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Memo From Middle America (Formerly Known As Memo From Mexico) | Wargaming Mexico—Will The U.S. Have To Invade?
In Mexico, the ongoing battles between the drug cartels, and between the drug cartels and the government, go on and on—and the body count continues to mount.
The statistics are grim indeed, and getting grimmer . In calendar year 2008, there were 5,612 Mexicans killed in narco-related violence, doubling the 2007 figure of 2,700.
In 2009, the killings began almost immediately, with the first cartel execution taking place about half an hour after midnight. On January 27th, Mexico's paper of record El Universal reported that since January 1st, there had already been 400 cartel-related executions. That's 400 in less than a month! By the time you read this, it's almost certain to be more. [En 25 días suman ya 400 ejecuciones, January 27, 2009]
Most of those killed in cartel violence are either (a) security personnel, that is, police or soldiers, (b) cartel operatives, or (c) both. Nevertheless, the violence has begun to spill over into the general population.
When I visited Mexico during Christmas vacation (my first visit to Mexico after having moved back to the U.S.) I didn't personally witness any such violence. However, in the metropolitan area in which I was visiting, there was a shootout in an exclusive neighborhood and another shootout downtown, in which gunfire endangered the lives of shoppers in a traditional marketplace.
Where is all this going? Nobody knows of course, but a number of analysts have tried to figure it out.
A recent scenario that has already attracted a lot of attention, including a response from the Mexican government, came from the United States Joint Forces Command [USJFC], which is the military command overseeing most military forces in the continental U.S. According to its official website,
"… the command helps national decision makers make informed choices on supporting operations, assists military commanders to identify potential readiness problems and develop appropriate strategies and maintain the nation's forces at the highest possible level of readiness."
The USJFC recently released its 2008 analysis, the "The JOE 2008" [PDF]("JOE" being an acronym for Joint Operating Environment).
This document, released Nov. 25th, 2008, contains an analysis of the world situation along with some speculation on possible future scenarios.
Regarding Latin America in general, the report has this to say (on page 38):
"A serious impediment to growth in Latin America remains the power of criminal gangs and drug cartels to corrupt, distort, and damage the region's potential. The fact that criminal organizations and cartels are capable of building dozens of disposable submarines in the jungle and then using them to smuggle cocaine, indicates the enormous economic scale of this activity. This poses a real threat to the national security interests of the Western Hemisphere."
Then, zeroing in on Mexico:
"In particular, the growing assault by the drug cartels and their thugs on the Mexican government over the past several years reminds one that an unstable Mexico could represent a homeland security problem of immense proportions to the United States."
Later, on page 36, it says that
"In terms of worst-case scenarios for the Joint Force and indeed the world, two large and important states bear consideration for a rapid and sudden collapse: Pakistan and Mexico."
After discussing Pakistan, the USJFC presents its Mexico scenario:
"The Mexican possibility may seem less likely, but the government, its politicians, police, and judicial infrastructure are all under sustained assault and pressure by criminal gangs and drug cartels. How that internal conflict turns out over the next several years will have a major impact on the stability of the Mexican state. Any descent by Mexico into chaos would demand an American response based on the serious implications for homeland security alone."
It's important to point out that the JOE report is not predicting a "rapid and sudden collapse" of Mexico. It is, however, presenting the possibility as a worst-case scenario. After all, the purpose of the report is to analyze the situations and set out scenarios.
Unsurprisingly, the report was rehashed and recycled through various media—and rejected by the Mexican government.
Mexican Foreign Minister Patricia Espinosa, responding to the USFCG report, (and another by General Barry McCaffrey) pointed out (correctly) that most of the violence is occurring in only six Mexican states, and that 93% of those killed were either drug dealers or security forces, which means that only 7% were "innocent bystanders". [Mexico Rebuffs 'Failed State' Claim, By Adam Johnson Financial Times, January 18, 2009]
That's all true, and helps to put the situation in perspective. But it's still bad enough. As mentioned earlier, the "innocent bystanders" are in more and more danger.
The highhanded impunity of the narco-gangs to do as they please is still unabated, as the gruesome murders continue to pile up. Massive corruption within various Mexican police forces frustrate the government's attempt to get control of the situation.
Mexico has a way of frustrating tidy predictions. Nobody can say with authority where the situation will wind up because there are many factors in play.
But one has to consider the possibilities, and yes, even consider worst-case scenarios. After all, it doesn't take a big imagination to guess where refugees from a breakdown in Mexico would be heading. A big hint—most of them would not likely be fleeing to Guatemala!
Plus, we don't have to speculate about Mexico becoming a security threat to the United States. It already is a security threat to the United States, with illegal immigration, drug trafficking and general lawlessness along the border. Moreover, Mexican cartels are already operating north of the border.
So while we can wish Mexico's President Calderon well in gaining control of the situation—and I certainly do—our policy-makers need to be working on some viable contingency plans in case a worst-case scenario—or even just a worse scenario than the current one—come to pass.
We already know that we need to get control of our border. That's a given, regardless of what happens. The best way to show Mexico and the rest of the world that we are serious about that is to put the U.S. military on the border.
I used to be against putting the military on the border, because I didn't think patrolling the Mexican border was the role of the military. Maybe it wouldn't be, under normal situations. But this situation isn't normal.
Since the Mexican army is already on the south side of the border (with repeated crossings by Mexican soldiers and/or facsimiles thereof) ours might as well be on our side of the border. It's only logical, and would stabilize the situation if done properly.
Coincidentally, after I returned there was a National Guard deployment to the border—sort of, but not really what I had proposed. It wasn't serious enough. What we really need is a massive, permanent, and serious joint force deployment on the border.
Such a deployment could be effective regardless of wherever else our military forces are engaged worldwide. That is, if we continue to deploy troops to the Middle East, which we are likely to do for some time, then border duty is good training. After all, much of the Southwest physically resembles much of the Middle East. And if, in the future, we withdraw troops from the Middle East, we can deploy more troops on the border. Either way, it's a winning strategy.
Another action we can take that might actually improve the situation: completely reconsider our narcotics policy. We need to take a close look at drug prohibition, asking ourselves if it's really the best way to deal with the very real problems of drug abuse. Such an analysis involves thinking outside the box and defying longstanding taboos, neither of which is popular in the political world.
On the U.S. side of the border, our government's "War on Drugs" has been an abject failure. It hasn't reduced the consumption of illegal drugs, and has endangered our civil liberties. Plus, it raises unrealistic hopes in what our form of government should even be expected to handle, in solving this and other problems. As Ron Paul put it so succinctly on the Morton Downey Jr. show back in 1988, "The government can't make you a better person." (For an entertaining video of the exchange, view here.)
Our War on Drugs bears many historical similarities to the Prohibition of Alcohol of a previous generation, which also involved Americans buying the prohibited substance from Mexico!
But at least back in the Prohibition days, U.S. lawmakers had enough respect for the Constitution that they felt the need to amend it in order to prohibit alcohol (the 18th Amendment ) and later to repeal prohibition with the 21st Amendment. Nowadays, our lawmakers don't even give a hoot about justifying the War on Drugs (and many other policies) constitutionally.
South of the border, our failed War on Drugs has helped to cause the current situation, by financing the warring drug cartels. It's no coincidence that there is so much violence in border towns such as Tijuana and Ciudad Juarez. Those cities are right next to the U.S., and the cartels are fighting over drug routes into the United States, their biggest market.
So what's the better strategy to help Mexico's war on the cartels? Is it giving Mexico weaponry, or is it legalizing drugs?
Let's face it; a big part of the problem is the enormous demand for drugs in the United States. It's not a simple question of evil Mexican drug dealers and innocent Americans. A significant proportion of the American populace is voluntarily buying narcotics. Americans are thus the principal financiers of Mexican drug cartels. And drug prohibition drives the prices up, providing yet more incentives for Mexican drug dealers and the cartels to sell more drugs and fight for their smuggling routes.
And with the increasing integration of our own government with that of Mexico, we pressure Mexico to go after the cartels when we can't even reduce demand!
"Our drug policy has led to thousands of deaths and enormous loss of wealth in countries like Colombia, Peru and Mexico, and has undermined the stability of their governments. All because we cannot enforce our laws at home. If we did, there would be no market for imported drugs. There would be no Cali cartel. The foreign countries would not have to suffer the loss of sovereignty involved in letting our advisers and troops operate on their soil, search their vessels and encourage local militaries to shoot down their planes. They could run their own affairs, and we, in turn, could avoid the diversion of military forces from their proper function." It's Time to End the War on Drugs, Hoover Digest, 1998, #2
That was in 1998, when the main danger was in relatively faraway Colombia. Now, our principal problem is right next door—in Mexico. But the analysis is the same.
And what about the weapons? While the drug smuggling goes from south to north, weapons smuggling, both countries agree, goes from north to south. The cartels obtain most of their weapons from the U.S. and bring them to Mexico, despite Mexico's stricter gun laws.
This is a sore point with the Mexican government, whose attorney general has complained of "absurd" American gun laws.
But if you have a porous border you can't start to get picky about who or what is crossing it, because a porous border will have illegal aliens, drug smugglers, weapons smugglers, and all sorts of other persons and contraband moving back and forth over it.
Which brings us once again to the need to get control of the border, which would help Mexico too in the long run.
The Bush administration, rather than defending and explaining our gun rights to Mexico, announced a project called Operation Gunrunner to share databases of American gun dealers with the Mexican government, potentially endangering our own citizens' rights to bear arms. And who can doubt that the Obama administration is continuing such a project?
Our ability to influence developments in Mexico is limited. But sensible and pragmatic drug and border policies would greatly improve the situation for us, and to a certain extent for Mexico as well. Drug legalization could potentially reduce the high prices and reduce the violence in Mexico. Controlling the border needs to be done anyway to stop mass illegal immigration. A serious U.S. military presence on the border could bring much-needed order and send a powerful message.
Nevertheless, we also need to be wargaming contingency plans for various worst-case scenarios. It's about having viable plans available for use in disastrous situations we can hopefully avoid. But at least you have the plans, in case the disasters do occur.
For example, what would we do if an absolutely chaotic situation in Mexico resulted in millions of refugees streaming northward? Would we keep them out? Would we just let them in to settle wherever they liked and further destabilize our own country? Or could we temporarily settle them in refugee camps on the border, to eventually return them to Mexico?
Is somebody somewhere figuring this out?
It may even be necessary at some future point to militarily intervene in some form or fashion in Mexico itself. This ought to be a last resort, but it can't be ruled out. Besides all the practical challenges, the danger of invading Mexico is that it would directly entangle our military in Mexican society with all its various factions and attendant complications. All sorts of no-win scenarios could result.
In such a scenario, the U.S. might actually wind up annexing Mexico. Given the current demographic composition of both countries, this could transform our population overnight (as if we're not transforming enough already). Annexing Mexico would definitely not be like when we annexed the mostly empty Southwest back in the 19th century. If we annexed all of Mexico, in reality, Mexico would be annexing us!
So we also need to wargame possible Mexico interventions with a view of getting in, getting the job done, and getting out.
If the U.S. ever does have to invade, I'd like to volunteer to serve as American Governor of Occupation in Mexico, for as long as such a position is necessary.
It's the least I could do. But I hope it never comes to that.
American citizen Allan Wall (email him) recently moved back to the U.S.A. after many years residing in Mexico. In 2005, Allan served a tour of duty in Iraq with the Texas Army National Guard. His VDARE.COM articles are archived here; his Mexidata.info articles are archived here and his website is here.