Wednesday, February 24, 2010

U.S. Goes COIN in Mexico?


The U.S. and allies have moved to a counterinsurgency (COIN) focus in Afghanistan, which could be encapsulated as "protect the people from the insurgents." The same cannot yet be said for U.S. activities down Mexico way, judging from this morning's "U.S. to Place Agents Within Mexican Units to Aid Drug Fight" in the Post:

CIUDAD JUAREZ, MEXICO -- For the first time, U.S. officials plan to embed American intelligence agents in Mexican law enforcement units to help pursue drug cartel leaders and their hit men operating in the most violent city in Mexico, according to U.S. and Mexican officials.

The new mission is apparently a logical extension of the DEA's old-school decapitation strategy, a.k.a. counterterrorism a.k.a. CT, which could be encapsulated as "kill or capture top bad guys."

In the U.S. drug-war context, CT has failed utterly to affect U.S. drug consumption and its collateral effects, never mind the burgeoning business in domestic pot and imported narcotics; insert your own metaphor about the narcotics business as Hydra-headed monster. I don't know why a strategy that hasn't worked in the U.S. is projected to work in Mexico.

Now, in my last post in this space, I came out heavily for a CT mission and against a COIN focus in Afghanistan--but differences between the Mexican and Afghan contexts abound:

  • By more directly involving U.S. agents in Mexican operations, the U.S. may inspire notoriously thin-skinned Mexican cartels to strike across a porous U.S.-Mexico border on a scale that the Taliban et al. simply cannot. (Actually, this has already happened.) Mexico absolutely will not tolerate the deployment of U.S. troops into Mexico to counterattack following any such cartel action.
  • Unlike Afghanistan, Mexico has a relatively effective and increasingly democratic central government that can run a COIN operation on its own, or perhaps with U.S. cash such as promised in the story above.
  • Mexican stability is a vital U.S. national-security interest and deserving of more than half-measures such as a CT mission.

Taking these factors into account, I figure it would be cheaper for now for the U.S. to fund Mexican COIN efforts and simply continue its current cop-training and border-interdiction missions. The alternative is to venture down a slippery slope in which DEA and other intelligence advisors become military advisors become SEAL teams become ... what?

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