(CNN)Every week, I offer a glimpse of the kind of intelligence assessments that are likely to come across the desk of the President of the United States, modeled on the President’s Daily Briefing, or PDB, which the director of national intelligence prepares for the President almost daily.
Here’s this week’s briefing:
President Trump’s threats to close our border and his order to cut US assistance to Central American countries — a pledge he has made before but hasn’t followed through on — will undoubtedly create a perfect storm of increased migration flows at our southern border, strained relationships with key partners, and new economic risks for everyday Americans. His actions are also likely perceived globally as a signal that he doesn’t care what his own Cabinet members have to say. Their ability to protect us going forward is directly undermined.
Self-reflection is not a look the President wears often, and instead of acknowledging that his current policies aren’t working, his reactive move to punish the Northern Triangle countries of Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador will undoubtedly increase migration, rather than deter it, and will harm US interests in myriad ways.
Groundhog — and opposite-day
The President is a creature of habit, and routinely casts a wide net of blame for everything that isn’t going his way. That has been especially true on border security — Democrats
and Central American countries
are his predictable punching bags.
He checked all three boxes in the last two days when he blasted “stupid Democrat inspired immigration laws,” held Mexico responsible
for not stopping all undocumented immigrants from entering the US, and said he was cutting aid to the Northern Triangle because “they haven’t done a thing for us.
Foreign assistance to these countries is — or was — determined based on US interests. We have provided it because it benefited our own national security, including combating illegal immigration. We allocate resources for a reason, not because we like or dislike a particular country or leader.
Just as he has blamed the same cast of characters for illegal immigration, the President has also habitually undercut his own team, and his decision to cut aid to the Northern Triangle was no different.
His own State Department publicly states
that its strategy is to provide foreign assistance to Central America and protect American citizens “by addressing the security, governance, and economic drivers of illegal immigration and illicit trafficking.” The aid — again according to Trump’s State Department — “goes toward fighting crime organizations, drug trafficking, gang violence and human trafficking, while strengthening borders and enhancing security.” By stopping this aid, the President is directly contradicting his Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and his State Department.
On Wednesday, Secretary of Homeland Security Kirsten Nielsen traveled to Honduras and signed an agreement with the security ministers of all three Northern Triangle countries. A DHS news release states
Nielsen, “expressed her gratitude for the continued collaboration and partnership of the Central American nations as they work to stem the flood of irregular migration and develop [a] regional approach to addressing the ongoing humanitarian and security emergency at our Southern Border.”
Just two days later, the President made moves to cut off foreign assistance
to the very same countries.
The President is shooting himself in the foot and undermining his own team by ignoring their analysis and hampering their ability to productively work with key counterparts. He’s doing the exact opposite of what his own experts advise and need. And in the process, he’s degrading the chances that they’re viewed as empowered (or honest) by their foreign counterparts.
This isn’t Gilead
President Trump appears to watch a lot of television, based on his Twitter TV reviews He might know that closing borders is a measure that the fictional leaders in “The Handmaid’s Tale” took. But this isn’t Gilead — we have laws that likely preclude him from permanently shutting down the border.
For starters, 1.5 million Americans
live in Mexico and many cross the border every day. The President should be reminded that any attempt to shut down the border and bar citizens from entering their own country will meet serious legal challenges
. Attempts to restrict foreigners with visas or asylum seekers from entering the country will also likely be struck down in court.
Plus, while the President hasn’t been a big fan of international laws, the US has a legal obligation to process asylum requests
at our southern border. If he somehow closes it and stops processing those requests, he will be breaking international law.
And while the future of the United States-Mexico-Canada agreement is still pending, NAFTA still restricts
the ability of the President to unilaterally cut off trade barring a national security reason for doing so.
President Trump often plays the national security card to buttress other pet projects like tariffs
, but it is unlikely that Mexico and Canada will agree that unarmed men, women, and children, many of whom are seeking asylum, pose a dire national security risk.
It’s the economy, stupid
While Trump may be grasping at straws trying to figure out ways to halt immigration in time for the 2020 campaign cycle, closing the border would affect a key pillar of his political platform — economic growth. It could stop or decrease the flow of goods as well as people.
It seems unlikely that the humanitarian effects of closing our border or cutting aid will sway Trump — especially given that he called asylum seekers part of a “con job”
at a recent campaign rally.
But the President does like to tout his economic wins
, and it’s unclear whether he doesn’t understand, or doesn’t want to acknowledge, the serious economic pressures that could come with shutting the border.
Exporters and importers could feel the impact, including sectors that are already taking Trump-induced hits. US companies send millions of dollars worth of soybeans
to Mexico, and they’ve already experienced setbacks because of our trade war with China
The President says that Mexico takes advantage of us, but he seems not to realize that trade is a two-way street.
We import key products from Mexico — automobile parts, for example. The price of cars would inevitably increase if manufacturers had to source these parts them from another country where labor or material costs might be greater. The same holds true for other key imports like fruits and vegetables. If we can’t import them from Mexico, stores are going to have to source them from other– potentially more expensive — places, which could means everyday American’s daily food bills will rise.
Earplugs aren’t an option
Our relationship with Mexico is “strong and vital”
according to the State Department, and while Mexican President Andres Manuel López Obrador has said that he won’t respond to President Trump’s threats, he isn’t wearing earplugs.
He hears the President’s insults loud and clear and takes into account what it would mean for Mexico if Trump were to close even a few legal points of entry. More migrants would be stuck on the Mexican side of the border, along with American citizens who work or go to school in the US. This would present humanitarian burdens that Mexico could struggle to handle.
The President threatened Mexico
directly via his preferred platform, Twitter, last week. While Obrador isn’t taking the bait for now, the erosion of our alliance could mean he steps back from a number of partnerships crucial to our national security, including those countering the flow
of deadly narcotics and weapons.
It’s clear from the numbers of undocumented immigrant
s and strain on points of entry, that a review of where and how we allocate finite US resources is warranted. The President may be desperate for a quick fix to address this sudden influx of migration, but his actions are only guaranteed to increase migration flows while recasting our foreign assistance as bribes for good behavior rather than money used to advance core US interests. Parents take their children’s allowance away when they don’t think they’re living up to their potential — presidents have historically acted more strategically.
Sign up for our new newsletter.
Join us on Twitter and Facebook
There are no quick fixes to migration, especially when desperate families are fleeing poverty and gang violence. Securing our border is just one part of the solution. Addressing the root causes by promoting stability and economic growth in the Northern Triangle is a more strategic and long-term fix — one that requires partnership with other countries and unity within our own national security team.