I hate posting half-baked posts -- especially those on big topics. And this post presents a true dilemma because I am not certain what is really happening in Mexico's drug war.
Whatever it is, something big is either on the horizon -- or it is already here. The problem is trying to find a sense of perspective and proportion.
We have all watched the various parts of the puzzle begin their concentric orbits:
- The first piece arrived cloaked in the iconic incense of a "Pentagon report." The United States Joint Forces Command issued its 2008 Joint Operating Environment -- a fifty-one page report that contained one small paragraphs (three sentences on page 36) identifying Mexico, in a worst-case scenario, as a state weakened by "criminal gangs and drug cartels."
- Then Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff piped up in The New York Times with news that he had ordered additional border security plans to respond to any kidnappings or killings that spilled over the US-Mexico border.
- And then came the ever-pessimistic American drug czar, General Barry McCaffrey, warning that Mexico was on the verge of becoming a "narco-state" in the coming decade.
The political reaction from bloggers was predictable. The less-than-stable left immediately started cranking out conspiracies that the Pentagon was preparing a full-scale invasion of Mexico that would finish off the half-effort of President Polk.
Not to be outdone, the we-should-have-kept-the-canal right answered with hare-brained dares that if we were going to invade Mexico, we might as well take Canada, too. Uncover these stones, and you will guarantee plenty of skittering fauna.
Putting aside the loonies, what do those stories mean?
Probably not much. The infamous Pentagon report recommends no action. To the contrary, it is at best a think tank piece. Chertoff's comments included action only on the American side of the border. For all of his bluff, McCaffrey was proposing an increase in monetary security aid to Mexico -- not a reenactment of Los Niños Heroes de Chapultepec.
The newspapers have really messed up this issue. Instead of offering level-headed analysis, the headlines have screamed disaster -- almost as if Chicken Little, Henny Penny, and The Boy Who Cried Wolf had taken over the editorial boards.
Having said that, most of us who live and wish to live in Mexico have minimized the dangers of the drug wars to our worried families and friends. It is time to at least reassess what all of this means.
After all, the acorn that bopped Chicken Little or Henny Penny (take your choice) on the noggin was real. It wasn't the sky, but it was a danger.
And, of course, the wolf that devoured the tricky little boy was a full-blown threat. I suspect the danger in Mexico is somewhere between the two for most Mexican residents.
President Calderón has challenged the livelihood -- and lives -- of some very powerful and nasty sectors of Mexican society. He has taken steps to root out corruption even in the political layers surrounding him. Such men do not go easily. The President is a heroic figure.
But the American government needs to be far more understanding of its Mexican neighbor. Even hints of American military intervention will be enough to undermine President Calderón's efforts. Money? Yes. Equipment? Yes. Training? Yes. Military forces in any form? Never. The thought of General Scott in Mexico City is not just a vague memory. History hangs like a Capulet carbuncle in the Mexican mind.
And that leaves me in the position of supporting a drug war that I believe will simply be a failure. At best, it will be a tool for the central government to actually take control of areas that have long been warlord fiefdoms. And when I say "long," I mean very long. There are areas in Mexico the center has never controlled.
We also need to remember that President Calderón is a reformer. While he fights the drug lords, he is proposing limited legalization of drugs. It is a policy far more sage than the American-Canadian approach of promoting some drugs (alcohol pops to mind) while criminalizing other drugs. Until that changes, we will continue to undermine President Calderón.
And this is the point where the soft center starts seeping through the post. None of this news changes my mind about moving to Mexico. It merely means, like every other resident of Mexico, I will need to be observant. And, as long as Article 33 is part of the Mexican Constitution, I will hold my peace.