Everything's a frackin' insurgency nowadays
Analysts started likening drug violence in Mexico to an insurgency long before the facts justified the analogy. At first, the comparison was just a clumsy attempt re-describe the dreary old drug war in the hip new counterinsurgency talk the that the young people enjoy. (A similar jargon-shift happened after 9-11, when every bad thing in the world became a species of terrorism.)
However, John P. Sullivan and Adam Elkus (via Narcoguerra Times) make a good case that the facts on the ground are starting to match the rhetoric, thanks in large part to President Calderon's attempt to send the military after the drug cartels on Mexican soil. It's not surprising. Start a civil war, create an insurgency by default.
Over the past quarter century, successive Mexican presidents came to rely increasingly on the armed forces to support, often to replace, civilian law enforcement. It's a perennially attractive idea because the Mexican military is better trained, more disciplined, and more widely respected than any of the country's police forces.
Today, the fight against drug trafficking is more militarized then ever. Calderon isn't just sending in soldiers to do the work of the police, he's fighting a straight-up war against the cartels. In addition to putting entire cities under de facto occupation, he's literally sending combat troops to clear narco strongholds.
By making the fight against drug trafficking into a military conflict, Calderon has invited a military counterattack. Before, the cartels used corruption and murder to retain their hold on power. They bribed and intimidated officials to evade detection. That was bad enough, but now, they have to fight the full power of the Mexican state to survive.
Sullivan and Elkus provide some vivid recent examples:
The game has changed and the cartels have reacted quickly. They are investing more heavily in military training and heavy weapons.
In a rather transparent bid for funding, some Pentagon analysts and other hungry U.S. officials have been hanging crepe about Mexico becoming a failed state. That's not about to happen. The cartels don't want to take over the Mexican government, they want to inflict enough pain that the state will back off. It's sad that since Mexico touched off that third world debt crisis in the early eighties, America's main interest in its southern neighbor has been as a source of evidence for our own lurid theories about how it might collapse and inconvenience us.
The truth is, the cartels have more money and greater resolve than the Mexican state. Calderon's party lost big in the recent midterm elections, which was widely seen as a vote of non-confidence in the drug war.
Keep in mind that while domestic drug market has grown in Mexico, the cartels make most of their money exporting to the United States. Ironically, Mexican cartels came to dominate the U.S. market because U.S. drug warriors forced out the Colombians by shutting down maritime cocaine smuggling in Caribbean. (I'll save the details of that inglorious episode for another post.)
Having driven the center of narco power into their own backyard, American leaders are pouring money into training and equipment to support Calderon's war. The Merida Initiative alone commits $1.4 billion, the lion's share of which will go to buy American helicopters.
It's the same old story. Americans keep buying drugs and their leaders keep browbeating Mexico to make it stop. It never works.