Monday, February 13, 2017

Why Mexico Needs the Border Wall - By Russ McSwain

The much-needed reforms initiated by the Trump Administration are met with two types of criticisms.  The first and least used is that the reform is bad policy, for one reason or another.  The second often-used type is that the proposal causes negative emotions, bad vibes, and sends inappropriate messages.
Nowhere is this more evident than in arguments against building a wall on our southern border and implementing stricter border enforcement.  From a purely practical standpoint, increased border control is vitally important for both Mexico and the America.  Both countries benefit by slowing the flow of narcotics across the border.  There is no reason to assume that terrorist bombers transiting Mexico will always wait till they reach America. To a terrorist, a gay disco in Mexico looks about like an American or French gay disco.
The real benefit to the wall is stopping illegal immigration.   In recent years the flow of Mexican nationals has been out of America and back to Mexico. The vast majority of people illegally crossing our border are from Central American countries.   They illegally enter and illegally cross Mexico.  By removing easy to access to America, the wall reduces this problem for Mexico.
Obviously the Wall is all good. Right?  "No." say the critics.  A wall makes Mexico feel bad.  It reminds Mexicans that they lost half their territory in the Mexican American war of 1846-1848.  Many Mexicans feel this was an unjust war of imperial conquest.  Unfortunately some liberal Americans display their sensitivity and assuage their guilt by agreeing.  
It's time to put that war in proper perspective.  Here are three perspectives, ranging from the most obvious to the slightly more nuanced.
1. All American and Mexico did was exercise normal military force to rationalize the arbitrary and irrational boundaries imposed by European Imperialists.  This point will not be persuasive to people who think that military force should never be used to take control of territory.  When I hear them, I always wonder how thrilled they'd be if we were still ruled by England and Mexico ruled by Spain.
2.  Anyone can claim territorial sovereignty. Wishing does not make it so.   Modern examples are Liberland and Sealand.
 Liberland is a small plot of land between Serbia and Croatia that is part of a complicated border dispute between these countries.  Sealand is a WWII antiaircraft platform off the coast of England.  Countries have been established in both places.  Passports have been issued, and various other signifiers of sovereignty established. 
The validity of these countries would be established only if other countries recognized them.  None do.  One can read all the principles of International Law starting with Grotius and finally come to the conclusion that countries are recognized when they demonstrate control over and the ability to protect their territory. Neither country can do either.
Most everyone today concedes neither Spain nor Mexico exercised more than minimal control over the territory ultimately ceded to the United States.
The Russian American trading company established a full-fledged Russian settlement in northern California.  Spain couldn't stop them in 1812 and Mexico couldn't expel them.  The Russians voluntarily left in 1842 but only when the settlement was no longer profitable. 
Had Mexico retained nominal claim to California when gold was discovered, there would have been a long line of invaders including England, France, Russia, and of course the United States.  We know from the subsequent French invasion that Mexico could not have repelled any of them. 
In 1862, with America embroiled in the Civil War France invaded Mexico and installed an random Austrian nobleman as emperor.  Mexicans courageously resisted and actually won a battle at Puebla.  We celebrate that victory on their behalf every Cinco de Mayo. 
At the conclusion of the Civil War, America reasserted the Monroe Doctrine and assisted Mexico in forcing the French to leave.  We often express our gratitude for French aid during our Revolutionary War.  It would be a pleasant surprise to have some Mexican gratitude for our help in booting out the French.
3.  Mexico wanted the war with America. Mexican politicians engaged in escalating rhetoric and actions that helped provoke the war. They thought the war would be fought in the area around Texas and that they would win.  Their goal was to reclaim Texas and parts of the former Spanish Empire.   Mexico wanted to reclaim Florida, New Orleans and the rest of what we know as the Louisiana Purchase. 
Here is where we get a glimpse at just how capricious our two nations’ boundaries were.   Spain originally claimed Florida but lost it to England in the French and Indian War.  To compensate its ally, France gave Spain all of Louisiana, including New Orleans.  It was during Spain's rule that most of the "French Quarter" was built. 
We have to keep our eye on the ball now. With American independence, England abandoned Florida and Spain reoccupied her.  Spanish rule lasted till 1818 when Andrew Jackson exceeded his orders and invaded Florida.
Meanwhile, France decided that New Orleans would be helpful in defending its sugar rich cash cow, Haiti.  In two secret treaties, Napoleon reacquired Louisiana in return for supporting Spain's favored rulers for various Italian principalities and the Grand Duchy of Tuscany. The treaties were signed in 1800 and 1801.
When the Haitian revolt succeeded, France needed money to replace its lost sugar revenue.  Napoleon got his money by selling us Louisiana in 1803.  The agreement was formally implemented 26 days after Spain formally returned Louisiana to France.
Most of the decisions about North American borders were made by Europeans.  They were made to serve European interests and were influenced primarily by events in Europe.  We see a similar situation in the Middle East.  After WW I, Europeans drew new boundaries and created new quite arbitrary countries in the process.  Virtually everyone agrees that the ethnic and religious violence in the area is inflamed by the hubris of European imperialist mapmakers.  We will see more conflict till these borders are made rational.  There's no reason for ancestors to have respected the work of European mapmakers who divvied up the New World.  There was every reason to make sense of the positioning of our two countries.
The border between Mexico and America now is well established and universally recognized.  It is in the interest of both countries that the border be respected and protected.  A border wall does both.