Their pitiless email to James Foley’s grieving parents was as brutal as the Islamic State’s video of his beheading by a black-clad, knife-wielding executioner. They explicitly promised American bloodshed for “government and citizens alike,” but began with a troubling question: “How long will the sheep follow the blind Sheppard?”(sic)
Actually, I was wondering that, too. We have a White House endlessly concerned with “optics,” but incapable of understanding why their preference for weakness provokes enemies, from ruthless opportunists like Russian President Vladimir Putin to the genocidal fanatics of the Islamic State. Both have ample reasons for believing that 21st-century Americans have lost our will to fight. They may even have a point, since the administration’s reflexive reaction to the tragedy was a knee-jerk leak about a failed special-forces rescue mission. Sorry, but we tried, didn’t we?
On cue, the secretary of defense and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff defended the current policy of containing the Islamic State through pinprick airstrikes. In order to conserve a last shred of credibility, Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey reluctantly admitted that containing a well-armed, strategically sophisticated, apocalyptic group was only a stopgap and that the Islamic State would “eventually have to be defeated.” The deliberately unanswered questions: Whether defeating the organization might mean airstrikes in Syria or even introducing American ground forces, those dreaded “boots on the ground.” Such hesitation is natural when their boss constantly seems guided by the ghost of Neville Chamberlain.
What practically no one in Washington even noticed was how the new threat squared with the state of our alleged homeland defenses. Could the Islamic State militants have meant precisely what they told the Foleys, that they mean to attack and kill Americans even if that means coming here to do it? One notable exception was Georgetown professor Michael Sheuer, former head of the CIA unit that tracked Osama bin Laden. He predicted on Fox News that American casualties will result because we lack the political will to defend our porous southern border. “[Politicians] are concerned with not being called anti-Hispanic or anti-human rights, and so Americans will die because they’re preening to the small liberal crowd on the left that believes we are the homeland for everybody .”
One politician who strongly believes that the American homeland is not for just anybody is Gov. Rick Perry. Like many of us singled out for abuse by the mainstream press, his recent indictment (dismissed even by some Democrats) may eventually be worn as a badge of honor. However, one of Mr. Perry’s most important accomplishments is certainly his methodical reinforcement of the 1,200-mile border Texas shares with Mexico (not counting 360 additional miles of coastline). That area represents roughly 60 percent of the entire U.S. southern border, the same embattled perimeter that President Obama refuses to visit because of his abiding concern over optics.
Under Mr. Perry, the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) is headed by a former FBI agent who commands a small but capable army of agents, game wardens and, not least, the famous Texas Rangers. Deployed on horseback as well as in helicopters and riverine patrol craft, the DPS learned long ago that fighting drug cartels and human traffickers means moving fast and sharing information even faster. A former Navy SEAL heads their intelligence “fusion center,” demonstrating every day the value of collecting, analyzing and disseminating actionable intelligence to the combined patrols policing the Texas portion of the border. The estimated cost: $1.3 million per week — but even more if you don’t do it.
Mr. Perry recently mobilized roughly 1,000 Texas National Guardsmen to reinforce those parts of the border where the recent influx of illegal immigrants has been heaviest. While their deployment has only begun, the initial results are encouraging — a reduction from more than 6,000 weekly apprehensions in June to just over 2,500 in early August. The additional cost to Texans: $12 million per month to thicken the defenses of roughly two Texas border counties. Texas DPS officials stress the importance of partnership (federal, state and local) while maintaining an aggressive, visible police presence. The objective: “Creating a hostile workplace environment for anyone trying to break our laws.”
The lessons learned in Texas have direct implications for a nation possibly getting serious about moving from empty rhetoric to the hard realities of closing our notoriously wide-open border. For one thing, Mexico should interdict those trains carrying hordes of border-crossers 1,800 miles toward “El Norte.” For another: Recognition should be given to the continuing importance of federal, state and local data-sharing on immigration enforcement programs like “Secure Communities.”
The reason: If you can’t control drugs, human trafficking or illegal immigration, then neither can you prevent an attack by the Islamic State — maybe sooner rather than later.
Ken Allard, a retired Army colonel, is a military analyst and author on national-security issues.