Mexico reacts to ominous Pentagon report 鈥攁s pundits plug military aid

Mexican Exterior Secretary Patricia Espinosa reacted Jan. 15 to the recent US Joint Forces Command report describing Mexico and Pakistan as “weak and failing states,” telling reporters that most of the murders in the escalating narco wars have been between drug traffickers, and half have been concentrated in the cities of Ju谩rez, Tijuana, Culiac谩n and Chihuahua. “Mexico is not a failed state,” she said. (NYT, Jan. 16) Similar points were made by Enrique Hubbard Urrea, Mexico’s consul general in Dallas, in a meeting with the Dallas Morning News editorial board, where he actually boasted improvement, asserting that the Mexican government “has won” the war against the drug cartels in certain areas, including Nuevo Laredo. (DMN, Jan. 16)

But as President-elect Barack Obama and President George Bush met Jan. 12-3 in Washington with Mexican President Felipe Calder贸n, the former US Drug Czar, Gen. (ret.) Barry McCaffrey, warned that Mexico is on the verge of becoming a “narco-state.” McCaffrey, who participated in a three-day meeting last month in Mexico of the International Forum of Intelligence and Security Specialists, an advisory body to Mexican federal law enforcement, issued a report to West Point’s Department of Social Sciences, where he serves as an adjunct professor of international affairs.

McCaffrey told a Washington press conference: “Mexico is on the edge of the abyss鈥攊t could become a narco-state in the coming decade. Chronic drug consumption in Mexico has doubled since 2002 as has cocaine use鈥攚hile US cocaine consumption has dropped by 70% in the past two decades. An estimated 5% of the Mexican population now consumes illegal drugs. None the less, 90% of all U.S. cocaine transits Mexico, and Mexico is also the dominant source of methamphetamine production for the US market. It is time to deflate the myth that US demand alone fuels Mexican drugs. However, President Calder贸n and Mexico’s senior leadership have launched a serious attempt to reclaim the rule of law from the chaos of the drug cartels. President Calder贸n has also for the first time boldly used the tool of extradition to the US, sending 83 major drug criminals north.”

McCaffrey called for increased US assistance to Mexico to confront the threat of drug-related violence: “Mexican law enforcement and soldiers face heavily armed drug gangs with high-powered military automatic weapons. 90% of these weapons are smuggled across the US border. Yet the United States has provided only modest support to the Mexican government to date鈥攖he $400 million/year M茅rida Initiative.” McCaffrey called that “a drop in the bucket compared to what was spent in Iraq and Afghanistan ($700 billion to date). We cannot afford to have a narco-state as a neighbor.” (Robert Weiner Associates press release via NewsBlaze, Jan. 15)

Also weighing in this week was Joel Kurtzman, senior fellow at the Milken Institute, who warned in a Jan. 16 Wall Street Journal editorial, “Mexico’s Instability Is a Real Problem,” that “Mexico is at risk of becoming a failed state” and that “defense planners liken the situation to that of Pakistan, where wholesale collapse of civil government is possible.” Kurtzman explicitly invoked the threat of destabilization to the US Southwest:

It may only be a matter of time before the drug war spills across the border and into the US. To meet that threat, Michael Chertoff, the outgoing secretary for Homeland Security, recently announced that the U.S. has a plan to “surge” civilian and possibly military law-enforcement personnel to the border should that be necessary…

Thanks to Mexico’s retarded economic growth, millions of Mexicans have illegally moved to the U.S. to find work. Unless the violence can be reversed, the U.S. can anticipate that the flow across the border will continue.

To his credit, Mexico’s President Felipe Calder贸n has deployed 45,000 members of his military and 5,000 federal police to fight drug traffickers. This suggests that he is taking the violence and the threat to civil government seriously…

For more than a century, Mexico and the U.S. have enjoyed friendly relations and some degree of economic integration. But if Mexico’s epidemic of violence continues, that relationship could end if the US is forced to surge personnel to the border.

Former US House Speaker Newt Gingrich joined the chorus, telling a meeting of business leaders in Newport Beach, CA: “We have to rethink our entire strategy for working with Mexico. The war that鈥檚 under way in Mexico is an enormous national security threat to the US. If we allow the drug dealers to win we will have a nightmare on our southern border and no amount of fence and no amount of national security would compensate for the collapse of Mexico.” (Orange County Business Journal, Jan. 13)

On Jan. 11, the day before Calder贸n arrived in Washington, Gingrich told ABC’s “This Week with George Stephanopoulos” (via the Republican “There is a war underway in Mexico. More people were killed in Mexico in 2008 than were killed in Iraq. It is grossly under-covered by the American media. It鈥檚 is on our border. It has the potential to extend into our country side. It鈥檚 a very serious problem, and we have managed to neglect it to a point – and we are fueling it because it is paid for by our drug money. The illegal narcotics teams in Mexico are in a direct civil war with the government in which they are killing the police, killing judges, killing the army鈥 surprised that no one in the American system is looking at it very much. It鈥檚 a very serious problem.”

(Iraq Body Count puts the number of civilian deaths alone in Iraq last year at between 8,315 and 9,028, compared to 22,671鈥24,295 in 2007 and 25,774鈥27,599 in 2006. The Mexican daily El Universal reported Jan. 3 that according to its tally, there were 5,612 killings related to organized crime in Mexico last year鈥攖he highest figure since it started keeping track four years ago.)

Calder贸n, who began the week in Washington, ended it in Panama City, for a regional anti-crime summit with the leaders of Colombia, Panama and Guatemala, where he called for a multinational pact to combat the drug cartels. (El Universal, Jan. 16)

See our last posts on Mexico’s narco wars, the M茅rida Initiative and the struggle for the border.

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