21 November 2007

Plan Mexico and the "Arm Everybody" Agenda

There's been a whole lot written in the past couple of weeks about the Merida Initiative, aka Plan Mexico. The basic premise of the plan is for the US to pump a whole lot of money, some $550 million, into Mexican coffers--and some Central American countries as well--to combat narcotrafficking and improve security (more TSA agents?) throughout Latin America.

I am not very educated about all this, so I'll leave the serious policy discussion to those who are. This caught my attention, though, and I wanted to share it here.

On the subject of arming and training Mexican law enforcement to bust drug dealers, patrol the border and increase surveillance throughout Mexico (have I mentioned the cute helicopter that checks in my windows several times every day?), Congressman Tom Lantos appears underwhelmed by the Bush/Calderon plan.

. . . Congressman Tom Lantos, the Democratic chairman of the [House Foreign Affairs] Committee, says the Merida Initiative is flawed. While calling increased security cooperation between the United States and Mexico “long overdue”, Lantos says the Bush administration’s emphasis on targeting the supply of drugs in Mexico may simply push the drug trade to somewhere else in the region.

He also questions the wisdom of a cornerstone of the proposal — counter-drug training for Mexican security personnel — without addressing Mexico’s longstanding battle with corruption. “Training can be dangerous because it can make corrupt forces more effective,” he said.

Emphasis mine. This is one of the more important issues we'll need to assess over the next several years. A key component of the Bush administration's foreign policy agenda appears to be "Arm Everybody." We see this mindset today in Iraq, we see it in Pakistan, and now we see it in Mexico. I haven't decided yet whether I think Lantos is being reflexively pessimistic, but he's definitely got a good point. I'm willing to wager, based on what I see here in Oaxaca, that if we strengthen and increase the police presence in Mexico then we will see a corollary rise in ruthlessness and intimidation acted out against political dissidents, not simply by uniformed police but by paramilitary patrols (party loyalists, off-duty police, corrupt politicos) acting with the blessings of the state and federal governments of Mexico. Look at the history of human rights abuses in Colombia and Guatemala concurrent with US military aid to those nations to combat narcotrafficking.

As to the other key aspect of Lantos's observation, that training corrupt forces makes for really effective corrupt forces, I have to wholly agree. And this is one of the unknowns that gets at a bigger picture we'll struggle to sort out over the next couple years (decades): has the Bush administration chosen wisely in supporting unlikely allies in some of the most geopolitically unstable environments in the world in order to get quick results?