- - Thursday, September 6, 2018


With 470 BC destruction at Thermopylae of the 300 Spartans and a group of Greek auxiliaries at the hands of a huge invading Persian army under King Xerxes, all Greece appeared open to conquest. The Athenians were particularly at risk and were not much comforted when the Oracle of Delphi predicted than Athens would be saved by her wooden walls.

The problem was that Athens had no wooden walls. The great soldier/statesman Themistocles finally convinced the Athenians that the walls were actually the walls of the Athenian warships; he convinced the populous to redouble their shipbuilding efforts. Themistocles proved right and defeated the Persian fleet. Without the fleet, Xerxes had an army he couldn’t support.

Perhaps President Trump does not need the towering structure than he envisions as his wall. There may be alternative and better ways of regaining control of our southern border.

Erik Prince, the founder of the Blackwater Security, has suggested that the war in Afghanistan be privatized. This will likely not happen. The Pentagon is against the idea, and the Afghans are not wildly embracing it, but perhaps it is time to consider privatizing our barrier in the South.

Americans are at our best when practicing capitalism, and Mr. Trump is perhaps our leading and most vocal champion of the free market approach. Why then, could we not privatize construction of the barrier by soliciting bids from companies such as those which Blackwater has evolved to. Allow companies to submit bids to construct 500-hundred-mile sections of the new barrier.

Rather than give them specifications to build a 50- or 100-foot wall, we should be telling the bidders what we want done and let them figure out how to do it. We should be letting competition prevail.

We basically know how many leakers get through the present barriers along each section of the border, and what percentage of those leakers are never apprehended — sadly, it probably averages out at upwards of 60 percentto 70 percent depending on the terrain.

If the contractors can figure out a way to cut down on the illegals who actually breach the border, it would allow the Border Patrol to concentrate on becoming more agile and mobile in apprehending and deporting the leakers.

I was a part of several technological experiments to place more eyes on the border with advance sensors in the last decade. Sadly, once the leakers were on the U.S. side, there were simply not enough law enforcement assets to apprehend them. On average, 80 percent slipped through the net.

If we allow interested contractors to look at the terrain and submit bids, it could significantly reduce the actual number of present leakers. That would allow the Border Patrol to hire the people to make them mobile enough to apprehend the vast majority of the leakers who do breach the contractor barriers.

We have a baseline to measure what the contractors need to accomplish. Those that don’t perform can be replaced along their sections of the border. This would give us the strategic flexibility to determine what works and what doesn’t.

Using technology such as sensors in a barrier system got a bad name during the Vietnam War with the ill-fated “McNamara Line.” That was a half century ago, and sensor technology has made quantum leaps since then. Non-lethal barrier technology is also making great strides. Combined with highly mobile human close-in response teams, many illegals could be spotted approaching the barrier and warned off before actually crossing the border.

The bottom line is that some combination of sensors, non-lethal barrier technology, and physical barriers may provide a cheaper and more effective border defense system. Given competition and quantifiable measures of performance, private industry can generally outperform the government in any area.

If we can get a handle on illegal immigration, it would a allow a workable fast-track, temporary Green Card system. Most who illegally cross the border, as opposed to those seeking asylum from crime in their own countries, are not looking to stay permanently. They seek better job opportunities than at home. A fast-track, temporary green card approach would help labor-starved industries, such as agriculture, and provide better screening in order to prevent tragedies, such as the Tillman murder.

My concern with a southern wall as a fixed barrier is that it would provide yet another major government program that runs against the grain of conservative promise to reduce government size and control spending. This is a good opportunity to let capitalism work.

• Gary Anderson lectures in alternative analysis at the George Washington University’s Elliott School of International Affairs.

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