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Up In Smoke

John P. Walters

In recent months, more Americans have learned what those living on the border have known for several years: the Mexican government is in a deadly fight with extremely violent gangs.

Thousands and thousands of Mexicans were killed last year and the carnage continues at a shocking rate. Mexican President Felipe Calderon has been deploying security forces, mobilizing billions of dollars in new spending, and launching historic reform and anti-corruption initiatives to stop the terrorist-mafias. He has also sought unprecedented cooperation from us to defeat this common threat.

The director of national intelligence, Adm. Dennis Blair, recently suggested that the governability of parts of Mexico is in question. It is now beyond question that the threat is a top national security matter for the United States. Calderon’s success or failure will profoundly determine the future security of both our countries.

What is the Obama administration doing?

The President could have gone to the border to meet President Calderon and visibly demonstrate that we will stand with him and that the gangs will not prevail. The senior cabinet officers of both countries—State, Defense, Justice, and others—could have met jointly as was done last December in Washington, renewing a common plan of attack under the new administration to be driven forward at the highest levels. Is the president confused about whether the danger warrants such action? So far, Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano is clearly working hard on this issue, but the absence of the president and the rest of the cabinet makes her task more difficult.

The administration should be fighting for full funding of the Merida Program of assistance from the United States. Our vital equipment and training will protect innocent lives in both our countries. But the White House has been unengaged as Congress is on a path to cut $100 million in support beyond the $100 million reduction of the last Congress. At a time when Mexico knows as well as we do that Congress is recklessly stimulating and earmarking billions, slashing funding for our national security is grossly irresponsible.

Congress further proposes to shift to Central America some of the resources needed in Mexico. When is the White House going to point out that resources for Central America will never be adequate if the fight in Mexico fails? Mexico is the center of gravity.

Equally troubling, the Obama administration has folded before pressure from Senator Patrick Leahy who is blocking appropriated funds for helicopters needed in Mexico. Apprehending the criminal leadership and protecting threatened law enforcement personnel across the extensive territory south of our border requires rapid airlift. Delay costs more Mexican lives.

On the key issue of illegal drugs—the widely recognized source of criminal power in Mexico—the Obama administration is lurching dangerously in reverse. In his first statement on drug policy, Attorney General Eric Holder suggested he may no longer enforce federal law against trafficking marijuana if the traffickers call their marijuana medical. Both U.S. and Mexican officials at all levels know that medical marijuana is an utter fraud used to undermine drug enforcement in the United States. Mexican officials also know (as does the Justice Department) that much of the marijuana sold in the “dispensaries” of California funds the mafias of Mexico.

Marijuana sales are the single largest source of drug profits for these criminals—on top of funds from kidnapping, protection rackets, alien smuggling, and car theft. Not enforcing our marijuana laws makes these terrorists stronger. Pretending to take legalization seriously makes them stronger still. What do we think the brave officers risking their lives in Mexico feel when our attorney general sounds like he is going to do less to help? Is it too much to expect him to make clear that enforcing our marijuana laws reduces addiction here and saves lives in Mexico?

And what must Mexican officials think about Vice President Biden’s recent announcement that the next director of drug control policy would be kicked out of the Obama cabinet?

It was Joe Biden who complained over and over again when the first director, Bill Bennett, was not made a member of the elder President Bush’s cabinet. Biden told Bennett his work would necessarily be viewed as lesser than that of other senior officials. His point was you can talk, but you cannot be as strong within the administration without being at that table. I served with Bill Bennett and I was a member of the cabinet in the last administration—Joe Biden was right. Continuing our sharp reductions in use and supply require strong management, effectively shaping drug control programs in almost every executive department. Everyone in Washington knows rank is a part of strength.

The failure of President Obama to announce the new director himself, coupled with the demotion from cabinet membership, indicates two things. There must have been an internal debate over something the vice president cares very much about and he lost. More importantly, it shows that President Obama is not committed and that is dangerous for Mexico and the United States.

I hope that this will change. The recently released Forbes list of wealthiest people in the world includes one of Mexico’s most dangerous criminal leaders. President Obama should make it his goal to help President Calderon apprehend this man and those like him as soon as possible.


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