Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton made a dangerous mistake Wednesday when she spoke of Mexico's drug cartels as "insurgents" and suggested reviving President Clinton's Plan Colombia to address the issue. That program set up U.S. military bases in Colombia and funneled billions of dollars in military aid to fight the country's drug-trafficking left-wing insurgency. The last thing the United States needs today is a new quagmire south of the Rio Grande.
Mexico is different from Colombia. Colombia was up against a rebel organization bent on taking over the government. In contrast, Mexican drug traffickers are businessmen who we can assume are principally concerned with increasing their profits. In the end, they prefer to use "silver," or bribes, over "lead," or bullets. Although they are quick to kill or decapitate members of rival gangs, they much prefer a pliant police officer, soldier or mayor to a dead one. This is why government officials make up such a small percentage of the dead — only about 3,000 out of 28,000, according to official statistics.
The deployment of U.S. combat troops on Mexican soil could also have the look and feel of a foreign invasion. This would not be the first time the U.S. literally crossed the line. Between 1846 and 1848, the U.S. conquered a third of Mexico's territory. In 1914, the U.S. occupied the strategic port city of Veracruz. In 1917, as the modern Mexican Constitution was being drafted, U.S. troops crossed the border in a failed pursuit of Pancho Villa.
Unfortunately, neither strong anti-corruption agencies nor support for journalists have formed a part of the new focus on social programs, which months ago the Obama administration suggested as a possible focus for future funding to Mexico. Under the influence of the Calderon government, most of the talk has been about much "softer" initiatives, such as drug education, urban renewal, scholarships and community development programs. All of this is fine, but none of it will attack the roots of the present failure to rein in the drug cartels in Mexico.
It is time to turn the corner in U.S. policy toward Mexico. Instead of sending more money down the black hole of attack helicopters, military bases or social development programs, the U.S. could make a significant contribution to peace in North America by helping to aggressively combat corruption and supporting freedom of expression.
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