While the American media is engrossed in reporting baseless accounts of Israeli atrocities in Gaza, far more alarming atrocities are occurring just across our own border.
Unknown and under appreciated by most Americans, the Republic of Mexico is wobbling on the brink of collapse, auguring a humanitarian and security crisis for the United States which could dwarf any terrorism threat from the Middle East.
It is almost routine these days to pick up a paper and find buried on page 10 news that eight police officers were found beheaded in the State of Sinaloa or that 15 people were executed gangland style in Tijuana. The victims in these gruesome killings are often not wanted criminals or cartel operatives but simple citizens – a father and his daughter driving to school; a taco stand vendor setting up his stall or a school teacher preparing for the next day’s class. In 2008 over 6,000 people were reported murdered throughout Mexico as a result of drug related violence. Almost none of the killers have been apprehended or brought to justice.
Why is this happening? It is because powerful drug cartels are at war with both one another and with the Mexican government. The lucrative $50 billion drug trade in the United States is at stake and drug lords who were quietly accommodated by a succession of Mexican governments over the past 30 years, have grown powerful and restive. Developing their own militias and possessed of highly sophisticated equipment and training, they are more than a match for the Mexican army which only in recent years has stepped up a campaign to challenge them.
But it may be too late. The range of influence exercised by the drug cartels has likely already penetrated the highest echelons of Felipe Calderon’s government, the Mexican military, its judiciary and the federal and State police forces. This has and will cripple any serious attempt to confront the drug lords. With the growing ineffectiveness of government intervention, Mexican citizens in battleground states are finding themselves with very few good alternatives in deciding how to protect the lives of their families. Increasingly, Mexicans in these areas look to the drug cartels for protection and as a result fear has become endemic to modern life.
In such a society a culture of graft and corruption does not come into existence only because of greed. It develops from fear that the government cannot shield life from intimidating elements, and the need to side with those who ostensibly can. This may be a weak moral excuse for paying protection money or becoming a drug collaborator. But these are matters of life and death for many Mexicans, and moral questions are not so easily answered under such circumstances.
The consequences of such societal collapse on the U.S’ very doorstep are deeply troubling. The abdication of government oversight would induce the kind of mayhem that we, who live with a smug guarantee of stability, can barely fathom. As Mexico spirals into civil war, rioting, murder, rape, kidnappings and arson would become commonplace; armed gangs would wander streets of cities and villages imposing curfews and staking out territory; millions of people could be displaced from their homes as violence escalates. Eventually hundreds of thousands of ordinary Mexicans would stream toward the U.S. border seeking asylum, while overloaded boats of refugees would account for multiple drownings in the treacherous waters of the Gulf of Mexico.
Even more telling would be threat of this same struggle spilling over into American cities. And not just border cities. Texas, New Mexico and California have all reported the escalation of violence in Hispanic turf wars which are increasingly related to drugs. The enormous financial clout of the cartels may also have started to buy them influence and protection in U.S. political, economic and social circles, securing a U.S. beachhead for a new kind of mafia with the muscle to influence American foreign and domestic policy.
All of this is alluded to in a new report from the United States Joint Forces Command titled The Joint Operating Environment .
This report identifies both Mexico and Pakistan as failing states whose implosion could pose a significant security risk for the United States. In the case of Mexico the report hints at the eventual necessity of U.S. military intervention to secure the 2,000 mile long border and to eliminate the menace to American security.
It would certainly not be the first time. In 1916 President Woodrow Wilson sent an expeditionary force into Mexico to punish renegade bandits, led by Pancho Villa, who had attacked towns and killed American citizens on the New Mexico border. Villa drew the American forces deep into the Mexican hinterland, cut off their sources of supply and eventually forced an ignominious retreat.
Today the U.S. military and border police would need to play a smarter game. Crushing the cartels and restoring a semblance of order would require the development of guerilla tactics and a broad intelligence network that could employ Mexican disaffection with cartel brutality to its advantage. In the event the United States intervenes, the U.S. military should also not shy away from the creation of a buffer zone which will act as a base for intelligence gathering and spontaneous raids. Military training and aid should today be offered to the Calderon government but only on strict condition of a careful screening and a thorough vetting of the Mexican security forces.
While Mexico’s collapse is far from a certainty, ( as the JOE states itself), we lose nothing by preparing for its eventuality. That kind of preparedness gives us the opportunity to examine the rising waters on the other side of our border and the knowledge of what to do if and when the dam breaks.