For starters, security matters aside, Congress should never have passed and President Obama should never have signed legislation banning Mexican truckers, which not only violated a treaty but immediately inspired new Mexican tariffs on US products. That's pure economic lunacy, ignoring his own public advice on free trade by crawling into some protectionist hole at a time when the economy's retracting. Mexico Trucker understatedly calls this a "small and dangerous spat." Certainly not a good, early sign the Administration has a grasp on US economic interests regarding Mexico.
Obama has received high marks from drug policy reformers in D.C. and on the west coast who are happy he ended the crackdown on state-sanctioned medical marijuana dispensaries, but for the issues I care about most, I can't say I care much for the new president's drug policies, particularly regarding Mexican drug cartels.
Black Hawk helicopters, for example, will not solve what's essentially an economic and political corruption problem in Mexico, but that's what Secretary of State Hillary Clinton offered them on her first trip down there this week. In many border cities, it's police officers helping smuggle the drugs. Who are you going to use the Black Hawks on, the local police station in Juarez?
Here's a prediction for you: Within the next ten years these helicopters will be used to suppress indigenous uprisings in Mexico's southern states, but they won't put a noticeable dent into drug trafficking. Why would Clinton and Obama want to put themselves in a position of being responsible for that entirely predictable result? Bad idea.
On the US enforcement side, DOJ recently declared that:
The Mexican Cartel Strategy, led by the Deputy Attorney General, uses federal prosecutor-led task forces that bring together all law enforcement components to identify, disrupt and dismantle the Mexican drug cartels through investigation, prosecution and extradition of their key leaders and facilitators, and seizure and forfeiture of their assets."Gee, that's original. Why hasn't anyone ever tried that before? DOJ announced it's sending 450 more agents to the border, but the truth is they're defending a line on a map that doesn't mean much if, as Texas' homeland security director told the Legislature recently, the cartels' "command and control" centers are actually closer to Houston than the Rio Grande. These smugglers have distribution networks spread out all over North America, you can't choke them off at one spot - that tactic failed under each of the last four Presidents and there's nothing magic about this one that will make it succeed now.
Basically, the Obama Administration is throwing good money after bad on its anti-cartel strategy through the same failed vehicles that led us exactly where we are. Again from DOJ:
DOJ's Organized Drug Enforcement Task Forces Program (OCDETF) is adding analyst personnel to its strike force capacity along the Southwest border and the Office of Justice Programs will be investing $30 million in stimulus funding to assist with state and local law enforcement to combat narcotics activity coming through the southern border and in high intensity drug trafficking areas. State and local law enforcement organizations along the border can apply for COPS and Byrne Justice Assistance grants from the $3 billion provided for those programs in the stimulus package.So they've got plenty of new money but zilch for new strategies, is how I take this information.
Indeed, the Obama Administration is even indulging the same nativist fantasies on the nation's northern boundary, moving forward with a pointless Bush Administration initiative to require passports and more formal entry and egress to and from Canada. In practice, this will do little more than waste money on bureaucracy, back up traffic and restrict important regional economic ties - just like it has on the Mexican border, where we could cross the border with a Texas driver's license before 9/11.
Obama's Mexico policy so far amounts to more of the same, with a healthy new dose of protectionism larded on top. I'd hoped for a more thoughtful approach, starting with a greater focus on rooting out US-side corruption.
MORE: See related coverage from Drug War Chronicle.
Also, see related Grits posts:
- Border Economics 101
- Better border strategies needed for journalist, witness protection, unmasking corruption
- Time for new Mexican anti-drug strategies
- Cartel violence so far stays in Mexico, but corruption crosses the river
- Plane used for CIA renditions also smuggled drugs
- Prosecuting 'replaceable' cartel smugglers
- FBI: Border corruption increasing on the US side
- Cartel corrupted top FBI official in El Paso
- Border corruption run amok: New cash for border cops should go first to Internal Affairs
- Did Los Zetas infiltrate Collin County law enforcement?
- American guns fueling Mexican cartel violence
- Mexican cartels still supplying illegal drugs despite massive numbers of deaths and arrests
- Mexican drug gangs hiring teenage assassins in Texas
- Teen hitmen do Gulf Cartel dirty work on US side of the border
- What do we know about US-side cartel infrastructure?