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The War Next Door

Realigning Forces For More Than One Fight

By Michael Tanji | June 24, 2008

Fighting "over there" so we don't have to "fight them at home" was aimed at the Islamist threat, but a real-live shooting war is no further away than our southern border:

The intensifying warfare in Mexico between capitalist drug cartels and government troops has undermined the functioning of the government in that country, which has the second-largest population and economy in Latin America. Despite the deployment of thousands of police and army troops in the north and central regions, the powerful cartels have acted with increasing impunity, assassinating some top officials and controlling others through threats and bribes. The government’s lack of control has heightened concerns in U.S. ruling circles, leading to headlines such as “Mexico at the Brink” and “Mexico: On the Road to a Failed State?”—and to an increased role for U.S. federal cop agencies in Mexico.

While their role was not direct action, an important aspect of border security is drawing down, with a "date for withdrawal" pending in mid-July:

When the [National] Guard was posted along the southern frontier in 2006 to help the strapped Border Patrol, critics warned that sending soldiers would be an insult to Mexico and that innocents could get shot by troops trained for combat, not law enforcement.

But none of that happened, and now those worries have given way to fears that a bloody drug-cartel war on the Mexican side will spill into the United States and overwhelm the Border Patrol.

Such action could not come at a worse time, with violence and threats on either side of the border reaching disturbing levels; so much so that it threatens to leave one side of the border literally as well as figuratively lawless.

If one is prepared to argue that the war against terror is a success based on the absence of terrorist attacks on US soil for the past six years; what is justification for losing the war on drugs/immigration/sovereignty, which has been going on longer than the WoT?

Part of the issue is no doubt "humanitarian" in nature. It can be difficult to argue for stronger border security when in doing so you are painted as someone unconcerned with human need and suffering; painting Jihadists in a negative light is much easier even though the linguistic, cultural and linguistic hoops one must jump through to parse out Hirabah/Jihad/Islam/Muslim are no less complicated. It has been said that our fight against a minority of Islamic radicals ends up irritating wide swaths of the benign Muslim population, so in a sense one should not expect our struggle against the actions of wide swaths of the population that lives south of the US border to be any more successful. Still, the Jihadist threat is relatively small and distant when compared to the level of effort we are exerting to stop it; the threat at the border is here and now and long-ongoing . . . and drawing down.

Is a drug cartel a terrorist group? From an immediate, physical threat aspect one could argue that Los Zetas and their ilk are in fact more dangerous than al-Qaeda to the average American and most certainly to national security. Such adversaries have a long-term impact as well, with the blood-and-treasure cost to society soaring well past what any direct action on the part of a terrorist group has caused.

With the apparent lack of concern or at least enthusiasm for dealing with the threats on our own front door, one is left with a dismal hope that this is not what portends our efforts to combat terrorists. However, when you consider the costs and pace of the WoT it is clear that we are on an unsustainable path. Brute force only carries us so far, and even the most steadfast may waver when their tours abroad begin to approach double digits. We will have to conserve resources and one of the more attractive uses of our physical power is deploying it at home to deal with a long-standing problem of an immediate nature.

This doesn't mean we stop fighting abroad, just that we continue to fight smarter, not harder: Iraq being a good, current example. JDAMs and armored columns defeat the Saddams of the world; COIN and intelligence defeats the Zarqawis. I can appreciate the concern over the apparent degradation of "big Army" skills, so if it’s a new Fulda Gap that is sought, I suggest that one need only look in our back yard to find it.

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Having written often about the events in Mexico, the last being a few weeks ago in Mexico – Failed State/Failed Policies?, I must comment that as troubling as the removal of the National Guard is, the problems in Mexico (at least in my opinion) are alot broader reaching.

Frankly, I see the continuing violence in Mexico as both a terrorist threat to the U.S., and internally in Mexico, a brewing civil war.

Further, the role of Los Zetas and Gente Nueva are at the same time a militia for the drug cartels, a destabilizing influence on the government of Mexico, and a terrorist threat to the U.S. Each time there is an incursion into the United States, and there have been multiple incursions, it serves as a reminder of the importance of border security in this country, and also of how uncertain and complicated the drug wars are in the "big picture."

Familiarity breeds contempt, where as a direct (but distant) opposite arouses action. In fact the one facet that has not been tackled effectively in either Mexico or Afghanistan is the narco world, and in both they threaten to bring down allied systems, as well as American (and other countries)standards. A compromised society (ie US) is no excuse for tolerance. Sanction the countries in question, reward them with the equivalent economy they loose if in compliance from the surplus generated in the rest of the worlds economies (not only is money going to purchase narcotics, the surrounding costs to society are larger by comparison, even speaking only from a financial viewpoint). You also end up being the founders of a new, legal, independance. Which country would reject a well thought out and planned UN resolution on the topic ? Afghanistan, for example, would not be able to blame the US directly for imposing compliance, in fact it would be an ideal way to 'internationalise' the country and bring in much needed influence . Alternatively, after sanctions and failure would be a widespread crop eradication programme, and a more limited economic help . Too simple , or naive, or have we so much resigned ourselves to consumer dictate and rule ? Above all, try calculating the true costs as the situation stands (well worth an article in itself), they are absolutely staggering. Unfortunately , we so like to imagine and portray ourselves as the sole true representatives of a country , that we are often willing to undervalue such illicit intertwined parallel economies and organizations . That is naive.