The news of Mexico’s drug war violence is finally starting to get the attention it deserves – primarily because it’s starting to affect American (and even Canadian) cities. Much of the response has even been positive, with a number of insightful editorials, and some initial attempts by politicians in border states to begin discussing the connection between drug prohibition and the violence. But not everyone gets it just yet.
At a website called investors.com comes the most confused editorial I’ve seen on the Mexican violence so far this year.
Now that Phoenix has become a kidnap capital, it’s official: Mexico’s drug war is spilling over into the U.S. The administration vows a strong response, but so far seems to be putting special interests first.
Trouble from Mexico is cropping up in the usual place: the border, a nexus of illegal immigration, human smuggling and drug trafficking, all of it interlinked. It’s all about illegal routes into the states. As they grow scarcer, traffickers’ war on the Mexican state intensifies.
The intensification of this war has had nothing to do with border routes. The intensification was a result of a massive effort by Mexican President Felipe Calderon to go after the cartel leaders. The resulting violence was an entirely predictable response to Calderon’s push, based upon the numerous times in the past that Mexico has tried to eliminate the cartel and seen violence skyrocket. The smuggling routes aren’t becoming scarcer, they’re being fought over.
The U.S. seems to recognize the gravity of the problem — or is at least paying it lip service. A recent Pentagon report cited a risk of a sudden collapse in Mexico if cartels win. A Homeland Security report vows to ready a response if Mexico’s war spreads here. Last Friday, the State Department’s global counternarcotics report called the cartels “a significant threat.”
But for a threat this grave, the Obama administration places it below other priorities. Yes, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano calls the violence “a top priority.” But how does that jibe with her response to the Texas governor’s request for more border troops? “We do not want to militarize the border,” she said.
The Obama Administration has been far from perfect in how they’ve discussed what’s happening in Mexico, but this is a foolish criticism. Considering that Mexico doesn’t allow American military personnel on Mexican soil, there’s not much that an increased military presence on the border would do, other than to lead to actual warfare in cities like El Paso.
This editorial is still premised on the archaic belief that the only way to defeat cartels is by killing off the “bad guys.” We know now that this doesn’t work. The only way to defeat the cartels is to cut off their profits. Collectively, the Mexican cartels earn roughly $1 billion per week. Once you kill a “bad guy”, there will be a dozen people fighting each other to be the next “bad guy” and get a piece of that pie.
Human trafficking is a real and serious problem, but it’s one that we’ll never be successful at fighting as long as we continue to maintain a drug policy that helps these criminal organizations remain untouchable.
The editorial goes on to criticize Obama’s attempts at resurrecting gun control legislation, criticisms that I generally agree with, but then it goes off the deep end:
Other Obama officials also send mixed messages. The new drug czar, former Seattle police chief Gil Kerlikowske, stresses “harm reduction” instead of tough action. Sounds humane, but it essentially expands cartel market bases by enabling users and expanding the buyer base for the cartels.
“Harm reduction” distributes new needles, legalizes medical marijuana and puts pot at the bottom of enforcement priorities. Legalization lobbies are happy. But cartels have one more reason to smuggle.
What? And this website gives investment advice?
First of all, if medical marijuana were fully legal, the cartels would easily be pushed out of the market by legal American growers. If marijuana were fully legalized for recreational use, you could massively reduce the amount of money being used to wage this war against Calderon’s government. And you could free up the resources to shut down human trafficking networks, which don’t have the same enormous level of demand that drugs do.
Second, this editorial is assuming that harm reduction techniques for dealing with hard drug addiction increases demand. That hasn’t been true anywhere in the world where it’s been tried. Not in Switzerland. Not in Australia. Not in Canada. Not in Holland. The idea that needle exchanges give cartels “one more reason to smuggle” is an idea so outdated that it would have been laughable a decade ago.
The choice of Gil Kerlikowski to head the Office of National Drug Control Policy has generally been positive among drug law reformers, but he will certainly find that various members of the media and the political elite will see no distinction between his moderate support of a public health approach to drug problems and the views of more outspoken legalization advocates. We’ve long been used to Drug Czars who never let anyone take a more authoritarian posture than them. Now that the country at our southern border is in real danger of succumbing to the downstream effects of that legacy, Kerlikowske should find it easier to advocate for a new direction.