June 29, 2005

Why don't we seal the Syrian border?

asks Andrew Sullivan, wondering why the Bush Administration constantly complains about fighters slipping in from Syria but doesn't seem to do anything about it.

Let me update what I wrote over two years ago about Iraq's borders, just after the capture of Baghdad. Obviously, the U.S. military knows how to seal even a much more dangerous border, from its experience on the Korean peninsula over the last half century. Similarly, Israel has largely stopped the infiltration of suicide bombers by largely fencing off Gaza and much of the West Bank. Heck, the King of Morocco ended infiltration of Polisario guerillas into his new territory of Spanish Sahara by building a dirt berm around it.

There are four likely reasons the Bush Administration isn't letting the military seal the border in Iraq:

1. Bush wants Al-Qaeda fighters to get into Iraq so he can claim Iraq is part of the 9/11 payback.

2. At least part of the Administration wants to conquer Syria, which is more of a problem for Israel than Iraq was, so they want the border to stay porous as an excuse for invading Syria. As Noah Millman has long pointed out, taking out Saddam was a lower priority for the Likud government compared to the threats posed to Israel by Iran and Syria. But, the Likud fellow travelers in the Bush Administration assumed that getting U.S. troops into Iraq would make it more likely the U.S. would then turn on Syria and/or Iran. Neutralizing Syria by sealing the border would lessen the chance of the U.S. invading Syria, so that's not a popular choice within the Bush Administration.

3. Successfully sealing off the Syrian border would give the lie to the claim that it's impossible to seal off the Mexican border to cut back on illegal immigration, and that's the last thing Mr. Bush wants to do.

4. The Syrian border actually isn't all that important. This is primarily an ethno-nationalist rebellion, and Bush is exaggerating the importance of the foreign element so he can tell people his War in Error is part of the War on Terror. Maybe it would be cost-ineffective to worry about the border. Still, how much time does laying landmines use up?

More on sealing the border(s): A reader writes:

Fences are OK. Walls are better. Concrete walls better still.

Tilt-up concrete construction has been used in the Southwest since the 1940s. Essentially, you cast a reinforced concrete slab on the ground (say 4-6" thick) and then, after a few weeks, tilt it up to make a wall. Simple, and quick. An experienced crew can tilt up 30 panels a day and you can make them 60'x60' or larger. Secure? We build prisons out of them in Texas.

If you wanted a 6" thick, 60' high wall of concrete along the border withSyria or Mexico, you would need a few square miles of flat land under guard and semis to move the slabs out to the border. With a few square miles, you could supply multiple crews for a few weeks. Stage the areas to cast the slabs up and down the border and guard the goddamned things like we used to be able to do before GHW Bush and Bill Clinton drove all of the professionals out of the US military. Build a berm and compress the earth, and tilt up the wall in between braces pounded into the earth.

While construction is going on, let everyone know that activity in the immediate few miles will draw fire without any attempt to verify the target. Period.

So, lets assume 25 slabs per crew per day, 10 crews working, each slab 60' long, that would be 2.84 miles a day (15000/5280), and if we were working for 135 days we would be done. End of story. Cost? My back of the envelope is $275,000,000 for materials times a mutiplier for the cost of shipping them in plus the labor (which, if it is military, is already a sunk cost). How about an even billion, which is a lot less than we have spent so far. Patrol night and day in Blackhawks with IR and respond immediately and with overwhelming force every time anything, even a camel, gets close to the wall.

Think that Bush would do it? No, and I don't think that you are being paranoid when you say that this would make people think "Hmmm ... why not here?" I sent a sketch of this idea to a friend in DC a few days ago and but he thought that it might affect the efforts to attract Hispanics to the Republican Party. Wonderful.

Update: My wall expert has now priced out what it would cost to buy the wall from his local Lowe's Home Center:

So, I was thinking to myself, let's assume $500 of rebar and the suggested 3031 80 pound bags of Quick-Crete that Lowe's suggests for one of these wall panels (60'x60'). We would need to look at transportation costs, labor, forms (which can be reused for a while), and so on, but just the concrete and rebar would be $13,000 per slab. We need 34000 slabs to run right down the Syrian border, so that would be $442,000,000 if we bought this at Lowe's, and I would hope that buying in bulk would give us a little bit of a discount. I know, I know, we would have to truck in water, we would have to do the earthworks, and so on. But still -- we could seal the Syrian border with with crap we can buy at Lowe's and even if it costs us $2,000,000,000 because my math is lousy, we would still be running at under 1% of the cost of this goat rodeo so far.

Why do they have to be 60 feet tall? The walls the Border Patrol has built in towns on the Mexican border like Nogales and Naco are about 15 feet tall. They're effective, but the BP boys have to watch them to keep people from climbing over them on extra long ladders. But they don't have any spikes on top of them or electrification or landmines below them, or all the other sadistic (and fun to dream up) anti-personnel schemes that would be perfectly justifiable in using to keep Al-Qaeda terrorists from entering Iraq to set off car bombs.

Randall Parker has been studying the cost of building security barriers. The highest cost per mile he's seen for the highly successful new Israeli fence around (and partly in) the West Bank is $4.15 million.

Even at $4.15 million per mile a barrier on the US border with Mexico would still be under $10 billion and therefore cost less than one year of illegal alien health care.

The Iraq-Syria border is about one third the length of the U.S.-Mexico border.

The highly effective anti-illegal immigration fence in San Diego came out to about $1.7 million per mile. The Israeli fence is much more lethal (e.g., includes landmines), as is appropriate for dealing with suicide bombers.


My published articles are archived at iSteve.com -- Steve Sailer

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