Making the click-through worthwhile: how customs and border-patrol agents can make the argument for a security fence, three easily overlooked comments from President Trump’s visit in Iraq, and some surprising revelations about Jamal Khashoggi that complicate the initial narrative about his work.
Finally, Trump Will Make His Fencing Argument at the Border
The first rule of storytelling and writing is “Show, don’t tell.” It probably applies to presidential arguments as well. In Iraq yesterday — more on that surprise trip below — President Trump said he would soon travel to the border and showcase what’s been built, and what needs to be built:
We’ve also built new wall a lot. But we just gave out a contract that, when it’s all completed out, it’ll be 115 miles. That’s a lot. We’re talking about 500 to 550 miles. And this will be — just this one contract is 115. I’m going there — I assume you’re coming with me — on probably the end of January, a little bit before the State of the Union. I think we’re going to do it before the State of the Union Address. I’ll be going to Texas, and we’re going to be sort of having a long — we’ll have a long groundbreaking, because it covers a lot of territory. But we’re going to have a groundbreaking for the wall.
Under previously passed legislation, U.S. Customs and Border Protection continues to pay contractors to replace sections of spotty or insufficient fencing with 18-foot-tall bollard walls — tall steel bars with gaps in between them so that Border Patrol officers can see what’s happening on the other side. As of this month, about 40 miles of spotty or insufficient fencing has been replaced with 18-foot-tall bollard walls.
The total length of the U.S.-Mexico border is 1,954 miles; as of August 2017, 705 miles have at least one of four kinds of barriers: pedestrian primary fence, pedestrian secondary fence, pedestrian tertiary fence, and vehicle fence. (The New York Times put together a good series of graphics illustrating the types of fences and where they’re located.)
On the campaign trail, Trump could make his vision sound like the Great Wall of China — 30-foot tall bulwarks of concrete. What’s being put up looks quite different, but to those in charge of enforcing the law, this works better.
People know what they think of Trump, and everyone who doesn’t like him is likely to oppose his ideas and everyone who likes him is likely to love his ideas — and in a highly polarized, angry political environment like this, merits of proposals can be obscured.
Back in June of 2017, Brandon Judd, president of the National Border Patrol Council — the labor union that represents U.S. Border Patrol — testified before Congress, and I wish everyone in America would watch it and read it. His arguments are well-informed from personal experience, succinct and clear . . . and his notion of the best practical solution probably would not completely satisfy everyone. Among his comments:
I want to emphasize first off, I will not advocate for 2,000 miles’ worth of border [wall]. That is just not necessary. But what I will advocate for is a border wall in strategic locations, which helps us secure the border…
…as an agent who worked in two of the busiest sectors in the history of the Border Patrol, I can personally tell you how effective border barriers are. When I got to the Tucson sector, we had next to nothing by way of infrastructure, and I can confidently say that for every illegal border crosser that I apprehended, three got away. The building of barriers and large fences, a bipartisan effort, allowed agents in part to dictate where illegal crossings took place and doubled how effective I was able to be in apprehending illegal border crossers. As an agent who has extensive experience working with and without border barriers and as the person elected to represent rank-and-file Border Patrol agents, I can personally attest to how effective a wall, in strategic locations, will be.
…With a barrier, it’s estimated that all we need is one agent per three, four linear miles. Without a barrier, I need one agent per linear mile. So the cost effectiveness of a barrier in manpower is—it’s extremely successful.
In addition to the 353 miles of primary fencing that we already have, we believe that we need an additional 300 miles of primary fencing. This fencing should be strategically placed in areas such as Del Rio and Laredo Texas and the Tohono O’odham Indian Reservation in Arizona.
Judd testified that significant amounts of non-wall funding were also needed:
Every day we deploy Agents with equipment that is inadequate. Let me give you two simple examples. Forty percent of our vehicles are past their service life. Patrolling off road for 10 hours a shift takes a toll and some of these vehicles are literally falling apart. The cost of replacing older vehicles would be $250 million. In many areas of the border, the Agents have no communications. Forget interoperability, we do not even have operability and this is a real threat to Agent safety. We estimate that we could dramatically increase border interoperability for $125 million.
That’s $375 million; back in 2016, the U.S. government gave San Diego a bit more than $1 billion to extend its trolley line.
By the way, lest you think that the National Border Patrol Council is some deeply pro-Trump partisan outfit, this union endorsed Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), Jon Tester (D-Mont.), and Heidi Heitkamp in the last election cycle, greatly irking the administration.
In Judd’s assessment, 300 miles of border fencing would make a big difference. Would Trump supporters accept a “partial” fencing? Could Democrats live with that?
Yesterday in Iraq, Trump sounded like he could live with this, although he left the door open to building more miles of wall later: “We have a lot of great wall going in the most important places. We’re starting in the most important places, which I would say history says, fellas, that’s a good thing to do, right? Do the most important places first and do the least important places last.”
If and when Trump appears at an event on the border, he should let the border patrol officers and officials explain, with the national media watching, what they see and what they experience as they perform their duties. Ask the country — and Congress — to put aside what they think of Trump and focus upon what options would help these men and women do their jobs most effectively.
Three Observations about Trump in Iraq
One: Yes, there are a lot of military and national security minds inside and outside of government who vehemently disagree with Trump’s move to remove troops from Syria. But the president is not supportive of an across-the-board withdrawal from the region.
Q Do you have any plans to pull the forces out of Iraq as well?
THE PRESIDENT: No plans at all, no. In fact, we could use this as a base if we wanted to do something in Syria. If — I will say this, if you take ISIS and if we see something happening with ISIS that we don’t like, we can hit them so fast and so hard, they won’t — they really won’t know what the hell happened.
The Pentagon does not give out specific figures about how many U.S. personnel are in countries with armed combat, but it has been reported that there are about 5,000 U.S. armed services personnel in Iraq and about 2,000 in Syria.
Two: President Trump is now singing the praises of Turkish President Erdogan.
. . . We’ve knocked them out. We’ve knocked them silly. I will tell you that I had some very good talks with President Erdogan, who wants to knock them out also. And he’ll do it. And others will do it, too, because we’re in their region; they should be really sharing the burden of cost, and they’re not.
. . . Now, if you look at what happened in Syria, President Erdogan stepped up, and he says he wants to knock out ISIS. We say, “Whatever’s left.”
Trusting Erdogan is almost certainly going to come back to haunt the president.
Three: an easily overlooked comment from the president, early in his remarks at Al Asad Air Base in Iraq:
And I want to thank the press. You’ve made a journey. You knew where you were going, and we appreciate your coming with us, very much so. That takes courage also. We very much appreciate you coming with us. So thank you very much.
I’m surprised we haven’t seen some “Trump praises courage of press” headlines.
The Truth about Jamal Khashoggi Is Much More Complicated than Originally Claimed
The brutal murder of Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul was an outrage, and the Saudi regime needs to endure some short-term consequences from the United States government in order to deter them from ever pulling a reckless stunt like this again.
That having been said, it is now clear that the narrative around Khashoggi’s work as a columnist that was reported immediately after his death was not entirely accurate. Credit the Washington Post for going back and doing additional reporting — and relaying to readers the revelations that are not so flattering or reassuring about their former colleague.
For starters, he was the odd sort of regime critic who sought funding from the regime he criticized:
In September 2017, at the same time he was embarking on a new role as opinion columnist for The Washington Post, he was pursuing up to $2 million in funding from the Saudi government for a think tank that he proposed to run in Washington, according to documents reviewed by the paper that appear to be part of a proposal he submitted to the Saudi ministry of information.
And whether he intended it or not, Khashoggi ended up playing the role of something of an off-the-books government spokesman:
In one case, Khashoggi told the ambassador that he had been contacted by a former FBI agent working on behalf of families of victims of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks — in which 15 of the 19 hijackers were Saudi. He said he would go forward with the meeting and emphasize “the innocence of my country and its leadership.”
But here’s where it gets really uncomfortable for the Post:
Perhaps most problematic for Khashoggi were his connections to an organization funded by Saudi Arabia’s regional nemesis, Qatar. Text messages between Khashoggi and an executive at Qatar Foundation International show that the executive, Maggie Mitchell Salem, at times shaped the columns he submitted to The Washington Post, proposing topics, drafting material and prodding him to take a harder line against the Saudi government. Khashoggi also appears to have relied on a researcher and translator affiliated with the organization, which promotes Arabic-language education in the United States.
This . . . makes Khashoggi look less like an independent journalist and more like an agent of another country that was, if not an enemy of Saudi Arabia, then certainly a rival.
The article goes on to quote:
Editors at The Post’s opinion section, which is separate from the newsroom, said they were unaware of these arrangements, or his effort to secure Saudi funding for a think tank. “The proof of Jamal’s independence is in his journalism,” Fred Hiatt, editorial page editor of The Post, said in a statement. “Jamal had every opportunity to curry favor and to make life more comfortable for himself, but he chose exile and — as anyone reading his work can see — could not be tempted or corrupted.”
Boy, how awkward must that conversation between the news section and the editorial section have been?
There’s also this curious detail:
She noted that Khashoggi’s English abilities were limited and said that the foundation did not pay Khashoggi nor seek to influence him on behalf of Qatar.
If Khashoggi’s English abilities were limited . . . how did he get a gig as a Washington Post columnist?
ADDENDUM: Once the Senate works through a deal to reopen the government, it has a huge pile of work to get to: confirmation hearings for at least five cabinet officials; about 30 judges awaiting a confirmation vote; 45 nominees to be ambassadors; and about 150 other nominees for positions throughout the executive branch, including director of the U.S. Census Bureau, U.S. Marshals Service, National Park Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and inspector generals for the Departments of Energy, Homeland Security, HUD, director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, and White House director of National Drug Control Policy.
Oh, and the debt ceiling is reinstated March 2, meaning that they need to raise it sometime in the months after that.