Monday, January 8, 2007

It sounds like Iraq or some other foreign land, but it happened on U.S. soil last week. Outside Sasabe, Ariz., a band of armed assailants stormed a National Guard border post and forced the Guardsmen to retreat without a shot. It was a personal affront to the Guardsmen, who should never have been in the unnatural position of being incapable of defending themselves in the first place. But they were, thanks to the Bush administration’s look-tough, act-weak immigration policy.

The observation post fell because most Guardsmen at the border are not even allowed to carry loaded weapons, much less defend themselves. The attackers, in this case probably drug or alien smugglers, quickly returned to Mexico after the assault. It’s past time to rethink this policy of placing Guardsmen at the border but defanging them with overly restrictive rules of engagement, which now results in a humiliation for the Guard, and for the rest of us.

The center of the problem is President Bush’s “Operation Jump Start,” which is showcased as a supposed key element of the administration’s generally toothless border policy. This farcical “initiative” has placed 6,000 Guardsmen on the border but disallows them the ability to do much of anything — not even defend their positions. No wonder the uniformed personnel we know are so angry.

In May, when the president announced that these 6,000 Guardsmen would be deployed, some heralded it as a step in the right direction. Then-House Speaker Dennis Hastert called the decision to send the Guard “the shot in the arm we need to strengthen our borders and protect our families.”

Well, no. The opposite was true. Even the president said as much. “Guard units will not be involved in direct law enforcement activities — that duty will be done by the Border Patrol,” Mr. Bush said as he announced the move. The Guardsmen would assist the Border Patrol by “operating surveillance systems, analyzing intelligence, installing fences and vehicle barriers, building patrol roads and providing training.” But they won’t be able to enforce the law or guard the border.

“The nanny patrol” is how unnamed Border Patrol agents have described the current arrangement to Jerry Seper of The Washington Times, and little wonder. We should point out that this is no fault of the Guardsmen, who are simply trying to do their jobs. Rather, the administration is at fault for depriving them of the means of fending off an attack. Administration policy makes a kind of costume of their uniforms — just for show.

If the administration can present any evidence whatsoever that “Operation Jump Start” is not simply a gimmick to look tough on illegals, it should do so now. We haven’t seen any. Instead, we’ve seen an utterly ineffectual border policy and an “Operation Jump Start” which places Guardsmen in harm’s way without allowing them to defend themselves. That’s an abuse of the Guard.

Let the Guardsmen carry loaded weapons, and let them defend themselves. Anything less makes them playthings in the administration’s immigration policy.

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