Environment

A War With No End

Collide-a-ScapeBy Keith KloorFeb 24, 2010 7:48 PM

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I'm all for the U.S. improving avenues of cooperation with Mexico, especially if that helps ameliorate the miserable conditions of border communities. But in this post over at Natural Security, Will Rogers overreaches when he suggests that environmental initiatives with Mexico aids U.S. national security interests along the southern border. That can hardly be the case when the border remains a violent battleground, in large part because the U.S. government stubbornly clings to a futile, bankrupt policy: the War on Drugs. Let me back up a minute. In his post, Rogers discusses

an ongoing bilateral, interagency effort that includes the U.S. Northern Command [NORTHCOM] the Environmental Protections Agency (EPA) and several U.S. and Mexican state and federal agencies around environmental preparedness, protection and response along the southern border.

Again, this is all good stuff, which hopefully will improve the heavily degraded environment along the U.S.-Mexican border. Here's the additional upside that Will envisions:

Such sustained engagements have the ability to professionalize Mexico's first responders, build cross-border good will and help assuage some of the tensions associated with one of the many laundry list of issues that continue to undermine stability in Mexico (e.g., drug trafficking) "“ a country whose national security is inextricably linked with ours.

But drug trafficking is not just one of the "many" issues--it is the premier one. Just consider the hook that Rogers uses for his post, this Washington Post story, which reports:

For the first time, U.S. officials plan to embed American intelligence agents in Mexican law enforcement units to help pursue drug cartel leaders and their hit men operating in the most violent city in Mexico, according to U.S. and Mexican officials.

So the U.S. is going to double down on Mexico's whack-a-drug cartel member strategy. To see how that's faring, let's scroll down a bit in the WaPo story:

Since his inauguration three years ago, Calderón has pursued a U.S.-backed strategy of relying on the Mexican military to confront the cartels fighting for dominance in the billion-dollar corridors to the U.S. drug market. The Mexican troops, who lack law enforcement training or investigative abilities, have made record numbers of arrests, but few of the detained have gone to trial. Instead, the military has been accused of human rights abuses -- coerced confessions, illegal detention, unlawful searches.

Hmm. Human rights abuses, coerced confessions, illegal detentions...I feel like I heard about that somewhere else, in another part of the world, until a change in Administration policy decided to go in a different direction. But I digress. Let's get back to how that tip of the spear approach is working out in Mexico:

According to U.S. and Mexican officials, the municipal police cannot be trusted, nor can they operate on their own. One U.S. official said a local police chief was caught briefing his cartel bosses via cellphone immediately after planning sessions. "This is an enormous mess. It is now starting to hurt Calderón politically. He cannot point to any success. And he is running out of time," said Jorge Castañeda, a former Mexican foreign minister and now a professor at New York University.

Oh, but here in the U.S. we don't have that problem. Time just stands still, while a broken, failed policy marches on. So if Calderón pays a political price, then it will be up to his successor to convince the U.S. that it should rethink it's own war on drugs. Because guess what: we don't have that debate in this country. And yes, at some point, if Mexico unravels because of its own internal rot and corruption, that's a national security problem for the U.S. No well intentioned environmental initiatives between the U.S and Mexico will stop that fire from burning out of control. That's because the fuel that feeds the illicit, immensely profitable drug trade is demand from American consumers. U.S. policy makers that keep funding the war on drugs are just fanning the flames.

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