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July 28, 2009

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 early July cartel counterattacks in Michoacán signal a new phase in the conflict. La Familia Michoacana initiated coordinated attacks against ten cities. At least 19 security officials (police and soldiers) were killed in La Familia’s counterattack.The cartel’s actions included six near-simultaneous assaults of federal police stations; a pair of cartel commando raids by nearly 50 gunmen armed with assault rifles and grenades signaled the gang’s resolve. This action was followed by the torture and assassination of 12 off-duty police intelligence agents – a brutal attack that was allegedly carried out by municipal police. The federal government responded by surging nearly 5,000 security forces into the state. Michoacán’s governor, Leonel Godoy Rangel, objected, calling the action a federal “occupation.” (Goday's half-brother, elected to the lower house of Congress earlier this month, is allegedly a ranking member of La Familia.)

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.


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I wonder if the cartels are using any of the under-utilized mercenary companies doing business in the U.S.? Sounds like they would be perfect for what the traffickers are trying to do (security in a sense, eh?)and I'm sure the cartels have the money.

The cartels are using a paramilitary squad, Los Zetas, composed of elite Mexican troops they turned by offering better pay.

American private military companies, I don't think they use. Most of them are comprised of discharged US troops with nothing better to do than keep fighting, and only take contracts with the US government's approval. One such company, MPRI, is used for black ops while allowing the US government to maintain plausible deniability.

Very well

Living in Central America, Nicaragua, we watch the daily events and reporting from ALL sides...strange how a 65 year old Conservative agrees with this very bright young lady...

Counter insurgency (COIN) is the new "GWOT". Pentagon gets really religion about counter insurgency. That's where the bandwagon and the money are right now.

several blogs done by retired intel people complain about this latest silly fad.

Counterinsurgency is just a nice way of saying "colonialism." Theoretically, there could be COIN ops that aren't really about subduing occupied territory in the interests of an imperial power, but in practice it's almost always how it works out.

It's nothing new. Been the policy all along, just different gradation. Global domination game is no joke. It really is the game.

This is from

The Grand Chessboard - American Primacy And Its Geostrategic Imperatives. pp.21

(by Zbignew. He nows sit as Obama advisor. Pretty much the village elder/most experience person who run foreign policy. you can download the pdf from the internet. somebody post the entire book online. search title + .rar. check out the various map inside the book, you will be in awe.)

Today, the geopolitical issue is no longer what geographic part of Eurasia is the point of departure for
continental domination, nor whether land power is more significant than sea power. Geopolitics has moved
from the regional to the global dimension, with preponderance over the entire Eurasian continent serving as the
central basis for global primacy. The United States, a non-Eurasian power, now enjoys international primacy,
with its power directly deployed on three peripheries of the Eurasian continent, from which it exercises a
powerful influence on the states occupying the Eurasian hinterland. But it is on the globe's most important
playing field—Eurasia—that a potential rival to America might at some point arise. Thus, focusing on the key
players and properly assessing the terrain has to be the point of departure for the formulation of American
geostrategy for the long-term management of America's Eurasian geopolitical interests.
Two basic steps are thus required:
• first, to identify the geostrategically dynamic Eurasian states that have the power to cause a potentially
important shift in the international distribution of power and to decipher the central external goals of
their respective political elites and the likely consequences of their seeking to attain them; and to
pinpoint the geopolitically critical Eurasian states whose location and/or existence have catalytic effects
either on the more active geostrategic players or on regional conditions;
• second, to formulate specific U.S. policies to offset, co-opt, and/or control the above, so as to preserve
and promote vital U.S. interests, and to conceptualize a more comprehensive geostrategy that establishes
on a global scale the interconnection between the more specific U.S. policies.

"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 losses that the government will back off."

But that *is* a failed state. If you have an armed movement which wants to undermine the state *without taking its place* - that's warlordism and disintegration of the polity.

The cartels don't want to undermine the state as such and they certainly don't want anarchy because either of these alternatives would be bad for business.

The cartels want what most capitalists want: to be left alone to make huge profits. They're not a movement, they're a bunch of autonomous organizations fighting each other and the state.

There are non-failed states with active insurgencies that aren't in danger of failing. Cf. Colombia.

The cartels are ready and willing to disrupt the state as much as they need to to keep the money flowing, but no further. They're not going to interfere with the state's ability to basic state things, like say, collecting taxes, paving roads, delivering health care, educating the youth, and so on. Why would they? They like the quasi-monopoly on force and public services as much as anyone else. It's hard to get your loads across the border when there are no roads!

Mexico's not going to become the Somalia of 15 years ago, or even like Iraq is today.

I think it's all abount the cash flow. And a large part of that is U.S. black market (drugs) cash flow.

I think if we took steps here in the U.S. to shut off black market cash flow, that would be the most effective way to curtail the Mexican cartels.

I would start by legalizing pot, and allowing addicts to heroin and cocaine/crack to get maintanance prescriptions.

I actually think the closer parallel with Colombia isn't so much the guerrilla insurgency, but the right wing death squad narco-paramilitaries, the ones dominating the Colombian drug trade and sending smuggling submarines to Mexico's West Coast.

But I think there's a different genesis and timeline here. In Colombia, the state launched and cultivated the paramilitary death squads as a mafia strategy to beat back the guerrillas using as much massacre as was needed while retaining plausible deniability -- perhaps the most impressive achievement of Uribe was in remaining ironclad disciplined in keeping his hands clean of the paramilitaries that in my view it's been so obvious he supported and used, and still does.

In Mexico, I think the paramilitaries are providing the model and will be the ones not just contesting but interweaving with the state through corruption and the integration of high-level military officers.

Lindsay, thanks for the link and the praise!

I think the "failed state" debate here in the US is something of a chimera. There are many kinds of states and types of sovereignty. Obviously Mexico is not Somalia or Iraq, but criminal organizations do hold important parallel sovereignty in regards to their both physical and economic power as we mentioned in the essay. This, however, is not really all that unusual. States never have had complete sovereignty, and the common arrangement of the state having an absolute monopoly on force may be the exception to the rule in much of today's world.

I think the best most recent study of this sort of insurgency, as mentioned in the article, was Steve Metz's Rethinking Insurgency:

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