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Impearls: 2004-04-04 Archive

Earthdate 2004-04-10

Canada and the Anti-Terrorist Perimeter of America

Dave Trowbridge posted a piece in Redwood Dragon two months ago called “Costly Grace,” referring to this posting by Jeff Taylor in Reason magazine's Hit and Run blog.  (Redwood Dragon seems not to have permalinks for its postings, so the above link points to the archive page for that post.)

Dave and Jeff highlight the recent situation wherein a Maine resident living next to the Canadian border was saddled with a massive fine by U.S. Customs for the sin of driving round a barrier, while the international border crossing was closed, so he could attend church services in Canada.  The source news articles the pair point to have apparently expired, but Trowbridge provides a sufficient quote so one can review the case, as he says:

Somehow, I don't think this is what Bonhoeffer [referring presumably to Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Lutheran pastor who resisted the Nazis during World War II and paid with his life – Ed.] had in mind.

Crossing the U.S.-Canada border to go to church on a Sunday cost a U.S. citizen $10,000 for breaching Washington's tough new security rules.

The expensive trip to church was a surprise for Richard Albert, a resident of rural Maine who lives so close to the Canadian border the U.S. customs office is right next door to his house.

Like the other half-dozen residents of Township 15 Range 15, crossing the border is a daily ritual for Albert.  The nearby Quebec village of St. Pamphile is where they shop, eat and pray.

There are many such situations in rural areas along the largely unguarded 8,900-km (5,530-mile) border between Canada and the United States — which in some cases actually runs down the middle of streets or through buildings.

As a result, Albert says did not expect any problems three weeks ago when he returned home to the United States after attending mass in Canada, as usual.

The local U.S. customs station is closed on Sundays, so he just drove around the locked gate, as he had done every weekend since the gate appeared last May, following a tightening of border security.

Two days later, Albert was summoned to the customs office, where an officer told him he had been caught on camera crossing the border illegally.

Ottawa has granted special passes to some 300 U.S. citizens in that region so they can enter the country when Canadian customs posts are closed, but the United States canceled a similar program last May.

That forces local residents to make a 200-mile detour along treacherous logging roads to get home via the nearest staffed border checkpoint.

Responding to Trowbridge's allusion to what Dietrich Bonhoeffer would have made of the situation (I'll be just as speculative as Dave, but there you are), I agree Bonhoeffer could not have liked the prospect of people being punished for exercising their choice to worship where and however they wish.  However, as a person with intimate knowledge of and who gave his life fighting the Nazis, surely he would appreciate the steely-eyed moral necessity of not naively letting organized human predators like the Nazis come scourging in through unbarred and unguarded gates.  Undoubtedly, a similar sort of naive liberal credulity (that it's “democratic,” for example, rather than stupid for democracies to allow undemocratic, totalitarian parties to participate in the political process, i.e.: “one man, one vote, one time”) unleashed the Nazis to burst into the pinnacles of power in Germany, thence out to ravage through Europe, in the first place.

In the admittedly distressing case of Richard Albert, who's suffering from continuing to regard the international border as it famously used to be: a mostly imaginary line between friends and neighbors — I sympatize with him and others like him.  I'm from Montana myself, close by the Canadian province of Alberta, where we always felt (growing up in the northern part of the state) that Montana faced its neighbor Alberta even more closely than it did the nearby American states.  Tamara and I even once contemplated acquiring land near fabulous Glacier National Park in Montana, jam up against Canada, of course anticipating untroubled, transparent access to the magnificent Canadian Rockies right across the frontier.

Nonetheless, all this started to change, more or less quickly, after a day I need not name a bit over 2½ years ago.  As the news piece Dave related makes plain, Richard Albert ”just drove around the locked gate, as he had done every weekend since the gate appeared last May, following a tightening of border security.”  Thus, Albert had months of notice — not least of which a new gate barring the way, but even, I'll bet, signs posted at the border — indicating that things were toughening up and the sort of impromptu border transits he'd been accustomed to were now a no-no.  Nonetheless, Albert went on anyway, and got socked with a hefty fine.  And we're supposed to be terribly sad or upset or even very surprised at his fate?

No, what's sad is the necessity to put in place a real border between Canada and the United States for the first time, really, in nearly 200 years.  That's sad, but necessary.  As Canadian Mark Steyn — who resides in the same American borderland neck of the woods beside the Canadian province of Quebec as Richard Albert does — put it on in a piece in the 2003-01-20 National Post (which unfortunately appears not available online):

If the Prof. [Michael Bliss, who wrote of a Canadian-U.S. “confederation” – Ed.] really believes the border is “not so much a fence as a lawn-marker,” he should try living in a Quebec mill town on the hitherto informally monitored Maine line.  This coming Sunday, eight timber-road crossings will be permanently closed and the four bigger border crossings will be open only until 2 p.m. and shut all weekend.  Quebecers who work in the Maine woods will either have to make a hundred-mile detour or look for other employment.  On the Canadian side of the line, there's talk of mill closures.  The lawn-marker just got replaced with razor wire.

Within 48 hours of 9/11, it was clear that Canada had a choice:  It could be inside a North American perimeter or outside a U.S. perimeter.  Given that the trucks were mostly backed up on the northern side of the border, the answer seemed obvious.  But the siren song of “Canadian values” — i.e., Liberal Party values — was too powerful, and, as we know from Kyoto to the gun registry, whenever the national interest conflicts with Liberal platitudes the Grits go with the latter.  Last fall, when the U.S. announced that Canadians born in selected Middle Eastern countries would be required to submit to “special registration” procedures, Ottawa's privacy commissioner responded by demanding that “place of birth” be removed from all Canadian passports and The Toronto Star huffed and puffed about “Muslim-focused racial profiling” full of “contempt for due process.”

They have a point.  Effectively, the commissioner invited the U.S. to treat all Canadians as Syrian, and increasingly they do.  No more profiling!  That's great, isn't it?  Unless you're a Quebec logger.

As Mark Steyn suggests, after 9−11 Canada faced the choice of either positioning itself inside a North American perimeter or outside a U.S. perimeter.  Canada steadfastly refused to cooperate with the United States and form such a common anti-terrorist envelope to include all of North America, even though, as Mark marvels, such is so eminently in both countries' fundamental interest.  Just after 9−11, France (or at least Le Monde) was sympathetically willing to proclaim “we are all Americans” — a statement Canada and Canadians could never find it within themselves to entertain.  On the contrary, as Steyn points out, in response to America's subsequent attempt to intercept terrorists at the U.S.-Canadian frontier, rather than cooperating even with this, Canada basically declared “we are all Syrians!”

While I appreciate and acknowledge Canada's sacrifices and service in the ongoing war on terror (in Afghanistan, for example), notice that the above not merely tepid but actively negative cooperation by Canada was taken not in some kind of moralistic recoil from last year's Iraq war (which at the time of these events was still half a year off), but in contemptuous response to America's basic desire in the aftermath of 9−11 to defend itself by screening out terrorists before they enter the country.

Democrats and the antiwar left and have raked the Bush administration over the coals for supposedly neglecting “homeland security” — by not, e.g., inspecting every single shipping container arriving in America's ports — instead of, as they see it, embarking on foreign adventures.  Yet, according to the tenor of both Dave Trowbridge's and Jeff Taylor's pieces, together with numerous commenters to Jeff's post (for example: “It's silly that our post-9/11 paranoia is interrupting peaceful people's lives in order to stop a terrorist attack that will in all probability never come”), it seems that toughening up security on America's northern frontier is mere bureaucratic folderol.  In the continuing cold new light of the 21st century, I'm afraid it all rings in my ears as so “September 10th.”  It almost boggles the mind, in fact, recounting statements such as the foregoing, written by supposedly thoughtful, aware people.

As intimated before, September 11, 2001 (Earthdate 2001-09-11) now lies a mere 2½ years in the past — an instant when (everyone needs to recall) 3,000 innocent office workers and heroic firefighters were crushed, torn apart, and immolated alive, together with the downtown business district of America's biggest city, in “guided missile” attacks perpetrated by foreign agents using a pair of seized, hijacked airplanes, full of hundreds of additional passenger victims, in what were basically human-occupied guided bombs.  Hundreds more Americans fell in a similar simultaneous strike on the central headquarters of America's defense establishment in Washington, the Pentagon.  A fourth terrorist attack, aimed at destroying most probably the U.S. Capitol or White House (!), was barely averted by a passenger revolt on the hijacked airliner, which nonetheless ended with all passengers dead in a hole in the ground in Pennsylvania.  To instigate such a conflagration of death and destruction, the score of 9−11 Jihadist terrorists needed no agencies beyond their handful of numbers, pocket knives and mace dispensers.  Recent Jihadist attacks on Shi'ites in Iraq have involved merely a number of overcoated, explosives-belted suicide bombers walking amongst a crowd; while in the case of the “3−11” Madrid bombings, a dozen or so backpackers with set watches slipped off bomb-laden backpacks and departed trains in unison — and thereby didn't even need to commit suicide in order to wreak slaughter.

To perpetrate such carnage within the United States or any other country, terrorists — typically not natives of the (Western) nation being attacked — must necessarily cross international frontiers to get there.  Improving “homeland security” at airports accomplishes nothing if foreign agents can simply stroll across the Canadian (or other) border at any number of unguarded, unwatched crossing points.  Don't forget the “Millennium bomber,” Ahmed Ressam, by luck apprehended late in 1999 actually trying to enter Washington state from Canada, carrying a bomb intended for Los Angeles airport. 

Meanwhile, the recent defection of Libya from the concerted ‘axis of evil nations’ has vividly demonstrated the existence of that alignment of authoritarian dictators, determined to assist each other in more or less simultaneously breaking out from international WMD control regimes, in order to achieve their destinies of unfettered megalomania.  The remaining despots in this far-reaching international conspiracy obviously figure that once they individually or collectively possess nuclear arms, effective restraint and overslight on their activities by the international community, at least within their own neighborhoods, will cease.  “Deterrence” will work… for them.

The risk of such evil regimes (I won't pussyfoot over employing accurate terminology) forming alliances with terrorist groups — insofar as they haven't already — is extraordinary.  The danger that a “mushroom cloud” (to evoke an image of a possible future rightly brought up, in my view, during the run-up to the Iraq war) might raise up its demonic head at some point in consequence of this worldwide terrorist/despot conspiratorial scramble is not negligible!  Arguments that the risk of such an eventually might be “gathering” but isn't yet “imminent” — which is to say, the danger could be as much as, oh, five years off — are not reassuring.

After reviewing the appalling recent historical record of terror, how anyone can predict with a straight face that further attacks “in all probability [will] never come” is beyond me.  Unbelievable that anybody could still think that after the experiences of the last few years — as I say, so “September 10th.”  It shows that the tendency, and desire, of a portion of the population to nod back into the kind of numbing, 1990s-style cultural somnolence, in midst of this dangerous 21st-century world (war) of ours, is pervasive.  Unfortunately for such a yearning for the “normalcy” of the 90s, there are still hordes of people out there who want to kill us — if they can find the means, and get both them and it over here to employ it.

Once unscrupulous murderers such as perpetuaters of recent terrorist events arrive in America, it's indisputable that it's basically impossible to protect all the myriad of vulnerable sites (full of people within and about them) throughout the country.  Focus on that: once such killers are in America….  Beyond aggressively defeating foreign enemies in their places of origin and staging areas, a major element in conducting a defense must be keeping such people out of this country in the first place.  For this, adequate border security is a necessity, not some kind of bureaucratic foolishness.

Many of Jeff's commenters titter at the present inadequacy of security at border crossings like the one described in the news piece; and yes, clearly security is inadequate.  However — rather like the antiwar left's contention that since the U.S. supposedly “supported” Saddam Hussein in the past, therefore any later reversal of policy is somehow both hypocritical and (even more questionably) wrong — the apparent conclusion of Jeff's commenters, that one must therefore (continue to) do nothing, is not viable as a solution.  As the quoted news article makes quite plain, security is in the process of being enhanced.  Now there's a gate.  Now there's a camera watching the crossings, border crossing by border crossing, so experience can be garnered as to who's using the crossings and any suspicious behavior focused in on.

Much more obviously needs to be done.  This page, for instance (by U.S. Senator Debbie Stabenow of the border state Michigan, on the subject of U.S.-Canadian border issues), discusses several things of interest in this regard.  According to Sen. Stabenow, a number of bills have been passed by Congress since September 11 affecting northern border security issues, including the Northern Border Hiring Initiative, the Uniting and Strengthening America Act (USA Act), and appropriations bills, which authorize hiring and training hundreds of new customs officers for the northern frontier; as well as, Stabenow says, “improve INS and Customs technology and purchase additional equipment for monitoring the U.S./Canadian border”; and also “require the Attorney General, in consultation with appropriate agencies, to develop technical standards for an integrated automated fingerprint identification system for points of entry and overseas consular posts.”

Sen. Stabenow's “Northern Border Security” page doesn't come right out and say so, but I suspect that not only are the new gates, video cameras (such as the one tripping up Maine resident Richard Albert), together with the personnel to monitor them, a consequence of the new legislation Sen. Stabenow notes above, but it's also very likely, I suggest, that it's a requirement of the self-same legislation that violators of closed border crossings receive hefty fines.

Thus, I believe, it's not bureaucratic ineptitude that's on display here, but rather Congressional mandate.  As to whether it's therefore inept and unreasonable Congressional mandate, given the horrific events of September 11 and other bloody terrorist encounters both cited and uncited above, it would be exceedingly unwise, in my view, for the country to ignore the obvious need for improved border security.

Canadian Mark Steyn concludes his piece:

Whatever it once symbolized, the border is now a very real dividing line between the two principal manifestations of Western democracy: an American system which emphasizes the primacy of individual liberty, and a Euro-Canadian system of top-down statism.  Even without the war, the differences between the two are likely to increase rather than diminish over the coming years.  But, since the war, our flabby Dominion's position has weakened further.  Not to be alarmist but I'd say the U.S. is coming to regard Canada the way Australia regards Indonesia.  Yes, it's geographically close, an important trading partner, a cheap vacation destination and a nominal ally, but it has to be pushed and chivvied into taking even the most perfunctory action against obvious enemies, and everyone knows that all kinds of dodgy characters have the run of the joint.  Bali was a soft target for the terrorists because it exists in both worlds — a Western enclave in bandit country.  Canada also exists in both worlds:  We're the country that supports both the Princess Pats and Hezbollah.

Washington knows that now.  The big story since September 11th is that they finally see us for what we are: foreigners.


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