In 1986, the House of Representatives demanded that the Pentagon “seal the borders” within 45 days against illegal drugs. A quarter-century later, give or take 45 days, President Obama has ordered 1,200 National Guard troops to the border to fulfill the fantasy. The U.S. has 7,500 miles of border with Mexico and Canada. It has 88,000 miles of coastline. It has 300 ports and waterways handling more than 2 billion tons of cargo annually. And it has a zero-tolerance policy on illegal drugs and illegal immigrants. The consensus on immigrants is that roughly 12 million undocumented aliens are hiding here in plain sight. As for the volume of illegal drugs crossing the border, an informal survey of local high schools suggests infinity and beyond is a good estimate.
Given what zero tolerance has achieved thus far, you’d think we’d keep expectations low on the terrorism front. After all, al Qaida leaders could Google Nogales and Ciudad Juárez, and maybe the St. Lawrence Seaway, too. Is it really possible that a savvy, determined, well-financed terrorist can’t locate a back door that 12 million largely uneducated migrants—and who knows how many tons of mind-altering contraband—have already worn the hinges off? Seems a bit unlikely, no? And that’s presuming the bad guys lack homegrown helpers. So we’re left with the enduring double conundrum of post-9/11 America: that the terrorists have been either too few, too incompetent, or too focused elsewhere to succeed at a task that doesn’t seem all that hard. And that we nevertheless are mystified every time one of them gets close enough to rattle our unbolted cage.