General Mark A. Milley, Outgoing Joint Chiefs Chairman, Has Said It Is an Inappropriate Idea for the Military To Enter What Is a Law Enforcement Issue.
One reason to follow presidential campaigns even from afar is to pick up on what the emerging themes say about our perceived values. It’s why the culture wars and angry backlash to high prices take on political weight.
Among the Republican candidates, there’s a continuing, growing favorite cause spreading – to bomb or otherwise invade Mexico to wipe out drug and smuggling cartels.
Donald Trump says he is committed to declare war and defeat the cartels, including a “full naval embargo” on them. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis promised to deploy the U.S. military against cartels in Mexico and has suggested executing migrants who carry drugs. Sen. Tim Scott, R, S.C, says he wants to use “the world’s greatest military” to solve the problem.
In the House, Dan Crenshaw, R-Texas, and Mike Waltz, R-Fla., have bills seeking authorization for the use of military force to “put us at war with the cartels.” Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., says he is open to sending U.S. troops into Mexico to target drug lords even without that nation’s permission. There are bills to label cartels as terrorist organizations.
A recent poll found strong support for military action among self-identified GOP primary voters.
Whether it is to solve fentanyl or interfere with human smuggling, the bomb Mexico refrain—once an idea limited to the extreme fringe — is taking hold in Republican leadership opinions that remain a lot more about hot air than executable proposal.
The Mexican president, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, openly opposes U.S. military involvement in his country, as does Democrat Joe Biden, who basically says law enforcement agencies have been given a go-ahead to target cartels without use of U.S. troops. For the military, figures like Gen. Mark A. Milley, outgoing Joint Chiefs chairman, have said it is an inappropriate idea for the military to enter what is a law enforcement issue.
Fentanyl has been blamed for more than 71,000 U.S. deaths a year, and the Drug Enforcement Agency has assessed repeatedly that most fentanyl is being distributed by two Mexican cartels who produce it at secret labs with chemicals sourced from China. According to former Secretary of Defense Mark Esper, Trump considered He using missiles to take out drug labs, but backed away because of the legal complications and fears that bombing Mexico could lead to increased asylum claims at the southern border. Now Trump has rekindled war on cartels talk, promising in a video that, if reelected, he would “order the Department of Defense to make appropriate use of special forces, cyber warfare, and other overt and covert actions to inflict maximum damage on cartel leadership, infrastructure and operations.”
Hmm. The very people who find that the war in Europe is overly taxing on American resources want to tackle multiple underground criminal syndicates with missiles and troops in violation of international law and unclear objectives. What could go wrong?
Consider the Problems
The more non-political mind suggests there are several issues raised by these belligerent campaign promises, captured in a Washington Post column by Fareed Zakaria, who calls the whole idea “delusional.”
First, he notes, sending in troops would be an act of war against Mexico. Won’t there be a military response and a rise in public anti-Americanism? Do Republicans think that Mexico just invites missile attacks? Would it be too much to ask candidates at least to acknowledge there may be a legal problem or two here?
Second, an invasion or military attack is not likely to work. The U.S. Northern Command assesses that 30 to 35 percent of Mexican territory is ungoverned, giving space for the drug cartels to roam free with their massive militias. And in Afghanistan, over 20 years the U.S. military was unable to stop the drug trade.
Third, large-scale action against the cartels likely would unleash instability across the region and in the United States, with cartels shifting production across borders. In addition, such action in southern Mexico would prompt civilians to flee in mass – towards the United States.
“You would think that we would have some understanding of the unintended consequences of military interventions after Iraq and Afghanistan. Millions of migrants have been trying to enter the United States; imagine what the numbers would look like if there were a bombing campaign in southern Mexico. Armed gangs would disperse and try to find ways to hide in smaller numbers, including by crossing the border. Instead of exporting the violence to Mexico, we would bring the war to America,” says Zakaria.
Lastly, of course, is that all this is about supply – not the insatiable and continuing demand in the United States for serious drugs, including fentanyl. Despite government programs and deaths, we see increasing usage numbers, a huge volume of drug-related arrests and imprisonments, and endless street crimes and corruption related to drugs.
It is easier to ballyhoo about waging war on cartels than to deal with building stable societies that deal sensibly with drugs on every level.