February 2, 2010

Mexican War Limiting US Policy

The Mexican Drug War is a drug war in name only. Somewhere the war transcended drugs, sectioning them off into their own sphere while continuing to climb up the spectrum of territory and power. A war, plain and simple, rages 20 feet away from America.

In a drug war, when orchestrating a hit, a ground of armed men will collectively blast at their target after close observation and preparation; sometimes the hit isn't planned. In a war, an organized military unit will most often secure the rear, flank out, condense on the target, and withdraw through a calculated exit.

The second case occurred at a high-school sports party in Ciudad Juarez, site of Mexico's latest massacre. Authorities discovered through background checks that none of the 16 teenagers killed were connected with drugs. Many of them were exceptional students. The mayor, and likely the police, suspect the shooting was random.

But shock levels are so high that one wonders whether the assailants actually meant to send a message of random terror. And buried under the Juarez massacre lies further realization that “The Mexican Drug War” has become “The Mexican War.”

In a drug war the participants usually seek to avoid the law, only firing on enforcement officials when cornered or for emotional goals like pride, honor, and spite. In a war, participants intentionally target security installations as part of a broader offensive campaign.

The AP and Al Jazeera report in the bottom paragraph that another attack occurred 800 miles south in Lazaro Cardenas, Michoacán. Officials say, “heavily-armed gunmen riding in trucks threw grenades and fired assault rifles at the outpost, killing three people - a police officer, and a mother and her son who had come to pay a fine.”

In a drug war the participants might, but very rarely, execute simultaneous heavy weapon attacks across long distances. In a war these occurrences are routine, as they are in Mexico.

Los Zetas, a military organization, operates in both cities so it’s not unreasonable to assume they were behind both attacks, leading to another critical difference. In a gang war, the participants are usually civilians. In a war the participants are soldiers - and Los Zetas is a paramilitary army, a brigade of commanders and highly trained soldiers.

Under their command, the Gulf Cartel and its allies have demonstrated unbelievable tactics for a “drug cartel” beginning in 2008. Their vehicles and bodies are armored and marked with police gear. Armed with military-grade weaponry, they move in small unit tactics and operate in an organized command structure.

It’s more than likely that Los Zetas is training its foot soldiers to become real soldiers and we’re witnessing the results. An arms race among the other cartels could follow, meaning Mexico might in bigger trouble than previously thought. If that’s possible.

With over 2,600 murders in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico saw more death in 2009 than Afghanistan. Afghan civilian deaths cleared 2,400 in the entire country. 317 US troops and 863 Afghan security forces also lost their lives in Afghanistan, below the thousands of Mexican police and soldiers who fell in battle.

Over 7,000 people are estimated to have died of “drug-related violence” in Mexico during 2009. And the numbers only tell part of the story. Decapitations, mutilations, RPGs - these are manifestations of war. Juarez isn’t the most violent city outside a war-zone, it’s the most violent city inside a war-zone.

The point of this potentially redundant analysis is that America must start treating Mexico like Afghanistan, like a war instead of a drug war, by moving it to the top of national security. This needs to become one of Obama’s highest priorities because Mexico is handcuffing US foreign policy.

The US military has already realized and begun planning for Mexico’s potential collapse and aftermath. Concern lies in the combination of cartel armies and their influence over Mexico’s political and legal system. As the threat increases in probability, US commanders must sink additional resources into contingency planning.

Consider if America had two secure borders instead of a potential failed state containing 110 million people, millions of arms, hundreds of thousands of gang/paramiltary members. America would operate more freely throughout the world - militairily, politically, and economically - with a stable Mexico protecting its flank.

The question remains how. As previously mentioned Mexico needs to move up America’s list of things to do. Relatively speaking, Mexican chaos is a heavyweight threat to US national security compared to lightweights like Iran, Afghanistan, and Yemen.

Problematically US forces aren’t of as much use offensively during total war within Mexico. Several hundred thousand troops will likely be required to seal the US-Mexican border in event of an emergency, while a more limited amount would aid Mexican forces against the cartel armies.

US Special Forces will roam free, but the Zetas are no slouches.

Legislation may prove more effective with timely and informed governance. The White House and Congress have passed the Mérida Initiative, along with gun-control and narco-sub laws, but these motions can consume time. Gun laws have grown less useful as the cartel’s stockpiles rise.

The White House and Congress must move with the swiftness of post-9/11 legislation. This includes immigration reform.

Naturally a regional approach must be adopted by the entire drug chain, from Canada, America, and Mexico through Central America, to Colombia, Peru, Bolivia, even Brazil and Venezuela, the jump-off point to West Africa. Gauging by the growing calls for decrimilzation and treatment of drug use as a public health issue, America might be able to make its greatest impact here.

Today President Obama’s YouTube garnered more than a few questions on decriminalization. Instead of taking these questions in partial jest, afraid to touch the rail for real, he must engage completely as national security implications demand. The Mexican War demands new thinking, to the point that America could potentially use cartels as wholesale importers to supplement registered dispensaries.

It’s past the time to start thinking differently about Mexico.

As America heads into the 21st century, it cannot be weighed down globally by a potential black hole in its backward, one already creeping northward.


  1. This issue must be addressed with the swiftness you proposed. Especially as the hispanic population explodes in this country and garners more political influence. Although they might be the wedge that pushes the ball toward addressing this vital issue.

  2. The Latino population over the next 40 years will force America to deal with the totality of this problem, not so dissimilar to the tipping point of the Civil Rights Movement.

  3. I live in Arizona. Drug cartel wars, deaths, kidnappings, etc. are very well known here. Most of the crystal meth comes from Mexico, not your neighbors garage. Human smuggling is a major problem.
    I believe we will see a major new immigration policy coming very soon. We might also see American boots overtly on the ground in Mexico. Mexico might very well be declared a failed state in the near future. Their oil industry is in shambles and they are experiencing peak oil. Mexico will invite the U.S. military to enter their country, Privatization of their resources will begin. It will become a quasi 51st state of the union.
    Imagine what would happen if one "Al Quaida" team came over the border from Mexico.

  4. Yes, forgot to mention that Mexico's oil infrastructure would be one of the first targets. As America's second largest oil source the potential economic disruption is enormous. I'm not so optimistic that Obama will push immigration reform though. It was a big deal just to mention it in his State of the Union. Have a bad feeling that we'll wait until after an attack, rather than before, which will distort the process. We want to see pro-action, not reaction.

  5. http://www.cfr.org/publication/19752/significant_hurdles_remain_on_immigration_reform.html

    I can not remember if I have shown you this before.
    Here we have Jeb Bush and the CFR promoting immigration. Mc Cain is also for it. The repubs can push this through along with the dems.
    America is now in a "reaction" mode. Everything needs to be justified.

  6. No you didn't. At least Jeb recognizes immigration reform as foreign and domestic policy, not just a domestic issue. He doesn't seem to be saying anything too bad. Not overly focused on border patrol, weaves immigration reform into overall US policy. No talk about the war or decriminalization, but small steps. If the GOP takes back Congress in November maybe we'll actually see some movement.

  7. Agreed: It is not just Jeb, but if the CFR is behind this then it will be done. It is just a matter of time. I keep telling people we have not seen, or heard the last of the Bush family. But every one thinks I am crazy. As the world becomes more regional, it makes more sense for the U.S. to incorporate Mexico. Mexico, and Columbia is all they have left. LOL.