Earlier this week, Josh Marshall at TPM posted up some thoughts on Mexico:
Clearly, there’s a lot of violence in Mexico tied to the Mexican government’s attempted crackdown on its drug cartels. And the Mexicans are quite legitimately pressuring us to limit the number of guns being smuggled from the US into Mexico, which are fueling the fire. And if Mexico degenerates to the level of Colombia where for many years the key cartels have operated as rivals to the government — clearly beyond the legitimate government’s ability to bring them to heel — then that’s a big problem for us, given our proximity and long border, etc. But I keep hearing these stories about violence spilling over into the US, questions from whether we may need to deploy the US army to our own border, vague stories about death squads in the US. I’m not saying there’s nothing to it. But a lot of this has the feel to me of one of those stories ginned up by politicians and restless news outlets where there ends up being much much less there than meets the eye. Part of me wonders whether it’s a recrudescence of the illegal immigration hysteria of last two years.
There are three separate points being addressed here: (1) The issue of guns being smuggled into Mexico from the U.S. (2) The issue of Mexico’s inability to defeat the drug traffickers and (3) The issue of violence spilling over into the U.S.
Josh looks at these three issues and concludes that the third issue is being “ginned up by politicians and restless news outlets.” He’s right about that, and he later posts a link to a good piece in the Texas Observer about how the media is over-hyping the level of violence on the American side of the border. But the reality is that it’s both the first and third points that are being “ginned up by politicians and restless news outlets.”
Recently, a number of politicians and news outlets have been claiming that 90 percent of the guns that get used by Mexican drug traffickers come from the U.S. In actuality, that figure is wildly inaccurate. And Obama repeated the mythical percentage this week when meeting with Mexican President Calderon.
A certain amount of guns do cross the border from the U.S. into Mexico, and it’s possible that the amount of high-powered weapons bought on the illegal black market from the U.S. is higher than we can accurately measure, but to say that the flow of guns is “fueling the fire” in Mexico’s drug war is buying into a large amount of spin. What’s fueling the fire in Mexico is not the weaponry itself, but the money that the drug traffickers are making that allows them to spend so much money on weapons.
Radley Balko, in a column this week in The Daily Beast, gets to the heart of what’s going wrong in Mexico:
When Barack Obama visits Mexico today, the drug war, and the violence it has spawned south of the border, is expected to dominate the agenda. Since 2006, more than 10,000 people have been murdered in Mexico as a direct consequence of the drug trade. This bloody outbreak began when, with the blessing of and funding from the U.S. government, Mexican President Felipe Calderon ordered the Mexican military to aggressively crack down on the drug cartels. Such crackdowns often ratchet up the level of violence, as the elimination of one major drug distributor provokes those who remain to war over his territory. That’s a pattern as old and predictable as Prohibition itself, yet politicians never seem to learn.
Last month, when Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visited Mexico, she expressed gave concern over the escalating violence… and then heaped praise on Calderon’s crackdown, promising to support it with more funding and more military hardware. Obama appears poised to say much the same thing. According to a recent preview of his trip in The Washington Post, the president is expected to promise swifter delivery of drug-war aid and increased efforts by the U.S. to stop the flow of American weapons to Mexico. But the best solution to what’s plaguing Mexico right now is the one topic that will almost assuredly be off the table: legalizing marijuana. Marijuana makes up 60 to 70 percent of the Mexican drug trade. Lifting prohibitions on it in the United States would eradicate a major source of funds for the cartels.
I’m not saying that the first and third issues mentioned above – guns traveling across south of the border and increased violence north of the border – aren’t happening at all. What’s happening is that politicians and media outlets are using both of these issues as distractions in order to avoid dealing with the central issue that Balko is discussing right there. This is a problem of organized crime, and the fuel for that fire is the billions of dollars (I’ve seen various estimates of between $10 billion to $100 billion per year) that Americans spend on drugs. It’s not going to be solved by stricter gun control measures. And sending law enforcement to secure the border would only escalate the amount of violence in our border communities. The only way to solve this problem is to cut off the drug trafficker’s income. But that’s something that Obama and a large part of the news media still can’t bring themselves to regard as a serious issue.