Friday, August 06, 2010


"Until the Mexican-American War, it was not clear whether the dominant power in North America would have its capital in Washington or Mexico City. Mexico was the older society with a substantially larger military. The United States, having been founded east of the Appalachian Mountains, had been a weak and vulnerable country. At its founding, it lacked strategic depth and adequate north-south transportation routes. The ability of one colony to support another in the event of war was limited. More important, the United States had the most vulnerable of economies: It was heavily dependent on maritime exports and lacked a navy able to protect its sea-lanes against more powerful European powers like England and Spain. The War of 1812 showed the deep weakness of the United States. By contrast, Mexico had greater strategic depth and less dependence on exports.

The American solution to this strategic weakness was to expand the United States west of the Appalachians, first into the Northwest Territory ceded to the United States by the United Kingdom and then into the Louisiana Purchase, which Thomas Jefferson ordered bought from France. These two territories gave the United States both strategic depth and a new economic foundation. The regions could support agriculture that produced more than the farmers could consume. Using the Ohio-Missouri-Mississippi river system, products could be shipped south to New Orleans. New Orleans was the farthest point south to which flat-bottomed barges from the north could go, and the farthest inland that oceangoing ships could travel. New Orleans became the single most strategic point in North America. Whoever controlled it controlled the agricultural system developing between the Appalachians and the Rockies. During the War of 1812, the British tried to seize New Orleans, but forces led by Andrew Jackson defeated them in a battle fought after the war itself was completed....

Mexico’s strategic problem was the geography south of the Rio Grande (known in Mexico as the Rio Bravo). This territory consisted of desert and mountains. Settling this area with large populations was impossible. Moving through it was difficult. As a result, Texas was very lightly settled with Mexicans, prompting Mexico initially to encourage Americans to settle there. Once a rising was fomented among the Americans, it took time and enormous effort to send a Mexican army into Texas. When it arrived, it was weary from the journey and short of supplies. The insurgents were defeated at the Alamo and Goliad, but as the Mexicans pushed their line east toward the Mississippi, they were defeated at San Jacinto, near present-day Houston....

The U.S. defeat of Mexico settled the issue of the relative power of Mexico and the United States but did not permanently resolve the region’s status; that remained a matter of national power and will. The United States had the same problem with much of the Southwest (aside from California) that Mexico had: It was a relatively unattractive place economically, given that so much of it was inhospitable. The region experienced chronic labor shortages, relatively minor at first but accelerating over time. The acquisition of relatively low-cost labor became one of the drivers of the region’s economy, and the nearest available labor pool was Mexico. An accelerating population movement out of Mexico and into the territory the United States seized from Mexico paralleled the region’s accelerating economic growth....

Three fault lines emerged in United States on the topic. One was between the business classes, which benefited directly from the flow of immigrants and could shift the cost of immigration to other social sectors, and those who did not enjoy those benefits. The second lay between the federal government, which saw the costs as trivial, and the states, which saw them as intensifying over time. And third, there were tensions between Mexican-American citizens and other American citizens over the question of illegal migrants. This inherently divisive, potentially explosive mix intensified as the process continued.

Underlying this political process was a geopolitical one. Immigration in any country is destabilizing. Immigrants have destabilized the United States ever since the Scots-Irish changed American culture, taking political power and frightening prior settlers. The same immigrants were indispensible to economic growth. Social and cultural instability proved a low price to pay for the acquisition of new labor....

This is no different from what takes place in borderlands the world over. The political border moves because of war. Members of an alien population suddenly become citizens of a new country. Sometimes, massive waves of immigrants from the group that originally controlled the territory politically move there, undertaking new citizenship or refusing to do so. The cultural status of the borderland shifts between waves of ethnic cleansing and population movement. Politics and economics mix, sometimes peacefully and sometimes explosively.

The Mexican-American War established the political boundary between the two countries. Economic forces on both sides of the border have encouraged both legal and illegal immigration north into the borderland — the area occupied by the United States. The cultural character of the borderland is shifting as the economic and demographic process accelerates. The political border stays where it is while the cultural border moves northward.

The underlying fear of those opposing this process is not economic (although it is frequently expressed that way), but much deeper: It is the fear that the massive population movement will ultimately reverse the military outcome of the 1830s and 1840s, returning the region to Mexico culturally or even politically. Such borderland conflicts rage throughout the world. The fear is that it will rage here....

Centuries ago, Scots moved to Northern Ireland after the English conquered it. The question of Northern Ireland, a borderland, was never quite settled. Similarly, Albanians moved to now-independent Kosovo, where tensions remain high. The world is filled with borderlands where political and cultural borders don’t coincide and where one group wants to change the political border that another group sees as sacred.

Migration to the United States is a normal process. Migration into the borderlands from Mexico is not. The land was seized from Mexico by force, territory now experiencing a massive national movement — legal and illegal — changing the cultural character of the region. It should come as no surprise that this is destabilizing the region, as instability naturally flows from such forces.

Jewish migration to modern-day Israel represents a worst-case scenario for borderlands. An absence of stable political agreements undergirding this movement characterized this process. One of the characteristics of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is mutual demonization. In the case of Arizona, demonization between the two sides also runs deep. The portrayal of supporters of Arizona’s new law as racist and the characterization of critics of that law as un-American is neither new nor promising. It is the way things would sound in a situation likely to get out of hand.

Ultimately, this is not about the Arizona question. It is about the relationship between Mexico and the United States on a range of issues, immigration merely being one of them. The problem as I see it is that the immigration issue is being treated as an internal debate among Americans when it is really about reaching an understanding with Mexico. Immigration has been treated as a subnational issue involving individuals. It is in fact a geopolitical issue between two nation-states. Over the past decades, Washington has tried to avoid turning immigration into an international matter, portraying it rather as an American law enforcement issue. In my view, it cannot be contained in that box any longer".

George Friedman, "Arizona, Borderlands and U.S.-Mexican Relations," 3 August 2010 in

"As I look ahead, I am filled with foreboding. Like the Roman, I seem to see 'the River Tiber foaming with much blood.'"

Enoch Powell, Speech at the Annual Meeting of the West Midlands Area Conservative Political Centre, Birmingham, 21 April 1968.

It has been forty-two years and more since Enoch Powell's words (paraphrasing in part Virgil), famous or infamous words have been uttered. And, while the exact image conjured up by his mots have not quite been fulfilled (thankfully), much that has changed in the Western World as caused by immigration has of course been of the negative variety. World-over, of course immigration is a 'problem'. Either 'legal' or illegal immigration. In the case of the United States though, the immigration problem as especially as it relates to Mexican immigration in the West and South-West, has an entirely different aspect. With the exception of the case of China and Siberia, there is scarcely another instance where the problem of illegal immigration intersects with that of border security and indeed national security. Make no mistake: I do not believe that Mexican immigration to places such as Arizona and New Mexico, are harbingers of said places being annexed by say Mexico. The power relations between the USA and Mexico are too strongly differing for such a situation to occur. Something which makes this situation quite different from the Siberian example. And, indeed in the absence of a near-collapse of the American State and its coercive power, both internally and externally, there is absolutely no danger of a classical 'border dispute', `a la say Danzig, Alsace-Lorraine, the Curzon line, Trentino, Trieste, et cetera, et cetera occurring. Which is not to gainsay the fact that for those people living in the border regions of the USA, or areas much further inland, the influx of 'wetbacks' from south of the border, cannot fail to be seen as something entirely negative. As indeed for many native-stock Americans a completely alien race of people, seemingly a race of 'barbarians', has almost completely 'taken over', their village, town, city, county and indeed country. Ergo, the widespread belief that the American President, the ex-junior Senator from Illinois with the absurd name, is not in fact entitled to be President, as he was born abroad and not in the USA. This is of course inaccurate. But, the fact that it is a widespread belief shows how people are reacting to what appears to be changes in their country, which no one seems to be willing to stop or control.

Of course we are often told, by bien pensant thinkers of the Liberal, Post-Enlightenment Cosmopolitan variety (AKA Philip Stephens of the Financial Times, et. al.), that: i) immigration is a very good thing; ii) immigration either legal or illegal cannot be stopped or contained. In point of fact is this true? Well, a quick look at the American historical record shows that: a) the Johnson Immigration Act of 1924, building upon other Congressional Acts dating back to the Great War, significantly slowed, nay indeed truncated immigration, both legal and illegal. Something which more or less remained the same until the early 1970's; b) that even so, when the Federal and State governments were of a mind to do so, they could indeed endeavor to enforce Federal Law as it relates to illegal immigration. So for example the Eisenhower Administration staged 'Operation Wetback', which in the years 1954, resulted in approximately one hundred thousand arrests of illegal immigrants within a few months time. With over a million illegal immigrants deported and or frightened into vacating the country. Is such a program still viable today? The question answers itself. If the country were to will itself to do such a thing, it seems self-evident that the mass of illegal immigrants, tutti quanti can no doubt be gotten rid of. Whether the country has both the nerve and the will to do so is an entirely another matter. Hence the danger that we will indeed within our lifetimes one day see our own "River Tiber foaming with much blood."


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