This is “Mexican Hat Dance” week for me. One year-ago this month, I penned an article on America Out Loud writing about the problems facing our Nation on our southern border. In it I discussed how the Obama administration had struggled with the problem unsuccessfully and reviewed the bidding starting with President Trump’s call to action in his State of the Union address earlier in the year. Little progress had been made by Congress and the Trump Administration reverted to the same strategy as the Obama Administration of resorting to Executive Orders to create movement where legislative remedies were no forthcoming.
Trump had just ordered US border resources to step up scrutiny of families with children seeking asylum. The phenomenon of caravans of Central and South American migration was beginning to grow, fueled by the profitability of a human trafficking industry originating in Central American countries. That trafficking phenomenon was about to become a convenient political football for the warring factions of monied elites in the United States. It would lead, by the middle of 2019, to an unprecedented wave of economic migrants hoping for the promise of asylum their traffickers promised that they were never eligible for under United Nations refugee guidelines.
I criticized the Mexican government for turning a blind eye to the activities of these traffickers. Instead of holding persons at their own southern border for evaluation and processing under United Nations High Commission on Refugee (UNHCR) protocols, Mexico was granting these persons unlimited movement as if they were tourists having a vacation walk through the countryside. I did not believe this was morally right of the Mexican government to be party to the pretense of false hope that Central American human traffickers, undoubtedly sharing the wealth with Mexican collaborators, were perpetrating. Under UNHCR guidelines, many of these people would eventually be sent home, stripped of whatever wealth they had, to begin again as the poorest of the poor in their homelands. It was wrong. It needed to be stopped. And nations needed to step up to making it stop. Mexico wasn’t.
I ended the article with this piece of advice,
“Personally, I’d advise President Trump to go all out on Mexico using trade and tariff leverage while offering the carrot of relief if Mexico cooperates …”, D. Santiago, “Childish Border Wars: Wrong Border?”, 25-June-2018, America Out Loud.
A year later, Donald Trump came to the same conclusion. My read on the Mexico affair is that the administration effectively exploited the economic greed of US beneficiaries of trade with Mexico to in turn pressure the Mexicans, who have been letting larger numbers of people pass through to their northern border, to clean up their act.
Nothing squeals more loudly than Wall Street. The prospect of losing wealth is a powerful force in economic coercion. You just have to know which pocketbook to pinch.
Over the last two years, the Administration had worked through learning to deal with both allies and adversaries of the United States. The quest for strategic leverage to create a constructive tool of statecraft has morphed numerous times and yielded a powerful innovation using economic coercion to effect policy movement via the use of tariffs in the case of dealing with allies and sanctions in the case of dealing with adversaries. Donald Trump has proved able and willing to use it alongside diplomacy and force projection in the conduct of United States foreign policy.
It’s very important to understand that “The Donald”, as I still like to call him sometimes, is using this toolkit to conduct what national policy strategists currently call Grey Zone Operations. These are high stakes, high intensity, high pressure operations seeking to accomplish national interest objectives such as managing illegal immigration, re-aligning the global economy, eliminating global stability risk from rogue states, and other lofty goals that our nation, were it not for the fact that we have Hatfield and McCoy disease, should be working on.
It is also important to note that economic coercion is a legitimate tool of statecraft. Internationally, it is done using trade tariffs. Domestically, it is done using punitive taxation. Both effect policy. Sometimes one will agree with the policy, sometimes not; but it does not detract from the legitimacy of its use. Argument will surround it; but it will not, and should not, obviate it. That’s the reality check.
And so, “Donald the Strong”, as Xi Jinping’s Chinese industrial class used to call him before the trade and tariff disputes went from polite lip service to impending tangible commitment, has learned the statecraft of asymmetric warfare with a much broader toolkit than any American Hawk, Dove, Alt Right, RINO, Establishment Democrat, Traditional Progressive, Justice activist or what have you can fathom without the sudden urge to vomit at being out maneuvered and deftly marginalized every time a Tweet appears from @realDonaldTrump.
The Administration has achieved, in the truest sense, what the Kings of Silicon Valley used to call Disruptive Innovation. Only fools would still pretend to soother their own bruised egos that this now well document brand of new age statesmanship using perfect misdirection of the press on Twitter combined with the multi-axis application of the full power of the traditional executive branch isn’t brilliant.
You may not like it. But if you deny it, you’re the idiot.
Personally, I congratulate the President of the United States and his team for coming to the same conclusion I did on how to constructively coerce the government of Mexico to come out of the phase of lip service and move towards impending tangible commitment to solve the American continent immigration problem.
The bottom line is that even back in June of 2018, it was a legitimate ask from one nation state to another for the nation of first border crossing to carry out its responsibilities under international law. It should not have taken extraordinary action to finally precipitate it.
What comes next after Mexico lives up to its UNHCR responsibilities is also predictable; and I think, exciting to look forward to. It will bring the Western Hemisphere to the next phase of our journey into the 21st century. Yes, we will come face to face with the problems of Central and South America. Yes, we will have to revisit the old wounds on the banana republic issues, long dormant, that still plague our relationships with our New World brethren.
But maybe, just maybe, we will rediscover that once upon a time in the twilight of the 18th century, our continent looked to a young and still weak nation recently freed from its colonial master for inspiration for their own freedom. Back then, we did not have the wealth or might to help make it a better world. We do now. What we do with this chance in human history is up to us.
Some of my Old World friends, who have a more keen sense of world history and what happens when world orders collapse, ask me this question from time to time, “Do you think your country will survive its Etruscan phase?” It’s a reference to the early period of Rome before it became an Empire. They ask the question hopefully because they know that the existence of a United States of America that lasts as long as the Roman Empire means another epoch of peace and prosperity for the world. They don’t want the coming of another Dark Age; they want us to succeed.
If we manage to do the right thing, despite our dysfunctional family habits; or rather, because of our amazing and oft forgotten plurality that lets us problem solve faster loudly and reflexively better than any nation on earth, we will be the Great America this president aspires us to be.