Opinion Stop threatening to intervene in Mexico. Work with Mexico to fight the cartels.


The idea of unilaterally intervening in Mexico to bolster U.S. security has been gaining traction within the Republican Party, both in Congress and on the campaign trail. This possibility has become so entrenched in the current Republican platform that a majority of the party’s voters now supports it.

During the second Republican presidential debate, Univision moderator Ilia Calderón asked Nikki Haley, arguably the most moderate foreign policy figure in the 2024 Republican field, about the possibility of employing U.S. armed forces in Mexico to combat the country’s drug cartels. Calderón wanted Haley to be specific.

“This means boots on the ground? Drone strikes?” she asked.

Haley replied that she supported “Special Operations” in Mexican territory. “It’s how we deal with our terrorists. We will take out the cartels, we’ll take out their operations.”

This kind of rhetoric is dangerous. It sows deep mistrust on both sides of the border. And worse, it’s a distraction from real problems that can be solved if only the two countries work together. Mexico needs the United States’ help in dealing with its drug cartels.

Republican warmongering has stirred almost universal condemnation in Mexico. Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador criticized what he called “a kind of competition to see who dares to threaten Mexico, blame Mexico.” López Obrador also advised Mexican American voters not to support Republican candidates advocating intervention.

Mexican security experts agree that a punitive American strategy in Mexico would probably be counterproductive. “It wouldn’t improve the situation in the least,” analyst Julián Andrade told me. “Military operations could be precise and well-thought-out, but the drug business will not end by bombing fentanyl labs.” Furthermore, Andrade cautioned nothing guarantees that criminal organizations would not retaliate against the civilian population once hypothetical U.S. forces withdrew or drone operations ceased.

Still, a group of voices seems to be missing from the debate around U.S. military action in Mexico: thousands of Mexicans who have been victims of the cartels’ cruelty and violence.

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After the last Republican debate, I spoke with Lucy Ramírez, the owner of a beauty salon in California’s Simi Valley area. Although she has lived in the United States for 20 years, most of her family still resides in Guanajuato, a state in central Mexico that has endured an alarming wave of violence in recent years.

When we met, Ramírez was living through a nightmare. Her brother had vanished without a trace in the streets of Guanajuato. “He went out with some friends for his birthday, and we haven’t heard from him since,” she told me, tears in her eyes. “They say he was kidnapped. But we don’t know.” Ramírez’s anguish is familiar to tens of thousands of Mexican families. In the past few years, more than 100,000 people in Mexico have remained unaccounted for, most of them victims of forced disappearances.

When I asked Ramírez for her reaction to the Republican strategy for dealing with the same criminal organizations that had apparently taken her brother, her response differed from the repudiation and skepticism I have heard among Mexican politicians and experts.

“Life has become very difficult over there. Everyone is afraid because no one is safe. The cartels are doing whatever they please, and the only thing they want is to destroy everything,” she told me. “I think everyone should join forces and support Mexico to stop this. If the United States supports Mexico, I think things will improve. It can be done.”

In our conversation, Ramírez did not advocate an all-out American intervention on Mexican soil. Instead, she pleaded for support and cooperation. Mexican cartels continue the bloodshed in Mexico and fuel America’s opioid epidemic, which has cost tens of thousands of lives in the United States. Now is the time to discuss a way that the United States and Mexico can work together.

Is such a conversation possible? With Republican candidates demagoguing the deteriorating security situation to stir up their base, the possibility seems remote. But it is not impossible.

Democrats, for their part, need to do more than recoil from what their opponents are proposing. The United States needs a smart policy for tackling the cartels. That strategy needs to be binational and consensual, and, yes, it could include an increased American footprint in Mexico.

Vote-chasing bluster is not the way to build consensus. With both countries facing hard-fought presidential elections in 2024, the window is open for serious debate.

By Leon Krauze

Source: Washington Post