Pubdate: Wed, 25 Mar 2009
Source: Washington Post (DC)
Copyright: 2009 The Washington Post Company
Authors: Spencer S. Hsu, and Joby Warrick


No New Troops Or Funding in Obama's Plan

The Obama administration announced plans yesterday to move more than 
450 law enforcement agents and equipment to the southern U.S. border 
to combat Mexican drug cartel violence, but its "comprehensive 
response" was also notable for what it omitted.

President Obama asked for no new troops, legislation or funding from 
Congress for now, beyond the three-year $1.4 billion Merida 
Initiative lawmakers gave Mexico and Central America for 
counter-trafficking programs last year and a small amount of stimulus 
money for border security.

The relatively modest plan Obama aides outlined appeared calibrated 
to provoke the least opposition at home and the greatest diplomatic 
and political payoff from audiences in Mexico and U.S. border areas, 
analysts said.

"The United States is saying, 'This is a shared responsibility, so 
let's come up with mutual solutions rather than playing the blame 
game,' " said Shannon K. O'Neil, a professor at Columbia University 
and a fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations.

Instead of proposing a costly new package, federal officials said 
they will redirect resources to cut off the financial lifelines 
supporting the cartels, in particular the estimated $18 billion to 
$39 billion in cash, wire transfers and other smuggled payments 
moving each year from the United States to Mexico.

The other U.S. focus is "to get its own house in order," O'Neil said, 
increasing enforcement against the 90 percent of guns from the United 
States that are used in crimes in Mexico and acknowledging a $65 
billion domestic market for illegal drugs that drives demand.

Analysts said the security initiative will bolster Mexican President 
Felipe Calderon by showing that the United States is sharing some of 
the sacrifices of its two-year-old campaign to break the power of 
narco-trafficking rings, which have led to the deaths of more than 
7,200 people in Mexico since the beginning of 2008.

But some experts said the tools deployed represent a tiny first step 
toward what is needed.

Retired Army Gen. Barry McCaffrey, the nation's drug czar during the 
Clinton administration, said that adding "a handful of platoon-sized 
units" will not check the problem and that the amount committed is 
minuscule compared with the $2.5 billion the U.S. military spends in 
Afghanistan each month and the $12 billion going to Iraq.

"It's commendable they're paying attention," McCaffrey said. But, he 
added, "where's our sense of priorities?"

The Justice Department reported in December that Mexican cartels are 
the "biggest organized crime threat in the United States," present in 
230 cities. There are 6,600 licensed gun dealers along the southern 
U.S. border alone, vastly outnumbering a relative handful of federal 
investigators assigned to Mexican smuggling. U.S. officials seized 
less than $1 billion in contraband cash last year, a fraction of cartel assets.

The Bush administration pushed through the Merida Initiative, a 
package of training, military hardware, scanning technology and 
security database improvements. Congress has approved $700 million of 
the $900 million pledged so far, and delivery of helicopters and 
surveillance aircraft has been delayed two years.

Yesterday, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano announced 
that 100 new customs inspection personnel, mobile X-ray scanners, 
license-plate readers and drug-sniffing dog teams will be sent to 
checkpoints to counter drug and weapons smuggling from the United 
States into Mexico. Separately, the Homeland Security and Justice 
departments are sending $89 million in previously funded local law 
enforcement grants to border communities and high-traffic drug 
smuggling corridors.

Napolitano's department will deploy 260 more people to double the 
number of joint U.S.-Mexico task forces, as well as increase the 
number of intelligence, law enforcement liaison and attache personnel 
assigned to border areas and Mexico City. U.S. efforts to scan 
southbound rail cars and to fingerprint criminal illegal immigrants 
caught in targeted border communities will be expanded.

Napolitano is also reviewing a request by the Republican governors of 
Texas and Arizona for National Guard troops, and she plans to meet 
tomorrow with Texas Gov. Rick Perry to find out how many he thinks 
are needed and where.

U.S. intelligence officials said that Mexican drug violence remains 
almost entirely limited to individuals with links to traffickers, and 
that U.S. crime statistics do not show that killings are spreading to 
American cities. Still, one senior U.S. official warned that "things 
could get uglier before they get better," including the possibility 
of "more spectacular violence in some areas."

Staff writer Mary Beth Sheridan contributed to this report.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom