President Barack Obama's decision to send 1,200 National Guard troops to bolster security along the porous U.S.-Mexico border should be seen for what it is -- not a long-term solution but a reactive, political move that solves nothing over the long haul.
The context is the recently passed anti-illegal alien bill in Arizona, which unwisely thrust local police into a role for which most are not trained: helping enforce federal immigration law. As Gov. Jan Brewer said, her signing of the new law "clearly ignited the talk of action in Washington for the people of Arizona and other border states."
Yes, but this action is all about the wrong sort of talk -- to wit, answering the talk of the demagogues with a political sop. And in doing so, it further reduces the chances of a real conversation in Congress that looks beyond enforcement as the only solution and comprehensively addresses immigration reform in all its facets.
Not for the first time, Mr. Obama is following a path that former President George W. Bush went down. In 2006, Mr. Bush ordered 6,000 National Guard troops to patrol the southern border for two years until more Border Patrol officers could be hired and deployed.
Although the numbers are fewer, that's basically the plan now; the Obama administration is going to request $500 million for more border protection and law enforcement. When the border is beefed up, the troops would stand down.
Deployment of 1,200 troops will not satisfy those calling for a hard line against illegal aliens. Sen. John McCain of Arizona wants more troops and money and had intended to attach an amendment to a military spending bill demanding this -- a move the administration rightly opposed as an interference with the commander in chief's responsibilities to direct the employment of the armed forces.
But even if Mr. Obama were to give his consent, sending more troops is not the answer. Some 20,000 Border Patrol agents already cover a 2,000-mile border and it would take a huge force to fill all the gaps.
What will the National Guard do? Under Mr. Bush, they did not have powers to arrest and detain and apparently they won't this time either -- they will merely support the Border Patrol.
That makes sense. What exists on the border is a law enforcement problem, not a job for soldiers. Indeed, the Pentagon itself has had reservations about militarizing the border because law enforcement is not what most soldiers are trained for and is a distraction from the burden and responsibility of fighting two wars overseas.
In 2006, we criticized Mr. Bush's decision to deploy National Guard troops to the border, which we saw as "bringing a military solution to a political, economic and social problem." That's still the trap today. Without addressing those other factors, this too is a waste of time.