Fighting Drug Traffickers in Mexico

The New York Times had a great piece yesterday looking at the cutting edge of U.S. cooperation with Mexico in the struggle against Mexican drug cartels. Ginger Thompson writes:

Mexico has become ground zero in the American counternarcotics fight since its cartels have cornered the market and are responsible for more than 80 percent of the drugs that enter the United States. American counternarcotics assistance there has grown faster in recent years than to Afghanistan and Colombia. And in the last three years, officials said, exchanges of intelligence between the United States and Mexico have helped security forces there capture or kill some 30 mid- to high-level drug traffickers, compared with just two such arrests in the previous five years.

The United States has trained nearly 4,500 new federal police agents and assisted in conducting wiretaps, running informants and interrogating suspects. The Pentagon has provided sophisticated equipment, including Black Hawk helicopters, and in recent months it has begun flying unarmed surveillance drones over Mexican soil to track drug kingpins.

The article adds that the Obama administration began this initiative, meaning this collaboration has taken place alongside the other policy shifts associated with the President’s strikes against Al-Qaeda and associated terrorist groups in Afghanistan and other countries. The resemblance in tactics to second-term Bush and Obama administration actions in the Islamic world, including “kill or capture” missions and the use of drones, should not be overstated, but the fights against terrorist groups and drug cartels will surely continue to influence each other. And many of the most effective (and ineffective) methods will show up in both theaters.

As a result, I’m curious about whether we will see an increasing convergence between the practical and rhetorical treatment of these two struggles. For the most part, the Mexican drug cartels haven’t been branded as “terrorists” or presented to the American people as a threat worthy of almost any conceivable executive action. If the respective fights start to look the same, that may change, and the range of actors understood to be worthy of the most far-reaching government moves will expand. Alternately, that could bring the response to terrorism more in line with the traditional treatment of drug cartels and other organized crime outfits, even transnational organizations, which has put much more of an emphasis upon non-military or limited military means. In either scenario, similar tactics could wind up influencing and affecting strategic decisions.

Robert Chesney has more here at Lawfare, which I read just after writing this. Well worth a look.

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