Merchant of Death
Money, Guns, Planes, and the Man Who Makes War Possible

Blood from Stones

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Some Healthy Developments in Mexico's Drug War
As today's Washington Post makes clear, Mexico and the United States now recognize what is happening in Mexico as a narco-insurgency, with all that implies. Not simply drug trafficking. Not pockets of isolated violence. But a direct insurgent challenge to the state.

That recognition, which has been a long time coming, accepts the seriousness of the challenge and the resources that will be necessary to combat the forces arrayed against the state.

This recognition is coupled with another important and heartening public statement by Secretary Clinton that the demand for drugs in the United States and elsewhere, and the flow of weapons, are primary factors in giving the Mexican (and Colombian and Central American etc.) cartels the resource they need to wage this insurgency.

As Clinton said, “Our insatiable demand for illegal drugs fuels the drug trade,” Mrs. Clinton said, using unusually blunt language. “Our inability to prevent weapons from being illegally smuggled across the border to arm these criminals causes the deaths of police officers, soldiers and civilians.”

Accurately assessing the problem is the first step toward developing a joint strategy that marshal and channel the available resources in the most effective way.

While the military is playing a lead role in Mexico, it is a role that is dangerous to the state. The necessity of replacing the corrupted police force is akin to what Colombia faced in the late 1980s and early 1990s, when the Medellin and then the Cali cartels systematically bought the political protection and police cooperation that was needed. Colombia cleaned up the police because, at that time, the military was an even worse bet. The Mexican government is betting that the military is less corruptible than the police. A dicey proposition, and we won't know if that is the correct decision for some time.

The looming challenge is not just the vast resources the cartels can draw on for military training, personnel and equipment, and the ability to effectively outgun the police and military.

It is that the narcos, like all insurgent groups, will make alliances across traditional boundries. This happened with the FARC, with al Qaeda, with Hezbollah and other non-state armed groups who feel their survival could be threatened.

One must look at who the potential allies are.Given the swelling Iranian presence in the region, particularly Nicaragua and Central America, and the appetite that Venezuela's Hugo Chavez has for creating chaos and instability, it seems to me those are two places one must look to.

The cartels are not religious or even political in nature. They are economic interests that seek the survival of their own enterprises. They will ally with state and non-state actors that can further that goal.

Mexico has its hands full in the war, and the Calderon government has shown admirable staying power in pressing the cartels, correctly viewing the drug traffickers as a threat to the state multiple levels (local, municipal and national, through the corruption of the political, judicial and law enforcement structures at each level), and a threat to the survival of nascent democratic structures.

Unfortunately, it has to watch its back in the neighborhood. Success against the cartel will breed alliances that can spread the conflict even further.
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