Mexico needs U.S. help but not troops

September 1, 2010


The escalation of drug-related violence in Mexico — including the mass execution of 72 migrants last week — is moving a small but growing number of U.S. foreign policy hawks to call for a radical solution: send in the U.S. Army.

I’m not kidding. At first, I thought it was a joke, or the kind of overreaction that is most often confined to the blogosphere.

But, increasingly, populist local U.S. officials are seriously talking about sending in U.S. troops to end the drug-related violence that has cost 28,000 lives in Mexico over the last four years, and that occasionally spills over to the U.S. side of the border.

The U.S. military would help crack down on the drug cartels, and help stop illegal immigration and terrorism, they claim. President Barack Obama’s recent decision to deploy up to 1,200 National Guard troops along the Southwest border with Mexico has obviously not pacified them.

When I interviewed Sheriff Joe Arpaio of 4 million-population Maricopa County, Ariz., about his hard-line immigration views last week, I was ready to hear a lot of tough talk against undocumented immigrants, but I wasn’t expecting him to advocate sending U.S. troops to Mexico.

Arpaio, a darling of conservative talk shows who prides himself on having put 40,000 undocumented migrants behind bars and promotes himself as “America’s toughest sheriff,” lashed out against Mexican laws that prohibit U.S. troops from engaging in battle inside Mexico. During his years as a Drug Enforcement Administration agent in Mexico, he actively fought the drug cartels, he said.

“When I was a director there, my agents worked undercover. They were involved in gun battles. They worked with the military, they worked with the federales (police). ... We were operational, approved by the Mexican government,” Arpaio said. “Why don’t we do the same right now?”

“I’m not a proponent of the Army of the United States being involved in law enforcement, but we have armies right now in Afghanistan, Iraq. ... We go into other countries. Why can’t we go into Mexico with their cooperation?” he asked. Asked to elaborate, he said it would have to be done with Mexico’s approval.

Mexico’s ambassador to the United States, Arturo Sarukhan, told me that sending U.S. troops to Mexico “is a non-starter.” Another Mexican official told me that Mexicans are very sensitive about the U.S. military interventions that resulted in the annexation of Texas and California in the 1830s and 1840s, and that the presence of U.S. combat troops in the country would be politically explosive.

“The United States can continue to play a constructive role by stepping up efforts to stop the flow of U.S. small arms to Mexico — 80 percent of all successfully traced weapons in Mexico come from the United States — and speed up disbursement of $1.4 billion in law enforcement equipment under the Merida Initiative,” Sarukhan said.

My opinion: Talk about sending U.S. combat troops to Mexico is crazy. You would have anti-U.S. student demonstrations starting a day later, followed by a dead protester who would immediately become a national and international martyr, followed by resurgence of leftist guerrillas, followed by a cycle of violence that would lead to more bloodshed than the current war on the drug cartels.

What should Washington do, then? First, take a deep breath and think calmly. Mexico’s murder rate is rising fast, but as we reported in this column on March 24, according to U.N. figures it’s still about five times less than that of Honduras, Jamaica or Venezuela, and significantly less than that of Washington, D.C. The United States should not overreact.

Second, it would be a good idea for both Mexico and the United States to significantly increase their military forces on their respective borders: in Mexico’s case, to stop the drug flow, and in the U.S. case, to stop the arms and money smuggling.

And third, it’s time to start thinking about a significant expansion of the U.S. Merida Initiative.

Washington should give Mexico more helicopters, intelligence and — above all — technical assistance and training to create police academies that would help dismantle Mexico’s 2,200 corruption-ridden police forces, and replace them with more reliable ones. Everything, except sending U.S. troops.

— Andres Oppenheimer is a Latin America correspondent for the Miami Herald. aoppenheimer@miamiherald.com


7texdude 7 years, 9 months ago

First, Andres is right. We should not send troops to Mexico. The troops who just got home from Iraq (who did not transferred to Afghanistan) should get some much-needed rest. Also, how can we afford to pay for another war?

Second, Andres is wrong. Sheriff Joe is doing his job. I thought he was supposed to enforce the law. Sorry if you believe that every illegal immigrant has a right to here, but that is not the law. Illegal aliens should be shipped back to wherever their home is. That is the law. Right?

Finally, if I lived in Mexico I would get very nervous about more involvement from the U.S. gov't. Look at the mess we've made in our last two wars. Our track record with Republican and Democratic Presidents is not good. We should stay on our side of the border and stop the illegal traffic going both ways. That is the first step.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 7 years, 9 months ago

Actually, it's absolutely nothing like a football game.

independant1 7 years, 9 months ago

We've sure spent a lot of time talking the issue.

It's way past time to do something about the chaos of our open southern border.

avoice 7 years, 9 months ago

Yesterday one of the big headlines was Mexico's firing of 3200 federal police officers. Many face criminal charges. They've been working for the drug cartels. Problems growing in Mexico:

  1. Drug cartels are emboldened. They are enjoying increasing success in battling the Mexican government and feel no threat from the U.S. government.

  2. Mexican government officials from local mayors to the highest federal employees are on drug cartels' hit lists. Enough of them have been murdered/assassinated to significantly intimidate the rest. Hence, the drug cartels are assured of cooperation from those who wish to stay alive (and wish their family members to stay alive). Or you get courageous but soon dead officials, resulting in no consistency, no coordination, and no order in the towns and provinces.

  3. As the drug cartels increasingly take over strategic geographic areas in Mexico, they become more powerful, more organized, and a greater threat to the U.S. The signs already are clear in the increasing public threats they are making toward U.S. border towns.

It may not be appropriate to send in U.S. military troops, but it's becoming increasingly obvious that the existing Mexican government is losing control. The drug cartels represent a very dangerous, highly organized terrorist group. There is no difference between what they are doing and what Al Qaeda does. If we are worried enough about Al Qaeda and the Taliban to continue to wage war in Afghanistan to try to break their power, why would we not have a similar goal to break the power of drug cartels that directly threaten the physical border areas of our country?

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 7 years, 9 months ago

So, if the US can effectively seal off the border with Mexico and ship millions of illegal immigrants back to Mexico, where do you suppose all those unemployed millions will go to work? The cartels certainly appear to be hiring.

And while the effects of the insurgencies in Afghanistan and Iraq have been quite bad for US troops stationed there, if we invade Mexico again there will be an insurgency in both Mexico and in the US-- an insurgency that can attract volunteers from throughout not only Mexico and Latin America, but the entire world.

There is no military solution to this problem.

Paul R Getto 7 years, 9 months ago

Invasion of Mexico? I bet the military contractors are drooling over the prospect. Endless wars are good for the economy. Let's have Halliburton build dorms for the drug dealers; then they can get electrocuted in the showers like some of our troops in Iraq. That'll show 'em.

Flap Doodle 7 years, 9 months ago

Pouring more billions of dollars into the corrupt third-world hellhole of Mexico isn't going produce results much different than the last load of billions of dollars we gave them.

ivalueamerica 7 years, 9 months ago

The question is, snap, are you talking about the billions in aid we give mexico, the billions in trade, the billions we invest by moving American jobs there, or the billions we give mexico by the US being the number one consumer of their drugs?

Paul R Getto 7 years, 9 months ago

You are right, Snap, but we do have a precedent. We've been pouring billions, if not trillions, into hellholes around the world for decades. What's one more?

jaywalker 7 years, 9 months ago

Mexico's murder rate is "significantly less than that of Washington, D.C.t "

What the ..........? Did bozo write this column? No chance rate is less than DC.

independant1 7 years, 9 months ago

I'd settle for just getting a grip on the chaos.

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