Pubdate: Tue, 31 Aug 2010
Source: Athens Banner-Herald (GA)
Copyright: 2010 Athens Newspapers Inc
Author: Andres Oppenheimer


The escalation of drug-related violence in Mexico - including the mass
execution of 72 migrants last week - is moving a small but growing
number of U.S. foreign policy hawks to call for a radical solution:
send in the U.S. Army.

I'm not kidding. At first, I thought it was a joke, or the kind of
overreaction that is most often confined to the blogosphere.

But, increasingly, populist local U.S. officials are seriously talking
about sending in U.S. troops to end the drug-related violence that has
cost 28,000 lives in Mexico over the last four years, and that
occasionally spills over to the U.S. side of the border.

The U.S. military would help crack down on the drug cartels, and help
stop illegal immigration and terrorism, they claim. President Barack
Obama's recent decision to deploy up to 1,200 National Guard troops
along the Southwest border with Mexico has obviously not pacified them.

When I interviewed Sheriff Joe Arpaio of 4 million-population Maricopa
County, Ariz., about his hard-line immigration views last week, I was
ready to hear a lot of tough talk against undocumented immigrants, but
I wasn't expecting him to advocate sending U.S. troops to Mexico.

Arpaio, a darling of conservative talk shows who prides himself on
having put 40,000 undocumented migrants behind bars and promotes
himself as "America's toughest sheriff," lashed out against Mexican
laws that prohibit U.S. troops from engaging in battle inside Mexico.
During his years as a Drug Enforcement Administration agent in Mexico,
he actively fought the drug cartels, he said.

"When I was a director there, my agents worked undercover. They were
involved in gun battles. They worked with the military, they worked
with the federales (police). ... We were operational, approved by the
Mexican government," Arpaio said. "Why don't we do the same right now?"

"I'm not a proponent of the Army of the United States being involved
in law enforcement, but we have armies right now in Afghanistan, Iraq.
. We go into other countries. Why can't we go into Mexico with their
cooperation?" he asked. Asked to elaborate, he said it would have to
be done with Mexico's approval.

Mexico's ambassador to the United States, Arturo Sarukhan, told me
that sending U.S. troops to Mexico "is a non-starter." Another Mexican
official told me that Mexicans are very sensitive about the U.S.
military interventions that resulted in the annexation of Texas and
California in the 1830s and 1840s, and that the presence of U.S.
combat troops in the country would be politically explosive.

"The United States can continue to play a constructive role by
stepping up efforts to stop the flow of U.S. small arms to Mexico - 80
percent of all successfully traced weapons in Mexico come from the
United States - and speed up disbursement of $1.4 billion in law
enforcement equipment under the Merida Initiative," Sarukhan said.

My opinion: Talk about sending U.S. combat troops to Mexico is crazy.
You would have anti-U.S. student demonstrations starting a day later,
followed by a dead protester who would immediately become a national
and international martyr, followed by resurgence of leftist
guerrillas, followed a cycle of violence that would lead to more
bloodshed than the current war on the drug cartels.

What should Washington do, then? First, take a deep breath and think
calmly. Mexico's murder rate is rising fast, but according to United
Nations figures it's still about five times less than that of
Honduras, Jamaica or Venezuela, and significantly less than that of
Washington, D.C. The United States should not overreact.

Second, it would be a good idea for both Mexico and the United States
to significantly increase their military forces on their respective
borders: in Mexico's case, to stop the drug flow, and in the U.S.
case, to stop the arms and money smuggling.

And third, it's time to start thinking about a significant expansion
of the U.S. Merida Initiative.

Washington should provide Mexico with more helicopters, intelligence
and - above all - technical assistance and training to create police
academies that would help dismantle Mexico's 2,200 corruption-ridden
police forces, and replace them with more reliable ones. Everything,
except sending U.S. troops.

Andres Oppenheimer is a Latin America correspondent for the Miami
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