Texas Gov. Rick Perry got a few tongues wagging recently when he said that if he were president, he would consider sending U.S. troops into Mexico to battle drug cartels.
Stumping in Manchester, N.H., for the Republican presidential nomination, Perry said Mexico’s drug war was like the situation in Colombia, where the government there requested, and got, U.S. military support.
“It may require our military, in Mexico, working in concert with them, to kill these drug cartels and to keep them off our border and to destroy their networks, Perry said. “It is very important for us to work with them to keep that country from failing.”
For Perry the move would just be an extension of the policies he already has advocated as governor; he’s long asked for more military troops along our southern border. Some U.S. officers have been fired upon from the Mexican side. Perry and others have said that they’re justified in returning fire in such cases.
Mexico’s Ambassador Arturo Sarukhan was quick to respond to Perry’s comments. He said that while the two countries had established a “new paradigm of cooperation,” actual participation of American troops in that country was “not on the table.”
Such a response is expected, since many Mexicans still fear U.S. imperialism. They point to the Mexican-American War of the 1800s and other events, including the heavy presence of U.S. oil companies before the Mexican government nationalized the industry. Mexico’s constitution clearly prohibits the presence of armed foreign troops, even at the government’s request.
Still, is the idea really far-fetched? Could we already be involved in some covert activities in Mexico? Some people still question exactly what Homeland Security Agents Jaime Zapata and Victor Avila were doing in Mexico when they were attacked at a cartel roadblock Feb. 15 in San Luis Potosi. Zapata died in the attack.
Under the Merida Initiative, the United States already has sent tanks, helicopters and other military hardware, as well as lots of money, to help Mexico fight the drug cartels. The U.S. also has sent advisers and other personnel, although to our knowledge they have not participated in any armed activity.
In Colombia, U.S. Delta Force troops in the early 1990s also participated in the manhunt for Pablo Escobar, the country’s biggest drug kingpin. The CIA also operated an intelligence operation called “Centra Spike,” which reportedly fed information to government troops as well as a vigilante group that wanted to bring down Escobar.
The Pew Global Research Center recently reported that three-fourths of Mexicans support U.S. military assistance. Nearly two-thirds want more money and weapons to fight the cartels.
Sending troops into Mexico would seem to follow our current foreign policy of pre-emptive action against the threat of terrorism — a threat that many people believe already exists along our border. We have sent troops into Iraq, Kuwait, Afghanistan and Somalia under similar circumstances.
If Mexican President Felipe Calderon asked for similar help, would he get it? Calderon is in his last year as president and could be looking for major success in the drug war as his legacy. Might he consider such a move?
Stranger things have happened. Let’s just hope that U.S. decision makers, whoever they are in the next few years, think better of the idea.