Teddy Roosevelt's wife was once sitting next to the French ambassador at a state dinner. She took the occasion to hector him over his country's heavily militarized border with Germany. "Why don't you adopt our policy?" she asked, citing the three thousand mile border with Canada which was as tranquil as it was unfortified. "We would gladly exchange policies," replied the ambassador, Jean Jusserand. "If we could first exchange neighbors."
It seems like there are two kinds of good neighbors. The kind that need good fences as a reminder, and the kind that are capable of refreshing their own memories. Somewhere in between lies Mexico. They're not likely to come sashaying over the Maginot Line anytime soon. On the other hand, they're not policing the border properly to ensure orderly crossing of their emigrants. They're not actively belligerent, but they are criminally negligent.
This, you would think, would make them, if not downright contrite, at least a tad sheepish. But you would be thinking wrong. Not only do they make no apologies for their Federales taking a siesta on the trabajo, but they threaten a lawsuit if we presume to station some of our Guardsmen along our side of the line. Which makes you begin to wonder whether their benign neglect has come to take on a malign cast.
No one is saying that Mexico has hostile intentions toward the United States. Certainly they are not like China or Iran, or even Venezuela, who calculate that their lives would improve somehow if the U.S. became diminished in stature. In theory, Mexico wants us to remain strong and prosperous, a circumstance which has many positive spillover effects for them. We protect them merely by being here, we enrich them with our commerce and we save them from the type of chronic nervousness that Monsieur Jusserand expressed.
Yet they have in the course of time become spoiled, developing certain bad habits by virtue of our largesse. They have become accustomed to the convenience of using our businesses and farms as the employer of last resort for their unskilled laborers. Additionally, those migrant workers send checks home to their families, pitching bales of cash back into the Mexican economy. And the most hopeless, bottomed-out members of their society can be counted on to go north and never come back.
None of those benefits that we have been providing, wittingly or otherwise, is a birthright of Mexico. Their rhetoric, invoking law or principle, is mostly bluster. This is about interest, not principle. Unless a bad habit of long standing evolves into an entitlement, a sort of easement. Bottom line, they have no legitimate claim on us to continue forfeiting our rights. They should count themselves lucky that we never bestirred ourselves to legitimate self-defense in the past.
That being said, we might as well be practical. When you've been tipping the same barber for years, long after his hand started shaking and he was hacking your hair into stalagmites, you can't just shut him down without some consideration. If we really are going to change the rules, or our level of enforcement thereof, in the middle of the game, we need to practice a bit of conciliation. It would do for us to offer the Mexicans a carrot, or at least some face-saving show of respect.
Probably the best way to go about it would be to negotiate some kind of joint patrol that would use men from both countries. We could designate a four-mile strip that included two miles on either side of the border and make them the responsibility of a combined force. If allowing each other that kind of access to the territory of the other is a problem, then this could be narrowed to a tighter strip right along the border.
This would be a win-win proposition. It would give us a chance to show trust and assuage their feeling of wounded dignity. At the same time, if managed intelligently, it would enable us to get a better handle on the situation. If the two sides really cooperated, in a manner similar to our Canadian border, the anarchy that currently prevails is likely to disappear almost entirely. Notice that none of the policy approaches offered by our politicians in recent weeks have included the notion of giving Mexico a greater role in the process. We might be surprised to find that such an approach would work exceedingly well.
So let us give the Mexicans their due even as we ask them to pay their dues. As Thomas Edison's Jewish mother famously said: "Of course I'm proud that you invented the light bulb. Now turn it off and get to bed."
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