U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton travelled to Mexico on March 23 to lead a high-level security team in meetings with top Mexican officials to discuss the country’s war against the drug cartels. The size and level of Clinton’s all-star team at the meetings, which included Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, is an indication of how much attention violence in Mexico is receiving in the Obama administration right now. The March 14 shooting deaths of three people connected to the U.S. consulate in Ciudad Juárez certainly helped to raise the profile of the situation.
In Mexico, Secretary Clinton’s meeting with President Felipe Calderón and his security team was surely welcomed by some and decried by others. Given the United States’ history of interventions in Mexico both military and political, many in Mexico discard out of hand any cooperation proposed by the neighbor to the north as a subterfuge to cover ill-defined but surely nefarious ulterior designs. While this perception emerged for good reason, we feel that under the current circumstances, the question of intent is now academic. While many political leaders in Mexico look for ways to spin the drug violence for partisan gain, the cartels continue to act with near impunity. With executions and home invasions related to drug trafficking taking place in Atlanta, Phoenix and other U.S. cities, the cartels are now a domestic security threat in the United States, not just someone else’s problem in one of those other countries.
The U.S. government has spent the past thirty years throwing money at interdiction while voraciously navel-gazing in the face of unbridled domestic consumption of drugs such as cocaine, heroin and metamfetamine (and forgive us, but we will be an absolute monkey’s uncle if no member of Secretary Clinton’s high level security team, including Secretary Clinton herself, has never smoked a joint or huffed a rail at some point in their lives). Remember “Just Say No”? OK. So really, far from obsessing about how to further abuse Mexico, we feel that the U.S. government has failed to give sufficient attention to Mexico in recent years, considering the substantial economic and social importance of Mexico to the United States. Will the Obama administration’s sudden Cortéz-like discovery of Mexico be a case of too little, too late? Perhaps, but in this case we feel that “better late than never” is more appropriate. The long-entrenched susceptibility to corruption among Mexico’s law enforcement agencies, military and political class makes President Calderón’s domestic allies in the fight against drug trafficking undependable at best, and the results are splashed across the front pages every morning. If it takes greater cooperation – or intervention, if you prefer – by the United States to help Mexico achieve rule of law, well, then unfortunately, we made our petate and now we’ll have to lie on it.