News and Commentary

HAMMER: The U.S. Is Morally Obligated To Take On The Mexican Drug Cartels
UNITED STATES - AUGUST 20: A Customs and Border Protection vehicle patrols the border wall in Rio Grande Valley sector of the Texas border on Aug. 20, 2019.
Jinitzail Hernández/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images

What is national security if not the obligation of a sovereign nation to secure its citizenry against the threats posed along the border by a lawless neighboring state overrun by murderous transnational criminal organizations?

Following the horrific overnight news of nine Americans — three women and six children — killed across the Mexican border when they found themselves caught in the midst of a cartel turf war shootout, this is the question that ought to be on the mind of every American policymaker. The bipartisan foreign policy clerisy may seem disproportionately focused right now on a centuries-old Islamic sectarian war raging along the Turkish-Syrian border, but it is long past time for our leading foreign policy and national security hands to turn their attention to a much nearer and more immediately harrowing threat: Mexico.

The unfortunate but sober reality right now is that Mexico is best described as a failed state. One longstanding defining characteristic of a modern nation-state, after all, is a monopoly on the use of force; truly sovereign states are not overrun with drug-peddling marauders, terrorist militias, or other roving bands of vigilantes with the collective willpower and requisite military-style hardware to take “enforcement” matters into their own hands. There is a reason that the Old West was called “wild.”

Under this rudimentary criterion of what is necessary for national sovereignty, modern Mexico fails the test. The Mexican government does not have anywhere remotely resembling a monopoly on the use of force within its own territory. On the contrary, transnational criminal organizations flourish throughout the country, physically hold territory like mini-ISIS “caliphates,” literally out-gun the Mexican government in live shootouts, control vast swaths of the the illegal alien human trafficking corridors currently wreaking so much havoc on America’s territorial integrity, and collectively have “operational control” of large chunks of the U.S.-Mexico border.

And now, American citizens — women and children, that is — are paying the ultimate price due to Mexico’s inability to control its own emerging anarchy. American citizens are paying the ultimate price due to Mexico being an inveterate narco-state full of kleptocratic politicians who are invariably either too venal or too reckless to actually take the fight to the cartels.

To be sure, President Trump ought to double down in his efforts to build a physical border wall separating our nation from the failed state to our south. But Trump should go further. It is far past time for the U.S. State Department to formally designate the leading Mexican cartels as foreign terrorist organizations. As Daniel Horowitz has persuasively argued, these cartels are no longer run-of-the-mill drug mules — they are full-on paramilitary terrorist organizations and some even have close organizational ties to international jihadist outfits like Hezbollah. Such a State Department formal designation would, as a threshold matter, more easily permit the various levers of the federal government apparatus to crack down on the cartels’ financing sources.

But Trump should go even further still. He should rally congressional Republicans to pass a formal authorization for the use of military force, similar to the post-9/11 AUMF of 2001, that effectively declares war on the leading Mexican cartels. In what world does it make sense to intervene in and referee Islamic civil wars overseas whilst allowing a failed state on our very border to allow murderous criminal rings to run amok and kill vulnerable U.S. citizens? In what world does it make sense to waste precious blood and treasure on trying to make a Madisonian democracy out of Kabul while there is a corrupt and violent wasteland claiming American lives right in our own backyard?

Ranchers across our beleaguered border have long suffered from the effects of cartel violence; now, they are joined by the members of an innocent Utah family that tragically found itself stuck in the middle of a cartel turf war shootout. The situation in Mexico is rapidly escalating into a national emergency, and the Mexican government itself has repeatedly shown itself over the decades to be incapable of rooting out its own domestic rot. The time has come for the U.S. government to step in and defend its own sovereignty and security alike. Indeed, the U.S. government is actually morally obligated to do so.