On the Brink

For scenery it’s hard to beat a twelve mile stretch of road along the Rio Grande outside the Texas border town del Rio. There’s one problem. It’s a favorite crossing point for illegal immigrants trying to reach the U.S. They usually succeed but not always. The climb down to the river isn’t easy, and the current can be swift. There’s an occasional drowning. The National Guard greet most of the crossers and detain them for the Border Patrol.

The area is a special project of Texas Governor Greg Abbott to show he is serious about border control. His Abbott fence is now completed along the route. It’s not a thirty-foot-high Trump affair, only ten feet with razor wire on top. Migrants have cut holes in it with shears and are sometimes able to scale it. But Sergeant Alejandro Moy says it has helped his competent National Guard team to apprehend those crossing.

Sergeant Alejandro Moy

Between the fence and the migrants are the homeowners who pay a price in insecurity for their splendid setting on the river. They can expect daily visits from weary, bedraggled migrants wondering where to go next. Barking dogs alert them to the newcomers who may just be passing through or ask for some food.

Sometimes they want more. Diane Schroeder, a watchful resident, says she once had to save a horse from a migrant intent on transportation. Nelson Puo, a retired Border Patrol officer, caught a couple of migrants trying to make off with his refrigerator. He handed them over to the Border Patrol. He says every day he has to be on the look-out. It’s steady work, though good fishing is a compensation.

In effect, like it or not, the del Rio homeowners are a front-line defense against this southern invasion. Their equivalent are the large ranchers on the Arizona border whose property is violated at night by cartel groups clad in black and well-armed. But the ranchers have the advantage of distance. The interlopers steer clear of the ranch house to avoid a shootout. There’s no distance between the Rio Homeowners and their invaders who are closer than neighbors and not as well intentioned. Like the National Guard the residents have guns but cannot fire them unless fired on.

Still, they cope. Doughty Diane Schroeder is not put off by a glimpse of an armed black clad cartel boss giving orders on the opposite riverbank. Her husband, a truck driver, heard a noise outside one night with the dogs barking. When he opened the door with his gun, two trespassers flung themselves on the ground, pleading, “Don’t shoot!” He didn’t, to be sure, and learned that they were not trying to escape from Mexico but to return to it. Apparently, they had made a drug delivery and were going back to make another. Instead, they were turned over to the Border Patrol.

Diane Schroeder

Despite occasional shots from across the river and a lot of unwelcome visitors, the Rio residents seem determined to stay where they are. “This is America,” says Nelson Puo. “Why would I have to move out?” It’s a testament to the Texans that their property values have gone up from $7000 a lot to $10,000. If the migrants continue to come, so may the Texans. It’s a standoff.

The Open Border

The National Guard had just rounded up a group of migrants at the border town of del Rio, Texas. There were four Cubans, four Venezuelans and one Nicaraguan who had met and joined up on the long trek to the U.S. It was often touch and go whether they would make it. Obstacles abounded, manmade and natural. They had to struggle through a jungle and unwelcoming people.

The Venezuelans – three men and a young woman – had the most circuitous route through Honduras and Guatemala in Central America, then up through dangerous Mexico controlled by the drug cartels. They were robbed so often they couldn’t pay the badgering police who threatened to send them back or maybe do something worse. So they took odd jobs to raise the necessary cash and resumed their journey to the Mexican border town Acuna opposite del Rio.

The Venezuelans

Knee deep they waded across the Rio Grande into the easiest part of their journey – entrance to the U.S. Always quite open along its 2,000 miles, the border today has never been more accessible under the Biden Administration’s highly permissive policies. This group in particular, unarmed, with no drugs and seemingly quite happy to be here, would have little trouble staying.

Sergeant Alejandro Moy, who is in charge of several miles of the border outside del Rio, is glad to welcome this kind of group and amiably questions them. They are much like the other 1,000 people he has detained over the year. Others more criminally inclined may elude capture or find another route to carry out their drug trafficking.

Sergeant Moy along with the rest of the National Guard is at a disadvantage. He has a weapon but cannot use it unless he is shot at first. Nor does he have the power of arrest. So he must await the arrival of the Border Patrol to take the detainees into custody. Since there are not enough Border Patrol, the wait can be as long as three hours.

The Cubans

In the past I had no trouble spotting Border Patrol. On this trip, covering sixty miles on the border, I didn’t see any. I’m told they’re not available because they’re burdened with paperwork in processing the migrants. That leaves a lot of the border uncovered and open to the continual flow of drugs and people.

The only solution is sufficient manpower, and that is conspicuously lacking. The question is why are U.S. troops protecting borders in various parts of the world but not our own? Technological improvements are a help, as is the Trump fence when it’s completed, but the drug cartels are too wily, armed and organized to be stopped by these impediments. Their forces must be met by our forces on the other side.

Once the newcomers are processed, they go to a temporary holding center. Every fifteen minutes a bus arrives with some twenty migrants and then departs with twenty others, mostly healthy-looking young men who are sent to various parts of the U.S., presumably to work and maybe, some Democrats hope, to vote.

I met a relaxed and cheerful Cuban couple – Landy Andres DeTenssen and Rosa Leyum Gonzales – who said they wanted to escape oppression in Cuba for freedom in America. Like others they had to pay along the trip and skirt the dangers, but here they were in the land they longed for. They would like to report on their progress in their new home in Florida. By all means, I said.

Retire the Neocons

The word out of Washington is that the Ukraine war may last longer than expected, maybe several months, maybe a couple of years, who knows? Sound familiar? Like Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Yemen and you name it, unending wars with no discernible outcome. Not a thrilling prospect, to be sure, but perfectly satisfactory to that hardy band of zealots known as neoconservatives who believe war is an answer to almost anything and in that regard have driven U.S. foreign policy since the presidency of Bill Clinton.

Their aim is to reshape the world in ways agreeable to the U.S. and Israel, preeminent powers at an historical turning point. They got started with the Clinton Administration in the 1990’s. when weakened by scandal, the President was persuaded to add three new members to NATO – Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic – in clear violation of a pledge of top U.S. leaders at the collapse of the Soviet Union not to expand the military alliance toward a diminished Russia. The fumbling Russian regime of Boris Yeltsin protested but was ignored.

It was an indication of how the neocons would get their way whatever the obstacles. Then the 9/11 attack provided an unexpected opening not only for more NATO members but also for another prized neocon desire – the invasion of Iraq. This was achieved with the help of a compliant media even though the reason for it was mythical. The target Saddam Hussein didn’t have weapons of mass destruction, as was charged, or any connection to the instigator of 9/11, al-Qaeda.

www.CartoonStock.com

The result was an ill-advised, protracted war that led along with other conflicts to a million civilian deaths and several million refugees in a disabled Middle East. But the neocons didn’t have to say they were sorry or even lick their wounds. Leading a charmed life. it was just on to the next endeavor. Switching from the Republican Party of a confused George Bush to the Democratic ranks of President Obama they showed that party was no obstacle to ideology.

They established an ideological companion John Brennan as the President’s intelligence chief whose main job was to give political protection to the neocons and allies. He lived up to expectations. Ensconced at the U.S. State Department, neocon Victoria Nuland made sure the U.S. had a central role in an uprising that replaced a pro-Russian regime in Ukraine with a pro-American one. There followed the militarization of Ukraine with abundant U.S. aid and weaponry. Putin retaliated by annexing Crimea and encouraging the independence of portions of Eastern Ukraine with a large Russian population.

President Trump initially resisted the neocons much to their horror and pledged not to start new wars. But then oddly, he chose two or three neocons for top posts who in turn persuaded him to eliminate Iranian General Soleimani, an accomplished strategist with whom Trump might have made a useful deal. The assassination was by way of remote-controlled drone, a rather contemptible form of warfare admired by many on the right.

With the advent of President Biden, it was pure bliss for the neocons who have completely taken over foreign policy. The ever-active Nuland pressed for Ukraine to join NATO, thus threatening to cross Putin’s red line. Given the circumstances the Russian ruler chose to invade Ukraine, with the neocons dreaming of a Russian loss that puts it under U.S. supervision like Ukraine. Neocon National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan says he looks forward to a “weakened and isolated Russia.”

Dream on. So far neocon dreams have led only to chaos. Why should anything be different now? It’s time to retire the neocons from public service and replace them with competent strategists who exist outside of Washington but haven’t been allowed in by the neocon monopoly. Considering the current danger of confrontation between two nuclear armed powers, there’s little time to spare.

The Lessons of Julius Caesar

Seldom, if ever, have we learned of a major war through the one man who brought it on, won it and then described it. Yet for that we are indebted to Julius Caesar, who was determined to conquer Gaul for Rome and then explain it in memoirs of battle and its aftermath that are unparalleled in military writings.

If only it was left like that. But somehow through the ages Caesar became another worldly figure, for some a demi-god, for others evil incarnate that overwhelmed the sturdy soldier beneath. Let his memoirs tell us what he was – an extremely skilled strategist and leader of men who pursued a clear goal on this earth with little reference to the gods or any other external forces. The war was his alone, to win or lose.

Writing of himself in the third person, Caesar becomes a part, if a crucial one, of the battle scene. There’s not a trace of undue pride except in the army he leads, and – no doubt to the astonishment of contemporary war gazers – he often respects the enemy he faces. He writes that one group of Gauls had “such an outstanding reputation for courage” he avoided giving battle until he decided his own troops could be even braver. He says the Gauls may be volatile and imprudent, but he doesn’t indulge the modern habit of name calling. There’s no moral posturing. The word “evil” is not in his vocabulary. He has his values – Rome – but the enemy has theirs.

Surrender by the Gallic chieftain Vercingetorix before Caesar

As a result, he is often parleying as much as fighting. Easier to talk an enemy into surrender or compromise than killing or being killed. Not that he would hesitate when the need arose. As he wrote in a rare personal description on the verge of an enemy attack, “Caesar had to see to everything at once. The flag must be unfurled, the trumpet sounded, the soldiers must be recalled from working on the defenses, and all those who had gone some way off in search of material for the earthworks had to be ordered back to camp. He must draw up the battle line, encourage the men, give the signal.” Battlefield victories followed.

Caesar was famous for fast forced marches that caught the enemy unawares and for rapid construction of imposing structures of assault by the enemy’s walls. On one occasion he writes that “never before had the Gauls seen or heard of such immense siege works, and they were so disturbed by the Romans’ speed of action that they sent envoys to Caesar to negotiate surrender.” In ten days with great effort he constructed a bridge to allow his army to cross the Rhine. After spending eighteen days intimidating the Germans on the other side to his “honor and advantage,” he returned to Gaul and tore down the bridge.

Early on, he faced rebellion within. His own troops were intimidated by the size and ferocity of the Germans they were about to face and panic set in. Rather than execute every tenth man Stalin-style, he gave a long reassuring speech in which he cited the weaknesses of the enemy and the firmness of purpose of the Romans. Besides, if they chose not to accept his lead, he would be willing to face the enemy with only those who remained loyal. In the event they all did and won a hard-fought battle.

In eight years Caesar achieved his goal of bringing all Gaul into the Roman polity, an area comprising present day France, Belgium and parts of Germany and the Netherlands. It was an extension that led to empire and the lasting reputation of the conqueror at the cost, to be sure, of untold lives and the occasional barbarity not unique to Caesar.

Instigators and enthusiasts of U.S. wars and proxy wars, by all means read “The Gallic War.”

The Emperor and the Poet

In the dawn of our first century Emperor Augustus brought marble to Rome and peace to the empire after a series of destructive civil wars from which he emerged the victor. At first he pursued vengeance but later turned to forgiveness, a quality that marked his strong, one-man rule over a vast terrain.

One of those he forgave was the poet Horace, who fought against him at the climactic battle of Actium but not very well. He lost his shield in the middle of battle and withdrew in some humiliation. Not one to let politics interfere with poetry in the golden age of Latin literature, Augustus knew Horace would add luster to his own rule and befriended him, even though the poet had a far different view of the good life – not triumph in war or politics but the simple pleasures of close friends and ample wine in a relaxed country setting and not a care beyond.

Quintus Horatius Flaccus (65-8 BC), commonly known as Horace, Venosa, Italy

Snugly terse Latin is not easily translated into expansive English, but author David Ferry brings it off. Horace rebukes a friend for telling too many war stories:

But Telephus, you’re no good at all at telling
How much the wine is going to cost or who
Is going to make the fire to heat the water,
Who’s going to give the party, under whose roof
We’ll be invited in out of the cold.
Let’s have a party. Come, let’s celebrate.

That means with wine which is duly praised:

Your gentle discipline encourages
The dull to be less dull than usual,
And Bacchus, joyful deliverer, reveals
What the sober wise man really meant to say.
You bring back hope to the despairing heart
And you give courage to the poor man, so
He’s neither scared of tyrants in their crowns
Nor soldiers brandishing their scary weapons.

Horace will not budge from his way of life:

The splendid lord of the riches of Africa
Mistakenly thinks he’s better off than I
With my little farm whose crops I’m certain of’
And my little quiet stream of pure brook water.
I don’t have hives of bees from Calabria
Busily making their honey just for me;
I don’t have jars of rare Laestrygonian wine
Slowly maturing itself just for me.
Want much, lack much. That man has just enough
To whom the gods have given just enough.

With Augustus perhaps in mind Horace pays tribute to Rome:

Let the name of Rome be heard across the sea,
Over to Egypt where the great river swells.
Let the Romans go to the limits of the world,
Not for the sake of plunder but for the sake
Of extending Roman knowledge everywhere
From the dervish heat of the desert raving and dancing
To the dripping mists and fogs of the northern swamps.

He and Augustus died about the same time with similar lasting legacies:

I have finished a work outlasting bronze
And the pyramids of ancient royal kings.
Some part of me will live on and not be given
Over into the hands of the death goddess.
I will go on and on, kept ever young
In the praise in times to come for what I have done.

The Other War

The war in Ukraine is brutal and destructive with a Russia determined to prevail at whatever the cost. The U.S. is not involved except on the periphery by sending military aid to Ukraine, yet evidence is mounting that it was more engaged than assumed in the build-up to the war. The CIA and special operations were giving advice and training to the Ukrainians. A number of biological research labs with leftover Soviet weapons were under U.S. supervision. If as seems likely, Russia finally overcomes the stalwart Ukrainian defense, Hilary Clinton, among others, predicts an insurgency to follow, modeled on the one that defeated the Soviets in Afghanistan some thirty years ago.

If so, it doesn’t seem likely that U.S. attention will turn any time soon to the other war on its border which from almost any point of view is far more threatening to the country. The ambitious, heavily armed, well organized drug cartels make no secret of their aim to fleece the U.S. and ultimately cripple it. That would be revenge, some say, for the U.S. grab of half of Mexico in the 1840’s war. Their tools are the endless drugs and unknown people they pour across the broken U.S. border without let-up. They’re also expanding their illegal and highly profitable marijuana farms in California and Oregon, again with no serious resistance. Their operatives can be found throughout the U.S. directing drug distribution and billions of dollars in payments to helpful hands.

In the past they have tried to avoid harming Americans while ruthlessly murdering Mexicans who get in their way or, frankly, just for the fun of it. But that seems to be changing. Recently, some cartel gunmen opened fire on the U.S. consulate in the border city Nuevo Laredo, apparently in revenge for the arrest of one of their chiefs. No one was hit, but the U.S. took people and families out of the consulate with the ambassador to Mexico expressing “grave concern” to its government.

Cartel Map by Region of Influence, Stratfor Global Intelligence

That followed the usual script that Mexico is a sovereign country with an inviolate border – at least on its side – when in fact it’s a narco state run by the drug cartels who will no doubt dismiss the ambassador’s plea. It might be asked why the U.S is willing to have Russians killed while sparing the cartels. Are they any less threatening or evil? Former U.S. Attorney General Bill Barr is alarmed at the size of the threat. In a recent TV interview he recalled a Mexican attempt to arrest a cartel boss that was thwarted by 700 cartel para military troops with machine guns mounted on trucks. He sees a “president down there who believes in hugs, not bullets and has lost control of the country. And we have no control over that territory and no control of the border.”

The U.S. may not believe in hugs but its reaction has not been a great deal more strenuous. The obvious solution is to put U.S. troops, now scattered in dubious activities around the world, on the embattled border where they can confront the cartels and if necessary cross the border to pursue them in what is a lawless land. Are Americans, increasingly poisoned by Mexican fentanyl disguised as drugs of common usage, not as deserving as Ukrainians? In a year’s time 100 thousand Americans have died in this manner.

Then there are the Mexicans who live in a slaughterhouse almost totally ignored by the U.S. media. For example, the cartels are in the habit of raiding funerals of rivals or other offenders where their targets are sure to show up. After a recent attack in the town of San Jose de Gracia, the number of victims couldn’t be determined since the gunmen cleaned up afterwards and removed the bodies. Maybe seventeen, and had they been dismembered or skinned alive?

A war for the liberation of Mexico is not in the offing, but a resolute U.S. stand on the border would be a start.

Ending the War in Ukraine

Day after day Ukraine is pounded by Russian artillery, giving the world a graphic picture of modern war. The U.S. continues to send military aid to the heroic Ukrainians resisting the Russian attack, but prolonging the war only leads to more death and destruction whatever the eventual outcome. The solution is negotiations now that will resolve the issue in dispute – whether Ukraine joins NATO.

The anomaly is that the Biden Administration and the NATO chief don’t seem to be all that committed to the matter. They say, well, Ukraine may or may not join NATO. We aren’t sure right now. Let’s wait and see. By contrast Russian leader Putin wants an iron-clad agreement right now in writing that Ukraine will not join.

It sounds pedantic, but he has his reasons. On the verge of collapse, the Soviet Union agreed to the reunification of Berlin in return for a U.S. pledge that NATO would not advance eastward toward Moscow. But ten years later that pledge was violated when President Clinton, under pressure from the war-inclined neocons in his administration, brought in three nations to NATO from the former Soviet bloc. Over the protest of Putin, others later followed until reaching today’s total of thirty, four of them on the Russian border – a resolute defense.

At that point Putin drew his red line on Ukraine. He could also cite another intrusion as he sees it. In 2014, neocons in the Obama Administration got involved in an uprising in Ukraine and gave crucial support to the overthrow of the pro-Russian government and its replacement by one friendly to the U.S. Some say they have similar plans for Putin.

Yet so far Putin has not been unreasonable in his demands. Along with a neutral Ukraine, he wants independence for two parts of eastern Ukraine largely populated by Russians and the removal of some weapons directed at Russia from NATO nations. He says he does not want to remove the current government of Ukraine. President Zelensky can continue to stand.

But this is now. Opinions can change along with circumstances as the war progresses. Not too surprisingly, Putin has become a figure of hate. He started the war and, as they say, he has blood on his hands. TV host Sean Hannity asked ex-President Trump if he would declare Putin “evil.” The Don demurred, but there would be a chorus of “yes” in Washington, where support for Ukraine is near total. Hannity and U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham have even called for the assassination of Putin.

There remains the possibility of a larger war. The Biden Administration says it doesn’t want any U.S. military involvement, but a growing number of members of the U.S. Congress call for the U.S. to impose a no-fly zone over Ukraine which would lead to shooting down Russian planes and therefore war. That suits the indignant writer of an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal. He urges putting NATO troops in western Ukraine to show Putin we mean business, and he may be too intimidated to react.

Looking further afield, the Biden Administration has disclosed that Russia has asked China for military help. The Asian nation will be duly punished with U.S. sanctions if it obliges. This opens the question of a two-front conflict with these increasingly allied nuclear powers. Don’t worry, we’re told, we can handle it and also try to avoid Armageddon.

Let’s instead try negotiations and make sure they succeed.