It’s no longer the war next door

Rising talk stateside about Mexico’s violent drug war has included a lot of buzz about potential “spillover” of the trouble — but it spilled over long ago, reaching far and wide. According to a report in December from the U.S. Department of Justice, the Mexican cartels maintain distribution networks or supply drugs to distributors in at least 230 American cities, from Orlando to Omaha to Anchorage. They control a greater portion of drug production, transportation and distribution than any other criminal group operating in the U.S., filling their coffers with billions of dollars a year.

Indeed, the war against the cartels is very much a Mexican-American one. Just take a look at this current threat assessment map from the National Drug Intelligence Center, showing U.S. cities implicated:

U.S. cities reporting the presence of Mexican drug trafficking, January 2006 - April 2008.

U.S. cities reporting the presence of Mexican drug trafficking, January 2006 - April 2008.

Violence has also been imported in no small quantity. Although the most sensational killings have taken place south of the border, brutal assaults, home invasions and murders connected with the drug trade have plagued U.S. cities and towns, particularly in the south but reaching as far north as Canada.

Buzz in Washington has also included the specter of Mexico becoming a “failed state.” Journalist and author Enrique Krauze says the talk is overblown. “While we bear responsibility for our problems,” he wrote this week, “the caricature of Mexico being propagated in the United States only increases the despair on both sides of the Rio Grande.” It is also profoundly hypocritical, he said.

America is the world’s largest market for illegal narcotics. The United States is the source for the majority of the guns used in Mexico’s drug cartel war, according to law enforcement officials on both sides of the border. Washington should support Mexico’s war against the drug lords — first and foremost by recognizing its complexity. The Obama administration should recognize the considerable American responsibility for Mexico’s problems. Then, in keeping with equality and symmetry, the United States must reduce its drug consumption and its weapons trade to Mexico.

Apparently this concept has reached the presidential level. At a prime time news conference on Tuesday otherwise dominated by discussion of the economy, President Obama reiterated a major border initiative unveiled earlier in the day and acknowledged: “We need to do even more to ensure that illegal guns and cash aren’t flowing back to these cartels.”

One way to help achieve that goal, it seems, would be to reconfigure policy with the recognition that the war on drugs as we know it is a proven failure.

Update: The San Francisco Chronicle reports about how cheap and easy it is to get high-powered assault rifles in Nevada. Many of them filter south to Mexican gangs by way of California. One of them was used to kill two police officers in Oakland on Saturday.

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