The National Security Emergency
For 35 days the President of the United States forced a shutdown of the Federal Government. He made 800,000 government employees miss two paychecks and federal contractors lose that many days of pay. He created financial hardship for them and the thousands of small businesses that depend upon them for their own livelihoods. And what was the reason for this shutdown? The President tells us. Congress would not provide funding for a wall to cope with the national security emergency at the border with Mexico. Why this justifies a shutdown that harms his own citizens challenges rationality?
But worse, there is no national security threat at the southwestern border. Individuals responsible for the country’s intelligence services made that eminently clear January 29th. Among them were Director of National Intelligence Daniel Coats, CIA Director Gina Haspel and FBI Director Christopher Wray. They testified before the Senate Intelligence Committee where Coats submitted the Worldwide Threat Assessment of the U.S. Intelligence Community. The report reflects the collective insights of the Intelligence Community’s assessment of threats to U.S. national security. Commenting on Central America, it notes that illicit migration will continue northward from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras. But it does not classify such migration a security threat.
Critical threats outlined in this report
And yet, the President places this this issue at the forefront of threats to national security. But in reality, such threats are not at the southwestern border. They originate elsewhere in the world. And it is this President’s failure to act upon those threats that represents the most serious risk to U.S. national security.
The Assessment places cyber espionage and cyber attacks on key infrastructure among the growing threats facing the United States. It lists China, Russia, Iran, and North Korea as leading state actors in this regard. To confront this threat, the White House first eliminated the post of national cybersecurity coordinator. Then it issued a new cybersecurity strategy mirroring goals of previous administration strategies but allowing for more immediate offensive actions. One might say it is a policy of shoot first and consider the consequences later.
This new strategy represents a change of focus from strengthening defensive technologies and minimizing the impact of security breaches. Additionally, without a national coordinator, no individual is unifying this strategy among all government agencies.
Russia remains high on the list, pursuing its objectives of undermining the U.S. led international liberal order and extending its reach globally through cyber tools and military interventions—Syria and the Ukraine prime examples of the latter approach. But for reasons not yet conclusive, the President refuses to hold Russia accountable for its actions. Notwithstanding Russia’s interference in the 2016 elections, the President refrains from developing a unified cyber defense to protect the 2020 elections.
North Korea has stated support for denuclearization of the Korean peninsula. But the Assessment concludes “it is unlikely to give up all of its WMD stockpiles, delivery systems, and production capabilities.” Nonetheless the President proclaims he has eliminated the threat of nuclear war.
The President proclaims ISIS is defeated. Yet the assessment makes clear that ISIS is not defeated and “likely will continue to pursue external attacks from Iraq and Syria against regional and western adversaries, including the United States.”
The foregoing is not a detailed list of the wide-ranging risks to U.S. national security. Rather, it demonstrates there are many risks, but those at the southwestern border are not among them. Yet the President disputes his intelligence experts. After all, he proclaims he knows more about this issue than the chiefs of his intelligence services. But as with many of his pronouncements, this one reflects his narcissism, ignorance and racism, buttressed by his braggadocio.
Real Reason for the Shutdown
So we now arrive at the real reason for shutting down the government. Having been baited by two of his right-wing commentators/supporters, he reneged on a deal to sign a continuing resolution to keep the government open until February to allow more time to negotiate a resolution of border security funding. So why, we ask, are his supporters so insistent on funding for a border wall? After all, most experts minimize the importance of such a barrier relative to other means of securing the border.
But to Trump’s supporters, “wall” is a metaphor for “immigration.” A metaphor Trump used repeatedly as a reminder to talk about immigration—build a wall to keep undesirables out. It became a hot button issue for his base that he cannot walk away from. It is a promise he must keep to keep his base. Of course, his promise that Mexico would pay for it is of lesser or even no significance. It’s the symbol—the wall—that counts.
And he continues to demonstrate his lack of concern for the pain he has already inflicted on millions. He threatens to shutdown the government again if he doesn’t get the money he wants for his wall. To demonstrate his negotiating prowess he contends that by reopening the government he has “set the stage” for what’s next. Of course that could be another government shutdown. Or as many believe, he could declare a national emergency and claim all the executive power that accompanies it. Then he will use funds allocated elsewhere to build his wall.
His responsible Republican colleagues do not favor either action, but whether they’ll do any thing about it is the question. The latter action is sure to attract a legal battle, and if approved judicially, will set a terrible precedent. Any future President could declare a national emergency to bypass congressional restrictions placed on him or her. Unfortunately, the consequences of either action he is considering are of no import to him.
Hopefully, the current Congressional negotiations can conclude an agreement that provides adequate funding for border security. That should include a barrier where experts conclude it is the best method for a specific location and circumstance. Use of the word “barrier” would allow both Trump and his opponents to define it as they choose. But the type of barrier to be constructed, if any, would be determined solely on an objective basis.
It makes no sense to run Trump’s nose in the dirt—though he certainly deserves it. Give him a face-saving way out. The public will see it for what it is. And if Trump is stupid enough to reject it, he will simply reinforce the public’s negative opinion of him.