After Donald Trump proposed building a high wall all along the U.S.-Mexico border, Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin, not to be out-trumped, basically said, I see your wall and raise you one, stating that it was “legitimate” to consider building a wall along the 5,525-mile U.S.-Canada border as well.
Well, I see both your walls — and raise you a dome.
That’s right. I think we shouldn’t just put high walls on both borders, but also a retractable dome over the whole country and, for good measure, let’s mine our harbors, too — as Lindsey Graham jokingly suggested, criticizing his wall-obsessed fellow Republican presidential contenders.
I know, Walker’s proposal is crazy. But, alas, the fears that he and Trump are playing on with this wall theme are not crazy: Some very big tectonic plates are moving, and people feel it under their feet. The world is being redivided into regions of “order” and “disorder,” and for the first time in a long time, we don’t have an answer for all the people flocking to get out of the world of disorder and into the world of order.
But being surrounded by two oceans and friendly democracies in Mexico and Canada, the U.S. is actually less affected by this new era. (The net migration flow from Mexico to the U.S. is now zero.) In fact, we should keep enhancing our economic integration with both our neighbors in ways that can make all three nations more stable and thriving.
It is why, when it comes to our borders, I favor only high walls with big gates — yes, control the borders but with more efficient gates that enhance investment, common standards, trade, tourism and economic opportunity in all three countries. Nothing would make us more secure. When it comes to our neighbors, Trump and Walker are making Americans both afraid and dumb, purely for political gain.
But if either man were running for office in Europe today, his position on walls everywhere would be getting a big hearing, as masses of refugees from the African and Middle Eastern worlds of disorder try to walk, swim, sail, drive, bus and rail their way into Europe’s world of order.
And this is just the beginning. That is because the three largest forces on the planet — Mother Nature (climate change, biodiversity loss and population growth in developing countries), Moore’s law (the steady doubling in the power of microchips and, more broadly, of technology) and the market (globalization tying the world ever more tightly together) — are all in simultaneous, rapid acceleration.
This combination is stressing strong countries and blowing up weak ones. And the ones disintegrating first are those that are the most artificial: their borders are mostly straight lines that correspond to no ethnic, tribal or religious realities and their leaders, rather than creating citizens with equal rights, wasted the last 60 years by plundering their national resources. So when their iron fists come off (in Libya and Iraq with our help), there is nothing to hold these unnatural polygons together.
Since World War II, U.S. foreign policy has focused on integrating more countries into a democratic, free-market world community built on the rule of law while seeking to deter those states that resist from destabilizing the rest. This is what we know how to do.
But, argues Michael Mandelbaum, author of the forthcoming “Mission Failure: America and the World in the Post-Cold War Era”: “There is nothing in our experience that has prepared us for what is going on now: the meltdown of an increasing number of states all at the same time in a globalized world. And what if China starts failing in a globalized world?”
Historically we’ve counted on empires, like the Ottomans, colonial powers, like Britain and France, and autocratic strongmen, such as kings and colonels, to hold artificial states together and provide order in these regions.
But we’re now in a post-imperial, post-colonial and soon, I believe, post-authoritarian world, in which no one will be able to control these disorderly regions with an iron fist while the world of order goes about its business as best it can with occasional reminders of the nasty disarray on its frontiers.
Your heart aches for the Syrian refugees flocking to Europe. And Germany’s generosity in absorbing so many is amazing. We have a special obligation to Libyan and Iraqi refugees. But, with so many countries melting down, just absorbing more and more refugees is not sustainable.
If we’re honest, we have only two ways to halt this refugee flood, and we don’t want to choose either: build a wall and isolate these regions of disorder, or occupy them with boots on the ground, crush the bad guys and build a new order based on real citizenship, a vast project that would take two generations. We fool ourselves that there is a sustainable, easy third way: just keep taking more refugees or create “no-fly zones” here or there.
Will the ends, will the means. And right now no one wants to will the means, because all you win is a bill. So the world of disorder keeps spilling over into the world of order.
And beware: The market, Mother Nature and Moore’s law are just revving their engines.
You haven’t seen this play before, which is why we have some hard new thinking and hard choices ahead.
Thomas L. Friedman is a columnist for The New York Times.