Mexico’s economy is being dragged down by the recession to the north. American addicts have turned Mexico into a drug superhighway, and its police and soldiers are under assault from American guns. Nafta promised 15 years ago that Mexican trucks would be allowed on American roads, but Congress said they were unsafe.
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton arrives in Mexico on Wednesday for what will be the first in a parade of visits by top administration officials, including President Obama himself next month, to try to head off a major foreign policy crisis close to home. They will find a country mired in a deepening slump, miffed by signs of protectionism in its largest trading partner, and torn apart by a drug war for which many in Mexico blame customers in the United States.
There is plenty of angst on the other side as well. Many American communities are worried about drug violence spilling over the border, and about Mexican immigrants taking scarce jobs. That is forcing the Obama administration, already managing two wars and a deep recession, to fashion a new Mexico policy earlier than it might have wished.
Some in the administration have suggested that the Mexican government is not in control of all of its territory, even as other officials praise President Felipe Calderón’s resolve to fight the drug trade. Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. urged and then backed away from reinstituting a ban on sales of assault rifles, which are fueling the drug violence.
Mr. Obama acknowledged contingency plans to deploy troops to the border if too much of the violence spilled over into the United States, but he said almost in the same breath that no such deployment was imminent.
“I think it’s unacceptable if you’ve got drug gangs crossing our borders and killing U.S. citizens,” Mr. Obama told reporters when asked if he might deploy troops. “I think if one U.S. citizen is killed because of foreign nationals who are engaging in violent crime, that’s enough of a concern to do something about it.”
The bloody drug war, which has caused 7,000 deaths in 16 months, has become the principal sore point between the countries. Although addiction rates among Mexicans are on the rise, the vast majority of the drugs flowing through Mexico will be sniffed, smoked or injected by Americans. On top of that, 90 percent of the guns used by Mexican drug cartels originated in the United States, according to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
So Obama is forced to answer questions about deploying troops to the border with Mexico (troops that Texas law enforcement officials don't even want) even as Mexican deaths in drug related violence outnumber American deaths by about 7,000 to 200, as Americans continue to buy drugs from Mexican cartels, and as gun sellers sell weapons to those same cartels at a tidy profit. Can anyone explain why it isn't Mexico that's considering sending troops to the border with us?
UPDATE: The response to rising violence in Mexico will be, of course, another offensive in the endless war on drugs.