Speaking at the University of Utah’s Hinckley Institute of Politics on Feb. 7, US Army Undersecretary Joseph Westphal—the army’s second highest ranking civilian official—invoked an “insurgency” mounting in Mexico. His talk focused on the Middle East and South Asia, but in response to a student’s question about strategic blind spots in US foreign policy, Westphal said: “One of them in particular for me is Latin America and in particular Mexico. As all of you know, there is a form of insurgency in Mexico with the drug cartels that’s right on our border.”
“This isn’t just about drugs and about illegal immigrants,” he said. “This is about, potentially, a takeover of a government by individuals who are corrupt.” Westphal said he didn’t want to ever see a situation in which “armed and fighting” US soldiers are sent to combat an insurgency “on our border, in violation of our Constitution, or to have to send them across the border.” (Salt Lake Tribune, Feb. 7)
Mexico’s Government Secretariat reacted harshly to the words, saying “it is lamentable that the functionary articulated visions in relation to Mexico that do not reflect the cooperation that both governments have been building.” (El Economista, Feb. 9)
The outcry prompted Westphal to issue a semi-retraction two days later: “My comments were not, and have never been, the policy of the Department of Defense of the US government toward Latin America. I regret that my inaccurate statements may have caused concerns for our partners and friends in the region, especially Mexico.” (Deseret News; SLT, Feb. 8)
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton similarly invoked an “insurgency” in Mexico last September. In March 2009 Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman Adm. Mike Mullen raised the possibility of US intervention in Mexico.