Border Lessons: From the Sonoran Plains to the Syrian Dunes (& back)
[a version of this paper was presented @ the 2006 Bi-Annual Ethnic Studies Graduate Student Conference at USC; thanks for all who gave me feedback and encouragement. Please forgive the rough cut of this draft. Helpful comments, suggestions, and criticism will be incorporated into future drafts, thanks in advance.
The main objective of this paper is to examine the significance of U.S. involvement in the maintenance of Iraq’s tumultuous borders. In order to do this it is necessary to work out an historical analysis which frames this situation in a broader context. Doing so may also help bridge struggles for human dignity in other contact zones of imperialism. This paper tries to make the case that the role of the U.S. Border Patrol in the establishment of Iraq’s Department of Border Enforcement (DBE) is something worth investigating? I will argue that this role represents a stretch of the arms of the U.S. administration; bringing with it political anxieties from the Southern U.S. border, hierarchical categories of social identities, and economic plans for global capitalism. Stopping at this level of analysis would do a disservice to the potential of this project by neglecting to demonstrate how wars at the imperial periphery translate and adjust to social hierarchies at home. I feel this analysis is necessary to determine if this is a direction I would like to take my dissertation, because I think it has the possibility to contribute to discussions about the cultures of U.S. imperialism, social identities & nation-states, and the militarization of immigration and border maintenance. The major point of this paper is to explore interesting avenues of research for the role of the U.S. Border Patrol in Iraq.
On August 24th of 2003 Paul Bremer, the Coalition Provisional Authority Administrator of Iraq, signed into law the creation of the Iraqi Department of Border Enforcement (DBE) charged with the duty to, “monitor and control the movement of persons and goods to, from, and across the borders of Iraq” (CPA Order 26, 2003). Mr. Bremer’s actions signal the recognition that the borders of Iraq must function as both bridges and barriers. This same issue was addressed by the US Congress in 1929 with the creation of the U.S. Border Patrol, nearly 75 years after the conquest of Mexico. It may be the case that border making has become a more important task for an imperial state than it did in previous conquests. The U.S. Border Patrol, born out Congress’s actions 77 years ago has come to have a role on the development of the Iraqi DBE. Iraq’s DBE consolidates the activities of more than five separate military and civil agencies from Saddam’s legacy. The previous border regimes were regulated by corruption and inter-ethnic violence. The new DBE is modeled on US border institutions and currently receives training from US agents from those organizations; which is to say that the border violence and corruption have not disappeared but merely changed form, an issue that I will address later. New DBE agents receive training at the Jordanian International Police Training Center in Amman. As the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) reports, trainers, consultants, and managers from the Bureau of Immigration & Customs Enforcement (BICE) and the Bureau of Customs & Border Protection (BCBP) “are bringing security directly to the threat in the war on terror. Our people are on a vital mission to train Iraqis to protect their own borders and build an institution that will safe guard the new freedoms and democratic principles being established” (BCBP 2004). The US government is not only importing expertise but also ideology to the DBE as a quote from an anonymous BCBP official makes evident, “[we] are teaching members of the Iraqi Department of Border Enforcement how to secure their frontierlands” (Hammerstrom 2005; emphasis added). This discourse of enforcement may be of significance to the outcomes of Iraq’s border projects.
The first large offensive of Iraq’s own military forces was called Operation Steel Curtain (initiated in November 2005), a US collaboration to control the Syrian/Iraq border region. This was a strategic operation to prevent both Syrian forces from joining the Iraqi resistance and arms smuggling networks from functioning. The symbolism of the proto-military blitz to the border echoes the violence of the U.S. frontierlands, to use the language of the anonymous BCBP official, and helps to bring the Iraqi borders into the US imperial imagination. I assert that these institutional linkages feed narratives, technology, expertise, and ideology into Iraq and circulate the horror and glory of war and militarized tactics back to the U.S. In the same month as Operation Steel Curtain, President Bush arrived in Tucson, AZ to promote his immigration policies and advertise the continued militarization of the Southern border with technology tested in Iraq; in particular, the Unmanned Aerial Vehicles for remote surveillance. Furthermore, the US Border Patrol Tactical Unit (BORTAC), the Border Patrol’s special-forces unit, has been deployed to Iraq on several missions to conduct anti-smuggling operations and counter-terrorism at Iraq’s borders. The extension of the US Border Patrol beyond US territory and into Iraq may be a method of domesticating the “foreign” as well as intensifying the treatment of domestic borders as “dangerous”.
Scholarship on the cultures of U.S. imperialism has developed a rich language to analyze this situation and has important consequences for this research. In this scholarship, borders serve a contradictory role in the imperial imagination. On the one hand they are a source of anxiety, vulnerability, and fear, while on the other hand become the stage for which power is flaunted and displayed. The border imaginary is not only spatially complex but discursively ambivalent. The imperial border fantasy is caught in an endless cycle of desire to build barriers, in a state of siege, as well as to break them down in conquest. In this case, the US military triumphantly transgressed Iraq’s borders and now struggles to guard and protect them. This may constitute a fetishization of the border environment.
In this paper I have outlined some interesting categories of inquiry for this study; political discourse, underlying economic interests, administrative styles of governance, and the social relationships between minorities in the U.S., enemies abroad and actors of U.S. imperialism. These analytical categories not only address historically relevant comparisons for the War of Iraq (2003) but contribute to a further articulation of the notion of the “agency of empire” employed by Gonzalez and Fernandez (2003) to describe the practice and ideology of American imperialism in the 20th century. Middle East has also generated its own discourse about the agency of empire as Ho (2004) recounts the colonial history of the Middle East explaining how imperial domination in this region has always been met with diasporic resistance and accommodation. Ho refers to the social disruption caused by colonialism as “imperial pollution” (2004: 41), in an attempt to communicate the fallout effect of forced migration as well as the policies that emerge to manage it. Although comparing the histories of the American Southwest with the Middle East is a far stretch it is interesting to compare the consequences and responses to the agency of empire.
This story of American imperialism and border making begins with what Haas calls epistemic communities, or,
“knowledge-based groups of experts and specialists who share a common belief about cause and effect relationships in the world as well as political values
concerning the ends to which policies should be addressed… [and] play in identifying new problems and proposing solutions.” (Haas 1990)
The formal institutionalization of the border patrol in 1929 signals the initiation of this community, although origins of this group can be linked to the Texas Rangers. An epistemic community implicitly relies upon the propagation of policies and projects that reinforce the legitimacy and supremacy of the beliefs held by the members of the community. The propagation of policies relies upon lesson drawing, or the notion that a set of actions can produce a determined outcome in different places and times. Applying this concept to the story of border making suggests the desired outcome is territorial and economic control, political domination, and cultural hegemony. In Border Games, Andreas provides an overview of border narratives which help to describe the epistemic community of border control institutions. These border narratives correspond to the struggles with regulatory capacity and the rise of the localized forms of power; for instance during the late 1990s, Congressmen and bureaucrats explained border policy according to a “combination of externally driven threats and inadequate defenses to repel them” (Andreas 2000: 144). This manner of framing border policy hands over authority for policy making to the so called “experts”, the growing epistemic community of border control institutions, as well as casting a shadow over the broader transnational supply and demand forces that govern cross border flows. Andreas argues further that this epistemic community adopts a logic of escalation in which to explain perceived weaknesses (i.e. see how bad this program is, give us more money to do it better) or for expanding projects that are perceived to work well (i.e. see how good these programs work, give us more money to do more of this). This theory suggests that epistemic communities are historically produced and cannot be understood as moments or events in which empire has agency but a process. Stoler (2002) maintains that this process is always messy, ambivalent, and riddled with contradiction.
According to Braudel (1966 in Wallerstein 2001), “events are dust,” and must be placed in the “longue durée” of history; in this case, the longue durée of U.S. imperialism. Despite the debates around when U.S. imperialism began, this study sets out to merely establish points of relevant comparison. In order to make the imperial package of domestic anxieties, hierarchical categories of social identities and plans for global capitalism more lucid, I will demonstrate some interesting historical frames of analysis. Montejano (2000: 20) contends that comparing the Middle East to the, “…situation of the Texas Mexico 150 years ago… can serve as a marker or baseline to measure how far we have come.” Almost in response to Montejano, Sharrett (2004: 126) reminds us of the parallel between 9/11 to the sinking of the USS Maine in Havana Harbor and the Lusitania in Tonkin Gulf with their political arrangement as a “useful incident” for instigating the Spanish-American War and the Vietnam War. From these references, the longue durée of U.S. imperialism appears to offer a rich context in which to examine the role of the U.S. Border Patrol in the establishment of Iraq’s DBE.Administrative
As Montejano suggests, historical comparisons can help us identify “how far we have come” (2000: 20), especially in comparison to other forms and practices of U.S. colonial governance. Examining the administrative styles of governance throughout periods of the longue durée of U.S. imperialism will help explain the organizational mechanics and methods of implementation. Foucault describes bureaucratic functions which manage actual bodies and populations as consisting of technologies of biopower (1980). If we are to understand the significance of the U.S. Border Patrol’s role in Iraq we must develop a critical inquiry into the particular practices and outcomes of institutional programs and policies. It seems reasonable to question the methods and practices being taught in Iraq by the U.S. Border Patrol given their disastrous outcomes produced along the U.S.’s Southern border. Prasad maintains that a historical frame such as the longue durée of U.S. imperialism is essential to understanding contemporary “management practices and discourses,” because he views them as, “having emerged from (and/or bearing the imprint of) the colonial encounter” (2003: 31). Cooke argues that, “imperialism was organized, and it was managed” (2003: 90), this means that not only is the structure of institutions important to compare historically, but also their institutional cultures.
To explicate further, Public Administration Review is the oldest academic journal devoted to the science, processes and art of public administration; it is telling that first issue was devoted to national security and defense as well as the command structure of the civil service. The first paragraph of Harris’s cover article “The Emergency National Defense Organization” is worth quoting here,
“When a nation engages in war today, all other business and interests are subordinated to one supreme end of winning the war. While this country is not at war, the administrative problems of a large defense program are similar to those of actual war, and in a defense program it is essential to build an organization which, with modifications will meet wartime needs.” (Harris 1941:1)
For Harris, the longue durée of U.S. imperialism is the development a bureaucratic technologies of biopower and an institutional culture of war. It seems useful to situate the role of the U.S. Border Patrol in Iraq as a recent manifestation of this development process.Economic
If we take our cues from Marxist economic historians then we must accept that the modern state, that is to say the U.S. government throughout the longue durée of its ongoing imperialism, is invested in capitalist modes of production and deploys biopower over lower classes in order to preserve profitable advantages (Wallerstein 1997, 2001, & Wolf 1997). Wolf reminds us that throughout history war and trade, “necessarily fed upon each other” (1997: 106), therefore if we are to understand the violence of U.S. imperialism we must understand the access to material resources and global routes of distribution and visa versa. The Spanish-American War cannot be understood without comprehending the significance of Alfred Mahan’s military-strategy of networked islands with coaling stations to support military protection of U.S. trade interests. Similarly, the War of Iraq (2003) can not be explained without acknowledging the enormous oil fields lying beneath the Syrian Desert. Not unrelated, the Mexican-American War must be connected with urban class anxieties in the Northeast U.S. (Streeby 2002) as well as the need to class race with the creation of Anglo land-owners and a Mexican proletariat through land claims law (Limerick 1987). This is all to say that the role of the U.S. in Iraq’s borders may have important economic undertones, as one World Bank memo suggests – Iraq’s borders are an important element for preparing Baghdad for direct foreign investment in export manufacturing as well as securing oil exports (World Bank 2005).
For Iraq it is clear that oil and pipelines dominate the economic space such that the location of oil reserves, refineries, and ports are important land marks that define political interests in the region. They attract the attention of the Iraqi resistance as well as US occupation forces. The borders of Iraq must also serve to link the desert nation to other regional sites of production. A majority of its imports come from Syria, Jordan, and Turkey to support domestic consumption. The US occupation of Iraq has not only created social unrest, but has destroyed the national economy already crippled by more than a decade of trade embargoes. In a World Bank Trade Facilitation paper, the financial institution recognized the poor conditions of the Iraqi economy but states that,
“There are substantial opportunities for employment generation and private sector led economic growth in construction (and reconstruction), services (including retail and wholesale commerce), agriculture, and more import-substituting industries. All of these depend vitally, in part, on the availability and cost competitiveness of importing inputs. The pace of recovery and the affordability of consumer goods will be critically dependent… on the efficiency and competitiveness of inbound supply chains and trade logistics” (World Bank 2005).
This quote reflects a forward thinking mentality with a specific vision for the borders of Iraq. From their perspective, “borders must be both secure and business friendly” (Andreas 2000). To follow up on their analysis of Iraq’s trade potential, the global financial institution has initiated a pilot border project for the Turaybil, Iraq/Al-Karameh, Jordan (TK) crossing [see appendix 1]. This project marks a dramatic change in Iraq’s ports of entry because of its history as being a state-led economy, at war, and under embargo. The TK border already provides transit for nearly US$1.5 billion dollars of trade between the two nations. Yet the long wait-times, un-standardized procedures, lack of security protocol, and logistical coordination problems increase uncertainty and inefficiency that, as the report suggests, will damage the ability of the Iraqi economy to expand. Therefore, Iraq’s border crossing institutions also figure prominently into the future of both the Iraq economy and the regional network. In this way the World Bank is attempting to alter the transnational dynamics of the regions economy while developing a specific localized form of border management. The border itself emerges as a place-based node in regional circuits of production.
The World Bank report proposed to develop the TK border as a model to be propagated to the other crossing points to improve Iraq’s viability as a trade partner and profitable site for foreign investment. It is implied that Iraq will recover only with the assistance of foreign sources of capital; it thus follows that investments in border controls are prerequisites to improving the domestic investment environment within Iraq. For the TK pilot, Environmental Chemical Corp. International (ECCI) has already completed housing for DBE personnel and basic port of entry infrastructure (Eliah 2005). Meanwhile US Army Lt. Gen. Petraeus, who serves as a link between the DBE, DHS, and the US Army expects to install radios for communications, back-scatter x-ray machines to inspect vehicles, and ground sensors that will detect movement along the border outside of the official crossing point; all technology developed through the history of border control in the American Southwest (AFPS 2004). Between 2002 and 2004 ECCI was awarded US$1.5 billion in Iraq contracts from the US federal government (CPI 2005). The no-bid contracts for these projects are the new forms corruption at Iraq’s borders. The World Bank would argue that the establishment of secure and efficient border crossings will not only help the suppression of Iraqi resistance but also the recovery of the domestic economy. The AFPS announced that the US occupation plans to build more than 180 border forts in the next year (2004). These efforts will advance DBE plans for more than 251 forts (Global Security 2005). Because of this I suggest that these development trends position borders themselves as place-based sites in the geography of power. To control the places of the border is to govern the manner in which Iraq becomes networked with regional and global systems of production and consumption.Ideology
The last frame of analysis for this historical comparison of the longue durée of U.S. imperialism is ideological, or in other words reflecting the system of beliefs, attitudes, and values that guide society to maintain political legitimacy and class domination. Marx referred to this as the superstructure of society and saw it as emerging from the basic structure of the economy to support particular modes of production and the class divisions necessary to extract a surplus value from trade in commodities. The ideological underpinnings that the epistemic community of U.S. border experts carry with them rests upon a history of racism in the Southwestern U.S. It is very much concerned with the categorization of people not only according to their relationship to the economy but also to a racially charged White-State. This kind of ideological frame of analysis ultimately means the comparison of socially constructed identities across space and through time. These socially constructed identities correspond to ideological reference points of a social hierarchy. For instance, the political projects of Manifest Destiny, the Spanish-American War, and the War on Terror all re-inscribe negative characteristics to different kinds of bodies as naturally subordinate to white American male domination. Just as all “other business and interests are subordinated to…winning the war.” so too is the ideological superstructure and its hierarchy of identities. This means that identities are not static and exclusive; to the contrary, it is more accurate to view socially constructed identities as fluid and ambivalent because of their continuous contestation and relation to other groups in other places. Take, for instance, the practice of calling Filipinos niggers in the Spanish-American War, or Mexicanos as peons in the Mexican-American War, or Chinese as coolies in Manifest Destiny, or Arabs as terrorists in the War on Terror. These identities locate people within a social hierarchy justifying genocide, servitude, demonization, and control.
Examining the ideology which supports the U.S. role in establishing Iraq’s DBE may have important lessons about how socially constructed identities are employed, translated, and adapted in addition to the consequences of their circulation between the U.S./Mexico border and Iraq’s borders. Saldivar writes that “American identity is the “continuous movement” between places characterizing a new transnational “becoming”” (1997: 29). This idea challenges the notion that the U.S. Border Patrol is simply on a border-making errand in the Middle East. At this point we may ask, what does this situation mean for the American identity and what is in continuous movement between these locations? Kaplan asked similar questions of Manifest Destiny and the Spanish-American War to come to the understanding that U.S. imperialism “emphasizes the collapse of boundaries between here and there, between inside and outside, and the incoherence that the anarchy of empire brings to the making of… culture” (2002: 15). In this historical analysis the role of the U.S. in Iraq’s DBE should be compared to other instances of administering U.S. imperialism to examine what social constructions are employed and transformed in the process of speaking political discourse, securing resources and trade routes, ensuring class divisions and racial hierarchies, and using technologies of biopower.Conclusion
In August, 2005 Minas Mizra of Michigan plead guilty to several counts of alien smuggling. Minas and three others were involved in a smuggling ring that facilitated the movement of well paying Iraqis and Jordanians. The smuggling route first brought the immigrants to South America where visas and other documents were produced and then led through the southern US border (ICE 2005). This case motivates the DHS personnel to coordinate immigration controls at Iraq’s borders as a national security measure for US borders. The logic of escalation at work in the DHS automatically connects localized notions of border security with global border management. Whether surveying Mexican or Arab border crossers in either Iraq or the US the threat is perceived to be the same with equal consequences. Perhaps, the epistemic community of US border control can be thought of as Orientalizing borders; as in the production of authoritative knowledge about border management and the mastery of techniques to tame the frontierlands of the global borderlands.
The ultimate reason for this research is to explore resistance to the hardening of national borders amidst a global political and economic crisis. In particular, I want to undertake this study because I want to bring the situation at the U.S./Mexico border under a more critical light. I see this as necessary because of the standardization and normalization of this condition in other geo-political situations; Israel/Palestine and India/Pakistan, to name a few. In order to challenge these methods of “solving” social problems I think it is necessary to de-stabilize these strategies of bureaucratic control. In short I want to demystify the public policies of U.S. imperialism in the borderlands and pull back the proverbial curtain to reveal the agency of Empire. I view this task as illuminating strategic fissures for breaking state legitimacy. I also want to illustrate U.S. imperialism’s use of hierarchical categories to show their ambivalence and viciousness. My hope is that challenging the situation at the Southern border will also challenge the history of hierarchical categories and the role of borders as “marking” identities.Works Cited
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