This is going to get into the whole question of what it’s legal to have the military do on domestic soil. Trump is famous for either not knowing or not caring that something in U.S. law forbids him from a given tactic that would achieve a policy objective, especially when the other side is throwing up procedural roadblocks to the same end.
Apparently the Pentagon is of the opinion that such an order from the commander in chief would be legal. The problem is that you’d have to find the money for it within the existing defense budget, which is still pretty squeezed when you only apply it to the military’s traditional obligations:
The more than 5,000 active-duty U.S. troops deployed to the border since last Octoberhaven’t been tasked with building a new wall, but rather with fortifying existing structures and putting up concertina wire.
Defense officials said the Pentagon hasn’t received new orders to build a wall. U.S. troops are scheduled to be at ports of entry along the Mexican border in California, Mexico and Arizona until Jan. 31.
The president can order troops to build a wall, but where the funding for that would come from is unclear, defense officials said.
And lawyers would likely review such an order beforehand, in part, to assess land ownership issues. The Defense Department has paid for materials and troops used during what was dubbed Operation Faithful Patriot.
It seems clear to me that military involvement in the securing of the border should be legal by definition. If border security isn’t a national security issue, I don’t know what is.
It’s one thing to say the military can’t get involved with domestic law enforcement. I agree with that. But to have them operating on U.S. soil for the purpose of protecting U.S. soil from potential foreign adversaries is by any measure an appropriate use.
That said, is it the wisest use?
This is the sort of thing Trump often speaks on before he thinks about what it would actually involve. You’re talking about the construction of a wall that’s hundreds of miles long in every stretch. You need to source material. You need to either train your soldiers in construction or you need to have them hire contractors, and how would that work? You need to assess how much military manpower you can take away from current assignments.
And if you’re not going to use active-duty servicemen and servicewomen, then you need to work out where in the budget you’re going to take the money to pay the civilian contractors who will do the work.
Even then, someone from central command probably has to be put in charge of overseeing the project, and it’s a massive project. It’s not the sort of thing one person can keep an eye on while also checking global threats and so forth. It’s going to require a sizable Pentagon management team.
It’s also the sort of thing that’s rife with the potential for problems and political landmines. All those stories about $600 hammers and $30,000 toilet seats? Most of them were apocryphal, but let a civilian contractor to the Pentagon gild even one lily and see what kind of blowback you’re going to get from the media and from Capitol Hill.
I can pretty much guarantee you the new Democrat majority in the House will launch an investigation of “abuses” connected to the construction of the wall. All they’ll need is one accusation, however flimsy, to open up a never-ending fishing expedition replete with subpoenas and browbeaten witnesses.
It could all be based on nothing. That wouldn’t matter at all. They can do it so they will.
This doesn’t necessarily mean Trump shouldn’t give this order. Despite all the sneering from the political class, I believe a border wall would significantly enhance border security, and there’s no serious reason to oppose it unless you truly do favor open borders and easy illegal immigration.
It should be a budget priority, and the fact that Democrats fight it tooth and nail tells you all you need to know about their priorities.
But this is not as simple as just giving an order today and watching the wall go up tomorrow. Having the military build the wall would become a constant media lightning rod, with scrutiny of every little detail and magnification times a million of every conceivable problem.
Trump is very good at making decisive choices and demanding action. If he’s going to pull this off, he needs to be just as good at managing the details, or picking the right person to do so.