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.