Neocon Man Bites Foreign-Policy Dog—Atlantic Monthly’s Robert D. Kaplan says Mexico, Not Mid-East, is America’s Real Problem.
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Robert D. Kaplan, the Atlantic Monthly’s National Correspondent, has written several books about remote regions and has not been shy about urging intervention in places where an over-riding American interest might not seem obvious—he was a vocal proponent of the U.S.-led 2003 invasion of Iraq.

Kaplan is a New York City native with war correspondent experience and Israeli military service, so I was inclined to characterize him simply as an unusually muscular neocon/liberal.  Some of his more recent books about the U.S. military reveal a fascination with things that go boom.  But unlike most of the prominent neocons who continually call for American intervention in Middle Eastern morasses—Kagan, Kristol and Frum come to mind, among others—Kaplan has been willing to don fatigues and take his chances.  Even if the fatigues weren’t American.

Kaplan now writes a weekly Geopolitics feature for George Friedman’s Stratfor.  Stratfor (shorthand for Strategic Forecasting) is a subscription-based private sector intelligence provider in Austin, Texas—right on Sixth Street, Austin’s once-notorious downtown party strip.  The Stratfor crew seem a pretty serious bunch, though.  They were recently the target of a Wikileaks hacking attack, a Left-handed compliment to their importance, but appear to have recovered.

(One revelation: a Stratfor email reported that defeated GOP Presidential nominee McCain had refused to challenge Democratic election fraud in 2008 on the grounds that it would “our nation no good for this to drag out like last go around, coupled with the possibility of domestic violence.” See GOP Wouldn't Challenge Black Voter Fraud in 2008—Why Would It Challenge Trayvon Martin Lynch Mob Now?)

Stratfor reports show real perception—for example, about Russia, its coverage is refreshingly free of the reflexive hostility so often seen in American commentary.  And recently Stratfor posted a thought-provoking examination of "Britain’s Strategy", marred only by a failure to acknowledge that Britain has changed in any material way since 1945.

But for Americans concerned about the problems in our backyard, of which there is no shortage, Stratfor’s best feature is its ongoing, frequent and very detailed coverage of Mexico’s misfortunes—the growing drug-fuelled lawlessness that threatens the whole country, spills over the porous border into the United States, and in several Mexican states has effectively ended civil government.

Unfortunately, George Friedman—a Hungarian-Jewish immigrant who came to New York via Austria fleeing Communism—takes the “nation of immigrants” misrepresentation of America completely at face value.  He makes no distinction between the overwhelmingly British (indeed mostly English) colonial settlers who founded America and the post-independence immigrants, compatible and otherwise. 

This weakens Friedman’s writings about America and Mexico. Thus, in a January 2004 essay, The Geopolitics of Immigration, he recycles the nation-of-immigrants myth about America—and assumes perennial Mexican immigration is a given.  He claims the Mexican case is different because the Americans conquered Mexican territory, incorporating the Mexican residents, willing or not.  This is profoundly misleading—and irrelevant: almost none of the tens of millions of Mexicans, legal and illegal alike, now spread throughout the U.S. are descended from the few Mexicans then resident in the territory won in the Mexican War.  And Friedman gives no hint of seeing anything wrong with America’s southwestern borderlands’ being Mexicanized—somewhat in conflict with Stratfor’s focus on Mexico’s chronic violence and instability.

Thus I was pleasantly surprised by Robert Kaplan’s March 28 Stratfor essay With the Focus on Syria, Mexico Burns.  Kaplan clearly did some homework for this essay.  Could it be that Stratfor’s location in Texas, separated from chaotic Mexico by nothing more than the readily-forded Rio Grande, concentrated his mind?

Kaplan gets right to the point:

While the foreign policy elite in Washington focuses on the 8,000 deaths in a conflict in Syria – half a world away from the United States – more than 47,000 people have died in drug-related violence since 2006 in Mexico. A deeply troubled state as well as a demographic and economic giant on the United States’ southern border, Mexico will affect America’s destiny in coming decades more than any state or combination of states in the Middle East. [ links and emphasis added throughout]

After paying lip-service to the importance of Syria, Kaplan gets back to the point:

Precisely for that reason [the extreme risk posed by military intervention in Syria], that the U.S. foreign policy elite has continued for months to feverishly debate Syria, and in many cases advocate armed intervention, while utterly ignoring the vaster panorama of violence next door in Mexico, speaks volumes about Washington’s own obsessions and interests, which are not always aligned with the country’s geopolitical interests.

Surely that last phrase should win Kaplan a prize for understatement!

Kaplan speculates:

Of course, it is easy for pundits to have a fervently interventionist view on Syria precisely because it is so far away, whereas miscalculation in Mexico on America’s part would carry far greater consequences. For example, what if the Mexican drug cartels took revenge on San Diego? Thus, one might even argue that the very noise in the media about Syria, coupled with the relative silence about Mexico, is proof that it is the latter issue that actually is too sensitive for loose talk.

But Kaplan isn’t entirely satisfied with that explanation. (Neither am I).  He has an intriguing alternative, though—perhaps Mexico is simply too tacky:

It may also be that cartel-wracked Mexico – at some rude subconscious level – connotes for East Coast elites a south of the border, 7-Eleven store culture, reminiscent of the crime movie Traffic, that holds no allure to people focused on ancient civilizations across the ocean. The concerns of Europe and the Middle East certainly seem closer to New York and Washington than does the southwestern United States. Indeed, Latin American bureaus and studies departments simply lack the cachet of Middle East and Asian ones in government and universities. Yet, the fate of Mexico is the hinge on which the United States’ cultural and demographic future rests.

Robert Kaplan gets it!  And, unlike most commentators, Kaplan is willing to spell out what that means:

U.S. foreign policy emanates from the domestic condition of its society, and nothing will affect its society more than the dramatic movement of Latin history northward. By 2050, as much as a third of the American population could be Hispanic.

While not saying so in so many words, what Kaplan is telling Stratfor’s readers is that demographic displacement will soon render the U.S. government incapable of conducting either foreign policy or immigration policy in the interests of Americans. has been making this point for 12 years now. But we should still celebrate when someone as entrenched in the policy-making mainstream as Robert Kaplan is at least willing to point at the 800-pound gorilla.

Kaplan then discusses what America might do to ameliorate this ominous situation.  Here we part company, to a degree.  Kaplan too appears to believe that Mexico’s constantly spilling over into America is simply a fact, albeit not beneficial, of American life:

One might argue that with massive border controls, a functional and vibrantly nationalist United States can coexist with a dysfunctional and somewhat chaotic northern Mexico. But that is mainly true in the short run. Looking deeper into the 21st century, as Arnold Toynbee notes in A Study Of History (1946), a border between a highly developed society and a less highly developed one will not attain an equilibrium but will advance in the more backward society's favor. Thus, helping to stabilize Mexico—as limited as the United States' options may be, given the complexity and sensitivity of the relationship—is a more urgent national interest than stabilizing societies in the Greater Middle East. If Mexico ever does reach coherent First World status, then it will become less of a threat, and the healthy melding of the two societies will quicken to the benefit of both.

But if what lies across the Rio Grande is a “dysfunctional and somewhat chaotic” Mexico, then massive border controls become an imperative in preserving America’s sovereignty.  

Also, even in the most unlikely event that Mexico should reach “coherent First World status,” the last thing either a patriotic American or a patriotic Mexican should hope for is a “melding of the two societies”—“healthy” or not.  America and Mexico are profoundly different countries.  For the sake of both, may they remain so.  Vive la difference.

Kaplan then briefly outlines a limited role for U.S. agencies in helping Mexican authorities combat the cartels, noting that the U.S. government is often too self-limiting because of “strict interpretation” of the Posse Comitatus Act of 1878.  (Actually, nothing in the Posse Comitatus Act would prevent the deployment of U.S. mobile forces to America’s Mexican border to defend America—for a change. Defending against foreign invasions is what armies are for.)

Kaplan concludes:

Mexico, in addition to the obvious challenge of China as a rising great power, will help write the American story in the 21st century. Mexico will partly determine what kind of society America will become, and what exactly will be its demographic and geographic character, especially in the Southwest.

Robert Kaplan, an intelligent writer with a significant audience, is taking his first steps to taking the National Question seriously.  I’ll be looking out for more from him.

Henry McCulloch (email him) has worn a military uniform or two in his time, but they were all American.

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