Pubdate: Wed, 19 Jan 2011
Source: USA Today (US)
Page: 9A
Copyright: 2011 USA TODAY, a division of Gannett Co. Inc
Author: Ruben Navarrette Jr.
Note: Ruben Navarrette Jr., a member of the USA TODAY Board of 
Contributors, is a syndicated columnist and a commentator for 
National Public Radio.
Bookmark: (Opinion)
Bookmark: (Mexico)


The Drug War Is a Threat to U.S. Security. It's Time for a Full-Court Press.

SAN DIEGO - Many Americans see Mexico as a dysfunctional family in 
the neighborhood. With the start of a new year, and a new Congress, 
President Obama needs to persuade the American people to see Mexico 
in a different light - as one of the most explosive countries in the 
region capable of creating a major foreign policy crisis for the U.S. 
There's no better time to start than with Obama's upcoming State of 
the Union address.

Thanks to Mexico's narco nightmare, our backyard is on fire. 
According to figures recently released by Mexican Attorney General 
Arturo Chavez, the number of deaths in drug-related violence since 
President Felipe Calderon took office four years ago has surpassed 30,000.

You can chalk up a few of those killings to a notorious drug cartel 
hit man who has admitted to beheading his victims - even though he 
isn't old enough to shave. A few weeks ago, the Mexican army captured 
the pint-sized Edgar Jimenez Lugo, aka "El Ponchis." In a country 
where men are lucky to make $6 a day in honest wages, the 14-year-old 
was paid $200 a week by a cartel. El Ponchis has been what the 
Mexican news media are calling a "child assassin" since he was 11. 
And authorities say El Ponchis is one of ours, born in San Diego.

Some say the chaos proves that Calderon has the cartels on the run. 
Recently, Mexican authorities announced that the once-feared La 
Familia drug cartel, which has long dominated the western state of 
Michoacan, has been "completely dismembered" and that its factions 
have been reduced to committing robberies to survive.

Just don't try telling the people of Mexico that the government is 
winning the war. Many are looking for an exit - or a truce. Several 
months ago, the staff of El Diario de Juarez, the largest newspaper 
in Ciudad Juarez, gave into their fear of becoming cannon fodder. So 
the newspaper published an editorial asking the drug cartels to 
"explain what you want from us, what we should try to publish or not publish."

Most Americans have a limited perspective on Mexico's crisis. They 
only worry about the potential for spillover violence. They want 
Mexico to stay in Mexico.

Too late. Mexico is already here.

According to U.S. officials, Mexican drug cartels operate in more 
than a dozen states. They're suspected of being involved in 
kidnappings, robberies and murders on U.S. soil. If Mexico spirals 
out of control and cartels continue to take over whole cities, as 
they did recently in Monterrey, the damage won't be limited to Mexico 
or to states along the border. It will be a full-blown international 
crisis that impacts the lives of all Americans.

It's time that the Obama administration stopped ignoring the fire, 
grabbed a hose and helped put out the flames. Our neighbors have had 
enough of those photo-ops where visiting U.S. officials offer lofty 
rhetoric about how Mexico and the U.S. are "partners" in this 
conflict. The Mexicans don't need a silent partner. They need an 
active collaborator who is motivated not by charity but by an honest 
recognition of its own self-interest.

On this side of the border, President Obama must:

. Deploy the National Guard to the U.S.-Mexico border, not to combat 
illegal immigration as George W. Bush did but to help secure the area 
and ward off drug violence.

. Reboot and refocus the stale war on drugs with a new emphasis on 
curbing Americans' consumption that includes instructing the Justice 
Department to push for stiffer penalties for casual users of 
marijuana, cocaine and other illegal drugs.

. Reverse a dangerous and wrongheaded administration policy, recently 
detailed by The Washington Post, of not requiring gun dealers on the 
border to report bulk sales of high-powered semiautomatic rifles - 
the guns of choice for drug dealers.

. Start discussing the drug war in Mexico, with the American people, 
as a potential national security threat. What's going on in Mexico is 
not just limited to Mexico. Already, the Mexican drug cartels are 
spreading their operations and power into neighboring countries, such 
as Guatemala, Peru and Colombia.

With regard to Mexico, Obama should:

. Provide additional U.S. military advisers to train the Mexican army 
in counterinsurgency tactics and the taking down of drug lords.

. Ride herd on the $1.6 billion over three years that Congress 
provided to the Mexican government in the Merida Initiative but which 
has been slow to arrive, and make sure every dime gets to Mexico 
where it can be used to fight the cartels.

. Be prepared to hand over whatever other kind of support Calderon 
requires to quash the insurgency, including U.S. troops if necessary.

. Dole out some tough love to our neighbors by making the case to 
Mexican officials - whether they want to hear it or not - that their 
situation does indeed compare with Colombia 20 years ago but that 
they can learn valuable lessons from it.

U.S. leaders have been much too timid in dealing with this crisis. 
That has to stop. After all, Americans are subsidizing this war. We 
buy the drugs that keep the cartels in business, and we provide the 
guns that keep the drug traffickers armed to the teeth. This is our 
baby, and it's time we owned up to it.
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MAP posted-by: Richard Lake