Our NAFTA and long-time partner is struggling to contain an insurgency that threatens to redo the political and economic landscape of Mexico for decades to come. A few days ago Texas Governor suggested that every option be put on the table to deal with this problem, including the military because we have the “same situation as you had in Colombia. Obviously, Mexico has to approve any type of assistance that we can give them.”
In official Washington, DC, recommending that the U.S. send troops to Mexico to assist in the battle against terrorist groups and drug cartels would be a heresy. Yet folks in DC should listen closely to Governor Perry. Perry should know something about this issue as not only is Texas the most directly impacted by the violence, but several Texans have died the past month in Mexico, likely as a result of cartel violence.
The U.S. has invested more than $1 billion in Mexico to train, equip, and assist Mexico and other regional governments contain the problem; however, to make a permanent dent more than money, arms, and training will be needed. This is a complex issue that will require long-term reform of the Mexican government, including empowering state governors and strengthening rule of law. To his credit, Mexican President Felipe Calderon has tried to give governors more powers. A recalcitrant Mexican Congress stuck in the past is making decentralization and reform difficult.
Mexico’s war has become a regional challenge, no longer can U.S. policy efforts claim that the “spillover” effect is not a concern, it is. Just ask folks living in El Paso, Texas right across the border from Ciudad Juarez. Central American nations are also struggling to contain the problem as lawbreakers seek safe haven in remote regions just outside Mexico’s southern border. There have even been reports that al-Shabaab – an al-Qaeda affiliate in Somalia – has used the U.S.-Mexico border to penetrate the United States. It is not just al-Qaeda; other terrorist groups are making use of the instability to try to penetrate the U.S. via our underbelly.
The United States is the largest source of foreign direct investment in Mexico. We also have strong cultural and historical bonds with our neighbor to the south. Beheadings (yes, it not just a Middle East phenomena), kidnappings, car bombs, mass graves, assassination of public officials, and drive by shootings of civilians are not good business or for long-term relations. Meanwhile and most importantly, Americans are dying in Mexico and the U.S. federal government remains tone deaf.
Mexico will not be able to do this on it own; 31,000 deaths during the past four years attest to that. If we can secure the Middle East, stabilizing the border and securing Mexico should be just as an important imperative. At this juncture, U.S. boots on the ground inside of Mexico may not be the most appropriate response but more needs to be done to strengthen U.S. and regional security. Gov. Perry’s recommendation of a more comprehensive approach that includes placing U.S. troops at the border should be afforded serious consideration.