Saturday, November 23, 2019


     If we omit considerations such as impossibility according to the laws of physics, we may be sure that if a demand for something exists, someone somewhere will try to supply it – for a price. Depending on the price, those who demanded it will converge with the supplier(s) and strike a deal.

     That’s the thought that occurred most powerfully to me in reading this article. It’s fairly brief and rich in facts, so I’d advise you to read it all. What the author is telling us is that a demand exists. What he doesn’t need to say – to anyone familiar with the concept in my first paragraph, at least – is that there are persons laboring to meet that demand.

     No, they’re not all “coyotes.” Some are politicians. Some of the politicians are Americans.

     According to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, a human being’s highest priorities, before which all other considerations are at least temporarily set aside, are physiology (i.e., immediate survival) and security. That being the case, it should surprise no one when a mass of people, gravely threatened in the present moment and without assurance of safety in the future, moves en masse in search of a safe harbor. It’s happened often enough in the past. Those who are willing to see it can view it south of our border.

     The threat to the survival and security of the law-abiding people of the northern Mexican states emanates from the conflict between the Mexican drug cartels and the Mexican authorities. At this time the cartels are in the superior position, in part owing to their ruthlessness and in part because the Mexican government is riddled with corruption. The consequences have terrified nominally uninvolved Mexicans into fleeing. Many are fleeing northward.

     Before I continue: This is not America’s problem, except to whatever extent Americans are customers of the Mexican cartels. “America’s problem” is the pressure against our southern border, which of course is one of the phenomena of greatest political debate at this time.

     It was inevitable that in the discussion of the problem, there would arise well-meaning suggestions that America “help out” the Mexican government in its campaign against the cartels. President Trump has broached the possibility of sending our military into the fray.

     It’s the first wholly bad idea I’ve seen from the Trump Administration. But I fear that it will gain traction with our military higher-ups, who are usually eager to flex America’s muscles. Many among the brass have objected to our gradual withdrawal from the conflicts in the Middle East and the “Stans.” A new theater of action would probably appeal to them. Demand for their expertise, don’t y’know.

     Could America’s armed forces contribute substantially to the mitigation of Mexico’s cartel problem? Almost certainly. But the question that would arise in the aftermath is the same as the one that bedeviled us in Iraq and Libya.

     The critical consideration is who would be responsible for maintaining order in the state of affairs that would exist after American armed might had quelled the cartel problem. We don’t want a failed state on our southern border. But we’re very near to that condition even now. A government that cannot enforce the law within its jurisdiction is a failed government – and a nation with a failed government, regardless of its claim to legitimacy, is a failed state. The probability is high that after the cartels had been dealt with, whatever would remain of the Mexican federal government would be incapable of preserving peace and enforcing Mexico’s laws. Quite a lot of people would mutter that “we broke it, so we bought it,” and argue for the de facto annexation of Mexico as a protectorate of the United States.

     To say that would be a bad deal for America is to give it the palest imaginable coloration. It would bear no resemblance whatsoever to any of our historical protectorates. Proximity and the immiscibility of the two cultures would guarantee political and economic disaster – and possibly a front of military conflict that would expand ever further southward.

     America was able to provide security to Western Europe after World War II because of the compatibility of those cultures with ours, and because many problems local to Europe could be confined there. The U.S. didn’t need to take responsibility for local law enforcement. Our financial assistance and our guarantee of military defense were sufficient to set Western Europe on a sustainable path to recovery. The situation in Mexico is quite different. The cartel problem is a problem of local law enforcement. Worse, the disruption of Mexico’s corruption-fueled economy would have a high probability of disordering the entire economy of Central America – and without dismantling the edifice of corruption, the resurgence of the cartels would be guaranteed. Demand again.

     Therefore, we would face a choice between transforming Mexico into a garrisoned protectorate, utterly dominated by American armed power, and letting it collapse into complete political failure. “Compromise” solutions don’t seem plausible or stable, given the culture clash.

     Of course this invites discussion of what Mexico could do, in theory, to neutralize the cartels’ power through changes in its laws. But given the already severe problems at our southern border, such possibilities are at least as fanciful as the notion that armed intervention could solve the cartel problem. The demand for the cartels’ products, which (lest we forget) are illegal on both sides of the border, when added to the economic motivations of many northward migrants, has produced a situation that cannot be ameliorated in the near term by American intervention at a price Americans would be willing to pay.

     Better that we focus on buttressing our border defenses and leave Mexico to solve its own problems...if it can.

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