Opinion: We’ve seen the results of shootouts between government forces and para-military that have left thousands dead, including several Americans. This time this isn’t half a world away in Syria, Afghanistan or Sub-Sahara Africa. It is on our own border, in Mexico.
The Mexicans need U.S. assistance, but troops on the ground will not solve their problems.
Many of the hawks in this country are calling for the United States to get involved in what they’re calling “a failed state.” Last month some of those worst fears were realized.: A drug cartel paramilitary force faced down Mexico’s own army following the arrest of Ovidio Guzman, a son of “El Chapo,” the Sinaloa cartel kingpin who was convicted in U.S. federal court and sentenced to life in prison last February.
Within minutes of Guzman’s capture, the Sinaloa cartel declared war and demanded his release. They went on a rampage of violence that left 13 dead. Buses, bridges, and toll booths were torched. The National Guard troops were forced into their own headquarters.
Less than four hours after the arrest, government forces capitulated and released Guzman. Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, nonetheless, declared afterward that his administration was “doing really well with our strategy” to counter cartel influence.
His statements as well as his policy of abrazos, no balas, “hugs, not bullets” seems ridiculous after this and must be music to the ears of the cartel leaders. Senator Tom Cotton (R-AZ), scoffed at this and suggested that the only way to deal with the cartel was with “more bullets and bigger bullets.”
Even in Mexico City, the cartel influence is heavily felt: The La Union Cartel was shaking down local business owners for extortion money. The business owners formed an association and begged the government for help. The leader of the association was assassinated. Murders and assassinations are up 70 percent since 2014.
Things in Mexico came to a head earlier this month when nine Americans, including women and children, were caught in a deadly ambush by suspected drug cartel members in Sonora on November 4. This prompted a series of tweets by President Trump about sending combat troops to rid Mexico of its drug cartels.
“If Mexico needs or requests help in cleaning out these monsters, the United States stands ready, willing & able to get involved and do the job quickly and effectively,” Trump posted on Twitter. “The great new President of Mexico has made this a big issue, but the cartels have become so large and powerful that you sometimes need an army to defeat an army!”
“This is the time for Mexico, with the help of the United States, to wage WAR on the drug cartels and wipe them off the face of the earth. We merely await a call from your great new president!” Trump added.
What exactly is the President suggesting? Increased intelligence sharing by the DEA, DOJ, and the FBI? Could the U.S. be willing to shift CIA and National Intelligence assets to track, and disrupt the flow of illegal drugs into the United States? Or did he mean deploying U.S. Special Operations Forces — including drones and the use of airstrikes to the Mexican side of the border — to conduct attacks on the cartels in their home turf? This is a scenario the Mexicans don’t want and the Americans shouldn’t conduct.
The Mexicans have a long memory of “Yanqui troops” in their territory. The latest such event was in 1916-19 where troops under General Pershing went on a punitive expedition in Mexico — much to the chagrin and resentment of the Mexican people. This shouldn’t be repeated.
Sending U.S Special Operations Forces to do battle with Mexican drug cartels would be a colossal waste of valuable assets and result in another Sisyphean war at a time when our troops are already engaged in several. There already are a number of United States law enforcement officers from the DEA, ATF, and FBI who risk their lives daily in support of U.S. and Mexican anti-drug trafficking initiatives. Adding military members on the ground won’t solve their issues.
The simple fact of the matter is that it’s not the inactivity of the Mexican government, or its ineffective ways of dealing with the drug lords, that is giving them their vast amount of power. But rather, it is the people of the United States and their insatiable appetite for methamphetamine, fentanyl, cocaine, heroin, and marijuana, which funds the drug lords and funnels over $29 billion dollars a year to their cartels. The biggest way to lessen the Mexican drug cartels’ power is to slow or stop the U.S.’s consumption of illegal narcotics.
And, on top of that, American combat troops aren’t going to solve the Mexicans’ corruption problems with the cartels any more than combat troops solve corruption issues in Iraq or Afghanistan.
The Mexican economy is growing and could be one of the top economies in the world by 2050 according to PwC Global. What can the U.S. do?
We can continue to improve our intelligence-sharing capabilities with the Mexican authorities. This can help them track and eliminate some of the illicit activities that the cartels are engaged in. Ending the long arm of corruption, extortion, and terrorism that the cartels use against local governments, courts, and police forces will be no easy matter, but we need to help Mexico strengthen its civic institutions.
Also, NAFTA needs to be scrapped and a new, better agreement needs to be worked out that will benefit both the U.S. and Mexican economies.
And, most of all, we need to look within us. While the people of the U.S. regularly denounce the corruption and violence on the other side of the border they truly stem from the U.S.’s desire for illegal substances. Drone strikes and Special Operations troops don’t need to be involved there. We need to clean up our own house and support the Mexicans in any way we can — short of committing combat troops to their territory.