Trump Juggernaut Stumbles Into a Border Wall

Donald Trump’s quixotic presidential campaign continues to stumble upward, as the fumble-mouthed vanity candidate continues to rack up points in the polls, which now puts Trump in first place with 18 percent of the potential Republican primary vote, 4.2 percent ahead of Jeb Bush, as summarized by Real Clear Politics today. Aside from any mundane philosophical considerations, such as his political tone deafness, Trump seems to have mastered the fine art of talking trash to influence people. In one fell swoop, Trump has managed to destabilize the entire Republican primary process by the simple expedient of putting a totally unacceptable candidate – himself – into the “man to beat” category.

Unfortunately for the Republican Party, and the nation at large, Trump is demonstrating his basic fascistic tendencies, breaking the established rules while inventing his own as he goes along, picking fights with his fellow Republicans, burning bridges rather than mending fences, as he steam rollers the professional politicians in the race. One thing is clear. Trump has apparently never heard of Ronald Reagan’s 11th commandment: “Thou shalt not speak ill of thy fellow Republicans.”

The Method in Trump’s Madness

There is, however, a method in Trump’s apparent madness. First of all, the bombastic entrepreneur is attracting the lion’s share of the public’s attention at this stage of the race. It doesn’t seem to matter that Trump isn’t saying anything about HOW he will fix the country. He is merely telling us that he knows how to fix it, without telling us how he plans to do it.

On a deeper level, however, Trump’s trumped-up candidacy will make Jeb Bush’s eventual anointment as the standard-bearer for the Republican Party in 2016 all the more palatable by comparison to the patently unacceptable Trump. One might call this the Trump Card in the Republican’s hand for 2016, as the “anyone but Trump” movement gathers momentum. Nevertheless, Trump’s ill-considered campaign ploys will take a terrible toll on the electability of any Republican candidate who ends up being forced to carry any of Trump’s platform planks into the general election.

The Impracticality of a Border Wall

Trump Juggernaut Stumbles Into a Border Wall
Section of the existing fence between the U.S. and Mexico being climbed by two “border jumpers.”

Take the Mexican Wall, for example. The border between the United States and Mexico is 1,933 miles long, and passes through four states, including California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas in an arc that includes some pretty inhospitable topology….and that’s only the land border. The coastline of the American states that are watered by the Gulf of Mexico covers some 1,631 linear miles, but includes 17,141 miles of inlets, bays, estuaries, river basins and other nautical features that have one thing in common: you can land a small boat there.

Donald Trump could build a wall between the United States and Mexico. The problem is that it is impossible to build a wall over an ocean but that land wall would be ineffective unless you also built a barrier across a minimum of 1,631 miles of ocean frontage. At the very least, Donald Trump’s wall has to cover 3,564 miles of territory but that includes only the linear miles of coastline. If you consider the actual frontage – including all the harbors, bays, estuaries and inlets – you are talking about 17,141 miles, PLUS 1,933 land miles. Even worse, these calculations don’t include the California coastline, which is another 840 linear miles or an additional 3,427 miles of actual coastline.

Great Walls that Failed to Protect Anyone

Trump Juggernaut Stumbles Into a Border Wall
Section of the Great Wall of China, 2000 years old and still standing.

The problem with walls is that they don’t work. The most famous wall of all, The Great Wall of China, turned out to be totally ineffective. More than 3,000 miles long, the Wall was never actually finished, making it possible for attackers to simply go around the wall instead of attempting to go through it. As a matter of fact, the wall – which was started by the Qin Dynasty in 221 BC by combining several fragments of previously built fortifications – was completed by the Northern Wei dynasty, the very tribe the wall was originally constructed to keep out.

Fast forward to the next great wall, Hadrian’s Wall, the 73 mile-long barricade that was designed to keep the war-like Picts out of the Roman settled southern half of England. It didn’t work because it was impossible to maintain a strong enough garrison to support the wall, which was why Hadrian’s successor, Antoninus Pius, abandoned Hardian’s wall to build a smaller, more easily defensible wall, predictably called the Antonine Wall, some 100 miles further north of Hadrian’s Wall. Only 40 miles long, instead of the Hadrian’s 73-mile wall , it proved equally ineffective at keeping the Scottish Tribes out of Southern England.

Trump Juggernaut Stumbles Into a Border Wall
A section of Hadrian’s Wall, Note man standing in upper left hand corner for perspective.

Neither Hadrian’s Wall nor Antonine’s Wall proved effective at keeping the warlike Scotts out because walls don’t keep people out. Defensive walls are actually designed to protect the defensive troops stationed behind the walls, which gives a numerically smaller number of defenders significant advantages of elevation for offensive operations and protection from projectile weapons. As soon as the Romans withdrew their troops from the walls, the walls ceased to be an effective means of population control.

During World War II, the French learned – to their dismay – that fixed fortifications are useless in modern warfare. Their vaunted Maginot Line, a system of fortifications, tunnels, hedge groves and tank traps, stretched some 450 miles from the French border with Switzerland to the Belgium border. The Germans simply flew over the Maginot Line and dropped their paratroopers into the undefended rear flank of the line.

Trump Juggernaut Stumbles Into a Border Wall
Fortified section of the Maginot Line. As far as history knows, this gun emplacement never fired a shot in anger.

The French got the idea for the Maginot Line from Germany’s Hindenburg Line, a similar system of defensive forts and tank traps that proved ineffective during World War I. The Germans, not to be outdone in stupidity by the French, resurrected the idea of a fixed fortification by building the Siegfried Line, a 390 mile long system of bunkers, tunnels and tank traps that was obsolete before construction was completed. It took 120,000 American troops three months to break through the Siegfried Line at the cost of 24,000 lives lost…but the Line was breached, opening the way to the invasion of Germany and the end of the war.

The lessons learned from two plus millennia of wall building are that walls don’t keep enemies out….unless you are willing to station huge numbers of troops along those walls. In the case of the Trump Wall, with 1,933 miles to cover, you would need at least a full company of soldiers (44 men) to cover each mile of that wall to prevent people from climbing over the wall or tunneling under it. Those 44 men would need to be divided into three platoons, each covering an eight-hour shift. You would therefore need three shifts of 15 men to cover a full mile of terrain.

If you think that 15 men is too many, walk off a mile sometime and then see how long it would take you to run from one end of that mile to the other…with a full field pack. Before you consider using motor vehicles – don’t! One man on foot cannot evade a mechanized pursuit. For a dozen men, it’s a piece of cake, because you can’t just shoot them: Police officers cannot (legally) shoot suspects who simply run away without offering violent resistance. Soldiers, however, can….in a war zone.

The only way to cover that distance would be to station the men at the rate of one man for every 352 feet…and that would be too far apart for the men to provide adequate support for each other, so you would have to double the number of men required so that you could have roving teams of two men stationed at 352-foot intervals.

With 1,933 miles to cover, this means that you would need approximately 173,970 combat soldiers to adequately patrol the 1,933 miles of the Trump Wall…and that doesn’t even begin to cover weekend shifts. The average salary for a U.S. Infantryman is approximately $38,000 a year. It would therefore cost at least $6.6 billion per year, and that doesn’t even include officers’ salaries. With relief units and weekend coverage added in, you are looking at $9.26 billion per year to staff the Trump Wall.

Trump Juggernaut Stumbles Into a Border Wall
Section of the fence dividing the beach in Tijuana. Note how the fence ends a few feet into the water.

Given the overall size of the U.S. national debt, another $9.26 billion sounds like chicken feed, but it is only chicken feed if you could possibly imagine getting the job done….and this strategy won’t do it, because you still have to cover the 17,141 miles of coastline along the Gulf of Mexico. The only reason that smugglers don’t use the water route into the United States is that it is so much easier and cheaper to smuggle material – and people – over the land border. If the U.S. were actually able to interdict the land border, we would still have to cover the coastline and, using the same statistics, it would cost an additional $82 billion to successfully interdict the coastline along the Gulf of Mexico, exclusive of the equipment costs required.

With sufficient capital resources, and the resolve to accept the operating costs, the interdiction of the U.S. border with Mexico would still be feasible….except for one thing: It is also illegal. Or is it?

Until 2005, it was illegal for the president of the United States to deploy U.S. troops within the borders of the United States to perform a law enforcement role. The Posse Comitatus Act of 1878 specifically prohibits the use of U.S. military forces to perform civilian law enforcement roles unless authorized by Congress or under a declaration of martial law by the president of the United States.

In 2005, Congress muddied the waters with a joint resolution which declared that “by its express terms, the Posse Comitatus Act is not a complete barrier to the use of the Armed Forces for a range of domestic purposes, including law enforcement functions, when the use of the Armed Forces is authorized by Act of Congress or the President determines that the use of the Armed Forces is required to fulfill the President’s obligations under the Constitution to respond promptly in time of war, insurrection, or other serious emergency.”

There are two problems with this joint resolution. Joint resolutions are only effective when they address the internal operations of Congress. Otherwise they do not carry the force of law. The second problem is far more serious: the declarations required to allow the use of U.S. military resources to enforce the interdiction of the U.S. border with Mexico would require a permanent resolution or the imposition of martial law on parts of Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida. According to America’s Story, this would mark the first time since Eisenhower sent the 101st Airborne Division into Little Rock to enforce desegregation rulings that Federal troops have been deployed in the Old Confederacy.

In 2012, the situation was further complicated by the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2012, which (in section 1031) implicitly repeals the Posse Comitatus Act by authorizing the U.S. military to perform law enforcement functions on American soil, but that measure may also be unconstitutional since it appears to violate a whole host of Constitutional restrictions…but that goes far beyond the limits of this essay. It is clear, however, that under Section 1031, the president of the United States now has the authority to deploy U.S. troops on U.S. soil to participate in law enforcement activities.

This raises an important question for any Southerner who likes Donald Trump: Do you like him enough to be willing to suffer the permanent intrusion of Federal troops upon your states in a peacekeeping role? Sounds like grounds for another insurrection to me. The problem for Donald Trump is even more basic: how do you square your small government, states’ rights stance with being the Commander-in-Chief who orders what would be, in effect, an army of occupation into five Southern states?

Also See: Donald Trump Has Chronic Foot in Mouth Disease


All images courtesy of Wikipedia Commons

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