests he doesn’t fully understand the underlying challenge.
If it seems like policymakers are having a debate in which two sides are talking past each other, it’s because that’s largely what’s happening. The GOP wants Guard troops, but they’re not sure why, and they’re convinced there’s a border-security crisis, which doesn’t really exist.
For his part, Obama has said he’s willing to deploy the National Guard, basically to make Republicans feel better in the short term, if it’s part of a larger response to the crisis. At least for now, GOP leaders have said this isn’t good enough.