No, the U.S. Should Not go to War in Mexico with the Drug Cartels

Tuesday brought the news that nine families members, who have dual U.S.-Mexican citizenship, were horrifically murdered by drug cartels in Mexico near the border. The horrific nature of the attack led President Trump to tweet, “If Mexico needs or requests help in cleaning out these monsters, the United States stands ready, willing and able to get involved and do the job quickly and effectively. The great new President of Mexico has made this a big issue, but the cartels have become so large and powerful that you sometimes need an army to defeat an army!”

Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador declined the offer, thus saving Trump from himself.

On the face of it, the idea that the United States would go to war in Mexico to fight the drug cartels is absurd, especially when coming from Trump. For a man who decries “forever war” to want to send the military into what for all intents and purposes would be another counterinsurgency operation, seem uncharacteristic.

Trump would say it is different, because Mexico is right next door and that is not entirely wrong, but there would be some similarities between any counterinsurgency operation in Mexico and those in Iraq and Afghanistan.

First, the during those two wars the United States believed that building up a strong and competent Iraqi and Afghan state was crucial to not only win the war, but also to win the peace. Trump has decried this kind of nation building, but any such military operation in Mexico would almost inevitability lead to this sort of mission creep as well. Mexico’s problem is not that it lacks military forces, for it has 193,000 men and women under arms and its military largely exists to fight this sort of organized crime, but rather years of corruption within the government and security forces that cannot be fixed overnight whether by the new Mexican president or by the U.S. military.

Second, there is the problem of the cartels and determining what threat they pose to U.S. national security. In Iraq, the memories of 9/11 justified the mission, and in Afghanistan they still do. The drug cartels may be evil, but they are different than the Taliban or Al-Qaeda. The battle against drug cartels is one against organized crime; there is no ideological competent. They do not meet the traditional definition of a terrorist group because they do not have a political and or religious motivation. Nor does the current situation in Mexico meet the traditional definition of civil war, because the cartels are not vying for state power or to succeed and create their own state. This isn’t purely academic, it matters for how the Commander-in-Chief sells the mission to the public in order to win their support and how he defines the mission and its objectives to his generals.

Finally, it is possible to argue that the war against AQI post-Saddam was necessary and that the war in Afghanistan is still necessary, but that requires long and difficult discussions about not only America’s national interests and the military’s priorities in 2019. It is an obvious fact that the military’s budgetary priorities in the early 2000s where the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and that the money poured into counterinsurgency operations in those countries meant money was not being spent on the Navy and the Air Force, the two most important branches of the military for the U.S. as it enters an era of great power competition with China and, to a lesser, but still significant extent, Russia. As a result the Navy is stretched far too thin and the Air Force is in a woeful state of disrepair. Politicians are already reluctant to give the Pentagon more money to address these problems, getting involved in a land war in Mexico would only exacerbate them.

Trump may have run on the issue of border security and law enforcement, but there is a difference between that and foolishly pandering to one’s base. The United States needs a stable Mexico, but the problems in Mexico are best solved by other means.




Writing about politics and other interesting things. Contributing Writer to NewsBusters. Member of YAF’s National Journalism Center’s Spring 2019 class.

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Alex Christy

Alex Christy

Writing about politics and other interesting things. Contributing Writer to NewsBusters. Member of YAF’s National Journalism Center’s Spring 2019 class.

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