When President Donald Trump ordered the military to patrol the U.S.-Mexico border in late October, he framed it as an urgent measure to protect Americans from the Honduran migrant "caravan" trekking through Mexico toward the United States. He called the approaching asylum seekers "an assault in our country" and vowed that he would send "as many [troops] as necessary."
The Pentagon is set to begin a drawdown of its 5,800 troops from the Southwest border as early as this week, the Army commander overseeing the mission told POLITICO today — even as the approaching caravan of refugees prompted U.S. customs officers to close a port of entry near Tijuana, Mexico.
All the active-duty troops that President Donald Trump ordered sent to the border before the midterm elections should be home by Christmas, said Army Lt. Gen. Jeffrey Buchanan, who is running the mission from San Antonio, Texas.
Buchanan added, "Our end date right now is 15 December, and I've got no indications from anybody that we'll go beyond that."
The fact that the supposedly essential military force is heading home even before the arrival of the people they are supposed to protect us from makes very clear what critics, including former GOP Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, have long charged: that the entire thing was a stunt designed to make Trump look tough on the eve of the midterm elections.
The entire exercise was ridiculous on paper. Under the Posse Comitatus Act, the military is forbidden from doing law enforcement work like detaining or processing migrants — all they would have been able to legally do is give administrative or surveillance support to the Border Patrol. And the Border Patrol did not even need that support in the first place — a few thousand migrants is not a crisis, and our existing system is built to handle it. There is, in fact, a legal process for them to seek entry into the United States once they arrive.
Now the election is over, Trump no longer seems interested even in the pretense that the caravan was important to him beyond ginning up the racist fears of his supporters. After the election, Trump's tweets about the caravan dropped off abruptly. Much like the proposed military parade, Trump wanted the troops to do his political work for him — and it did not end well.
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