George Friedman at Stratfor, a publication by current and retired intelligence officials, lays out the stark reality of what’s happening in Mexico right now, warning of that country’s potential to become a failed state. The root of the crisis is the growing influence of the cartels who operate an approximately $40 billion a year industry in illegal drugs, nearly all of which is consumed in the United States. Friedman sees a possibility that the cartels, who already dominate most of northern Mexico, could soon become powerful enough to usurp the power of the elected government in Mexico City as well.
The recent violence from Mexico has been staggering. Over a thousand people, including hundreds of police, have already been killed this year in fighting between federal officials and the cartels. The cartels operate with such impunity in parts of the country that they’re able to publicly advertise for recruits. Some Mexican police officers in the border region are even attempting to flee to the United States.
Friedman makes the appropriate comparison to 1920s alcohol prohibition, reminding us that during that time, the city of Chicago had a failed government. And had Al Capone and his men become powerful enough to defeat the federal agents, America could have become a failed state. Thankfully, America only allowed its doomed experiment in alcohol prohibition to last for just over a decade. Our current prohibition, however, has been going on for several decades now and has turned all of Mexico into an even more extreme version of 1920s Chicago with modern weapons.
Occasionally, we see some intelligent discussion of this growing problem in the traditional media (like this column from Neal Peirce in the Seattle Times last week). But in the political realm, there are no solutions on the horizon. The only thing being proposed is the Merida Initiative, a laughable effort to provide Mexico with $1.4 billion that the Mexican government might even turn down because of the strings attached.
I’m sure that much will be made over the disagreements between the Democrats and the Republicans in Congress over the Merida Initiative, but neither party has the political courage to do what Friedman explains is the only realistic solution:
One way to deal with the problem would be ending the artificial price of drugs by legalizing them. This would rapidly lower the price of drugs and vastly reduce the money to be made in smuggling them. Nothing hurt the American cartels more than the repeal of Prohibition, and nothing helped them more than Prohibition itself. Nevertheless, from an objective point of view, drug legalization isn’t going to happen. There is no visible political coalition of substantial size advocating this solution. Therefore, U.S. drug policy will continue to raise the price of drugs artificially, effective interdiction will be impossible, and the Mexican cartels will prosper and make war on each other and on the Mexican state.
I’ve been asked recently why I focus so much on the topic of drug policy when most of the country still considers it a political minefield. It’s because even though it’s a political minefield, that doesn’t mean it’s any less urgent to fix. Our current approach to dealing with the drug trade in Mexico is piñata policy, put on a blindfold and swing a big stick hoping that you hit something and a bunch of candy falls out. Many people think that we can do this forever, just pretending that it’s the best way while allowing us to keep from breaking free from the drug war mindset. They’re wrong. And the damage in Mexico (not to mention Afghanistan, Colombia, and in our inner cities) is the proof that they’re wrong. The millions of refugees from this war who have already fled to the United States from Mexico should be a good indication of that.
This country needs to develop a viable constituency that demands from the next American administration that we start dismantling the international drug war and to deal with the problem of drug addiction in a way that doesn’t bring a country of 100 million people to the verge of becoming a failed state. Yeah, I talk about the drug war a lot. I do it because we can’t afford not to any more.
[h/t to Transform for the link]