The U.S. military has 2,000 troops stationed in Syria and 5,200 stationed in Iraq, according to recent estimates. In Afghanistan, the United States has another 14,000 troops deployed.
Just days before the midterm election, a deployment of an additional 5,200 troops arrived at the Mexico border to prepare for the arrival of a caravan travelling from Central America hoping to seek asylum. With 2,000 National Guard troops already stationed on the border, the total number of 7,200 military personnel equals the total stationed in Iraq and Syria combined.
President Donald Trump, though, did not, in any of his tweets, indicate that 870 miles separated the caravan from the U.S. border. Covering about 20-30 miles a day, the caravan won’t reach the U.S.-Mexico border for at least another month by the most generous estimates. Many question, then, why the Trump administration expressed a dire sense of emergency in its reporting on the caravan.
Leading up to the election, most pollsters gave the Democrats a solid chance at taking the House of Representatives. Confronted with the historically difficult task that presidents face in motivating their base for the midterms, Trump saw immigration as an issue that could do just that.
Using a crisis as a rallying cry to drive voters to the ballot box on Election Day is nothing new, and Trump simply took a page out of the political playbook of the past in manufacturing a crisis to build support for vulnerable House and Senate candidates. What makes this case different, though, is how a costly and ineffective deployment of U.S. troops accompanied the tweets and rallying cries about the caravan.
The deployment has an estimated cost of $200 million, and with threats to deploy an additional 10,000 troops, that figure could further skyrocket. Prepared for combat in war zones, these troops are “ill-trained, improperly equipped and badly organized for this mission,” according to the retired 4-star Admiral and Commander of U.S. Southern Command, James Stavridis. The responsibility to handle any immigration crisis, he argues, lies with law enforcement and not the military.
While sounding “tough” and “strong” in headlines and tweets, Trump’s decision will actually prove to do more harm than good, diverting resources away from other programs and preventing these combat troops from engaging in training for actual active-duty missions.
Calling the impending arrival of this caravan a “National Emergency” and blaming Democrats, Trump exploited people’s fear of immigrants in an effort to save the Republican majorities in both the House and the Senate. Instead of focusing on actual policy proposals, such as a renegotiated Iran deal or his long-talked-about infrastructure investment, Trump chose to seize on fear as a campaigning tool.
Fear has long been a driver in politics throughout the past century, regardless of party. Examples include how former President Lyndon Johnson told Americans that electing Barry Goldwater as president would bring about nuclear war or how terrorism has been used more recently to drive the need for stronger national security.
Candidates often tell Americans that “the terrible thing that you fear may happen is, in fact, going to happen, [and] that, unfortunately, can be a pretty effective tactic.”
In times such as these, as Americans, we must resist the urge to give in to the narrative being pushed by desperate political candidates. If this caravan did in fact pose a “National Emergency” and was not just a well-timed election crisis, we would expect there to be no change in narrative from the White House after Election Day. Instead, the very opposite has proven true with Trump ceasing nearly all mentions of the caravan.
While Trump made unsubstantiated claims that terrorist groups and drug cartels have infiltrated the caravan, the truth is that there is little to fear. The people, mostly women and children, traveling in this caravan, are fleeing violence and persecution in Central America to seek asylum in the United States.
Christopher Murdy PO ’22 is an intended International Relations major from Lido Beach, NY. He has yet to be convinced West Coast beaches are better.