Friday, February 13, 2009

Violence in Mexico . . . and the U.S.: A report from McCaffrey

Today, former drug czar Barry McCaffrey spoke at the Heritage Foundation on the crisis of violence by the drug trafficking gangs in Mexico. (You can watch it online.) His remarks were titled, "A Strategic and Operational Assessment of Drugs and Crime in Mexico."

McCaffrey remains as obtuse as he was in the 1990s when he bloviated from the Clinton ONDCP against medical marijuana.

McCaffrey warned in his Powerpoint handout that "In the next 8 years, the violent collection of criminal drug cartels could overwhelm the state and establish de facto control over broad regions of northern Mexico." (Typically, he's over the top here.) The consequence for the U.S. could be a surge of refugees from the violence. (This could be true, but it does not really present a national security crisis -- Mexican labor is a vital part of our economy.} Mexico "is not fighting dangerous criminality --- it is fighting for survival against narco-terrorism." {For survival, really?) He notes that the drug cartels have "criminal earnings in excess of $25 billion per year."

But McCaffrey's warnings, from a U.S. national security perspective, actually miss the major threat: that the cartels will order Mexican-style violence in the United States -- first against soft targets like commercial rivals, investigative journalists, and later prosecutors, judges and law enforcement officials; and they will apply their economic muscle to control candidates and public officials who need election (and re-election) campaign funds.

Alicia Caldwell's piece on Feb. 9, "Mexican drug violence spills over into the US" carried by Associated Press, reveals that this is now happening.

Jason Trahan in The Dallas Morning News has a similar story this morning, "Officials fear Mexican drug cartel violence could reach Dallas-Fort Worth."

And Sam Quinones in the Los Angeles Times yesterday had a story on Sinaloa cartel drug-related kidnappings in Phoenix.

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McCaffrey, following his script, praised Mexico's Attorney General Eduardo Medina Mora for "a strategy to break up the four major drug cartels into 50 smaller entities and take away their firepower and huge financial resources." But as we learned in Colombia, breaking up the cartels into smaller organizations does not reduce the supply nor increase public safety. Certainly an adjunct professor at the U.S. Military Academy ought to know that a goal of taking away firepower and financial resources in NOT a strategy.

During the question period McCaffrey -- who has always traded more upon his enormous charisma and political skill than his knowledge or perspicuity -- was characteristically rude and dismissive of all those who challenged any of his analysis. His only point for reducing the "huge financial resources" of the Mexican criminal organizations were generalities about drug treatment and prevention to reduce demand for drugs in the U.S.

Of course what was off the table was any consideration of the context -- the nature of drug prohibition. Those who suggested thinking about this were cut off by the moderator. Nor was the conversation helped when the second question was utterly irrelevant and silly, "what do you think of medical marijuana?" (The challengers of the existing paradigm don't always look like the sharpest knife in the drawer.) McCaffrey crudely replied that medical marijuana exists -- Marinol capsules -- and should be administered as a suppository.

McCaffrey is correct that the violence problem in Mexico is more critical than ever. But this violence is not new. In February 1985, the cartel then headed by Rafael Caro Quintero kidnapped, tortured and killed U.S. DEA Agent Enrique "Kiki" Camarena.

A dozen years later, in February 1997, DEA Administrator Thomas Constantine testified that "There is not one single law enforcement institution in Mexico with whom DEA has an entirely trusting relationship."

And now, another dozen years later, thousands are being slaughtered in Mexico, the violence is slipping into American cities, and the grand old men of the drug policy establishment have nothing new or constructive to say about what we can do about it.

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