Late last night the Associated Press reported, “The Obama administration is developing plans to seek up to 1,500 National Guard volunteers to step up the military’s counter-drug efforts along the Mexican border…”
The AP report continues, “The plan is a stopgap measure being worked out between the Defense Department and the Homeland Security Department, and comes despite Pentagon concerns about committing more troops to the border — a move some officials worry will be seen as militarizing the region.”
The good news here is that the Pentagon is reluctant.
“Senior administration officials said the Guard program will last no longer than a year and would build on an existing counter-drug operation,” according to the AP report. ”They said the program, which would largely be federally funded, would draw on National Guard volunteers from the four border states.”
The key phrase here is, “which would largely be federally funded.”
The Governors can deploy their State militias on their own authority. But when they do, it is also on their own dime. While I haven’t read the words, there is an implication that border state Governors want the National Guard federalized under Title 10, so they don’t have to pay the costs.
During most of American history — the Civil War being the most dramatic exception — the federal military enterprise on American soil has been exceedingly small. Until World War II our most significant military forces consisted of either naval bases or state militias or federal troops being prepared for overseas operations.
Since World War II the size of the federal military establishment has, of course, skyrocketed. But throughout this period the focus of the military has been on far-flung foreign adversaries. Unfortunately domestic tranquility and the common defense now encourage looking closer to home.
The Associated Press reports, “Defense Secretary Robert Gates has expressed concern that tapping the military for border control posts is a slippery slope and must not be overused.”
A slippery slope to where? He does not say (or at least the AP does not say). But history tells again and again of the danger to free institutions when military power is focused on issues of domestic security.
In the case of the United States this is certainly not a clear and present danger. Our current slope is very slight and firmly rooted with a military ethos and a political culture that ensures civilian authority.
But boots-on-the-ground tend to erode any slope, no matter how gradual or well-rooted. We have invested a great deal in the technical and intellectual competence of our professional military. As an institution and as individuals, they are great problem-solvers.
Out of respect for our ancestors sacrifice – and our grand-children’s hope –for freedom, we should be very cautious regarding which problems we ask the military to fix.