As George W. Bush's reign wound down, more alarming judgments about the President's favorite neighbor, Mexico, trickled out.
First there was a report here, then an uncharacteristically honest remark there, about our narco-neighbor to the south.
In fact, there was a torrent of truth at the end of the Bush administration—to the point where bad news about Mexico's worsening chaos was reported with an uptick in urgency by the mainstream media, complete with punchy headlines like Mexican collapse? Drug wars worry some Americans [AP, January 18, 2009].
Even the Wall Street Journal warned of "a failed state next door". [Mexico's Instability Is a Real Problem, by Joel Kurtzman, January 16, 2009].
Most of the Main Stream Media [MSM] has long treated border porosity with Mexico as not a real problem but rather as something that has been blown out of proportion by right-wing crazies like me. But facts and assessments in the last two months have grabbed the reporters' attention because they are too dire to ignore.
Even tone-deaf Washington must have noticed Mexico's carnage during the last year. In particular, the more than 5300 dead in drug-related violence—twice the number of 2007.
Victims included ordinary cops, police chiefs, soldiers, journalists and ordinary Mexicans, as well as members of warring drug gangs whose made up the lion's share of the fatalities.
Mexico's national police chief, Edgar Eusebio Millán Gómez, was gunned down in front of his home in May. Since 2000, 45 journalists have been murdered in Mexico, with ten deaths occurring in 2008 alone. Many reporters consider Mexico the second-most dangerous place in the world to work after Iraq.
Much of the leaking bad news has come from departing Bush lieutenants who finally made realistic estimates of Mexico's prospects for genuine meltdown. (Nothing of the kind from the President himself however, who is reputed to have long-standing business connections with unsavory Mexicans. His extraordinary blind has caused me to call him The MexiChurian Candidate.)
"Calderón must, and will, keep the pressure on the cartels, but look, let's not be naïve – there will be more violence, more blood, and, yes, things will get worse before they get better. That's the nature of the battle."
"The more pressure the cartels feel, the more they'll lash out like cornered animals. Our folks know exactly how high the stakes are." [Emphasis added][Mexico's drug violence expected to intensify in '09, Dallas Morning News, January 4, 2009]
A U.S. intelligence official based along the Texas border has warned that U.S. officials, American businessmen and journalists will "become targets, if they're not already.
When outgoing CIA chief Michael Hayden left Washington, he focused his attention on two countries as trouble spots: Hayden sees Iran, Mexico as top issues [Baltimore Sun, By Greg Miller, January 16]. He warned that Mexico's worsening narco-violence could require more help from the United States if it is to be contained.
Given declining border conditions, Homeland Security boss Michael Chertoff put a few more cards on the table recently.
In his January 7th wrap-up published in the New York Times, Chertoff expressed a realistic view of Mexico, rather than the hollow promises of "partnership" one often hears from the State Department. The news here is the planning for a US military presence on the border in the case of a security meltdown in Mexico that would directly affect America:
From his telephone interview with the NYT, Chertoff said:
"We completed a contingency plan for border violence, so if we did get a significant spillover, we have a surge—if I may use that word—capability to bring in not only our own assets but even to work with" [U.S. Plans Border 'Surge' Against Any Drug Wars, By Randal C. Archibold, January 7, 2009]
Chertoff has expressed concern in recent months about Mexican violence. But the DHS contingency plan has not been publicly debated, nor has any announcement of it been made. Department officials said Chertoff had mentioned it only in passing.
It is nice to know that not all Washington officials are oblivious fools, although they often do a fine imitation as a part of the diplomacy expected in their jobs.
Pretending that Mexico is an excellent next-door neighbor—responsible and normal—must require Hollywood-level acting skills, mouthing platitudes like "It's always a great pleasure to visit your lovely country, el Presidente Calderon!"
Professionals in government are paid the big bucks not to roll their eyes at those words.
Among the most serious reports have appeared recently, one was issued by the National Drug Threat Assessment 2009, published by the Department of Justice in December 2008.
Its Summary identifies Mexico as a clear menace:
Another alarming analysis came from a once familiar C Capitol Hill bigwig, General Barry McCaffrey.
McCaffrey's analysis warns of deteriorating drug crime leading to a meltdown of the state, with the worst imaginable outcome for the United States...
"A failure by the Mexican political system to curtail lawlessness and violence could result of a surge of millions of refugees crossing the US border to escape the domestic misery of violence, failed economic policy, poverty, hunger, joblessness, and the mindless cruelty and injustice of a criminal state."
Another eye-opening report with a similar message of Mexican chaos flowing north was a Defense Department appraisal, the 2008 Joint Operating Environment.
A widely-quoted remark from the paper: "two large and important states bear consideration for a rapid and sudden collapse: Pakistan and Mexico." It went on:
"The Mexican possibility may seem less likely, but the government, its politicians, police, and judicial infrastructure are all under sustained assault and pressure by criminal gangs and drug cartels. How that internal conflict turns out over the next several years will have a major impact on the stability of the Mexican state. Any descent by Mexico into chaos would demand an American response based on the serious implications for homeland security alone. "
Additional millions of Mexicans entering this country to "escape" its narco-culture of violence and corruption would only further burden the US with their acceptance of criminal values. Remember that bribes are normal for Mexicans, at least according to the Washington Post: For Many in Mexico, Bribes a Way of Life [October 31, 2001].
Furthermore in Mexico, criminals are admired in popular culture, with a whole genre of music dedicated to drug smugglers (narco-corridos). But singers who desire a long life would be wise to avoid angering the wrong traffickers.
Of course, a big indicator of Washington's misgivings about Mexico was the Merida Initiative which will disperse $1.4 billion worth of equipment and technology south over a couple of years.
Members of Congress were likely made aware of the extent of Mexico's dangerous instability to encourage their "yeh" vote in favor of billions in spending to combat drugs. In fact, the details of the U.S.-Mexico arrangement took so long to work out because Congress was fearful of Mexican corruption and its potential for human rights abuses.
That money could have been more wisely spent at home, e.g. to better equip border sheriffs with improved firepower. But somehow the idea of simply keeping the bad guys out of the country doesn't appeal to Washington.
Now Americans have a new President who has offered few clues regarding what actual policies and actions toward Mexico that he might take.
Border protection was not debated during the lengthy (but content-free) Presidential campaign because it was too connected to the controversial issue of immigration—and both the candidates preferred open borders. Americans simply have no notion what Obama will do if Mexico blows up.
However, published reports and remarks made about Mexico in the last two months might enable Obama to formulate a sensible response should the worst happen.
We cannot know what Obama will do if Mexico descends into chaos. But we do know that he has been warned and given a written plan to follow—if (and when) he needs to.
Brenda Walker (email her) lives in Northern California and publishes two websites, LimitsToGrowth.org and ImmigrationsHumanCost.org. She is happy to at least have a change of flavor in the White House, from Mexichurian to Hawaiian-Chicago. Aloha, Dude!