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Declaring Mexican cartels as terrorist groups would be a mistake

Mar 13, 2023


The murder of two American citizens who crossed the border into Mexico ignited national outrage and led several lawmakers to call for Mexico’s notoriously violent drug cartels to be designated as foreign terrorist organizations. Straight Arrow News contributor Peter Zeihan warns that while the cartels are certainly deserving of firm-handed justice, U.S. military actions are not the answer. Due to Mexico’s growing importance to the U.S. economy, he says declaring war on the cartels would be a big mistake.

Excerpted from Peter’s Mar. 8 “Zeihan on Geopolitics” newsletter:

On March 7th, two of the four U.S. citizens kidnapped shortly after crossing the border into Mexico were found dead. This raises several questions, but perhaps the most significant is how this will change the United States’ policy on Mexican cartels.

The cartels have a long and deep-rooted history of flushing the American system with drugs, laundering money, and other illicit activities. However deserving of the designation as a terrorist group, we have seen in recent history how our actions on terrorist groups have played out; just look at Pakistan.

Any action taken against the cartels would ultimately damage American and Mexican relations. As the U.S. moves away from its ties with the Chinese, that’s the last thing anyone wants. It’s a tricky situation, and the solution isn’t black and white … but maybe everyone should lay off the white stuff for a while.

Everybody, Peter Zeihan here coming to you from Las Vegas. Today is the seventh of March. And if you’ve been following the news, you knew that there were a few Americans who went down to Mexico to get some tummy-tuck surgery and shortly after they crossed the border, they were assaulted, kidnapped, and some of them have now turned up dead. And so the discussion in Washington is whether or not we should designate cartels in Mexico as terrorist groups and start doing cross-border strikes. 

I’m not saying I’ve got a solution to this problem, because I do not. Well, actually, I do. We’ll get to that. But military strikes on Mexico are not, not the solution. It’s not that the cartels are not deserving. I mean, these are people who basically been preying on civilians now for decades, shoving drugs into our system. First cocaine, now fentanyl, and they’re into any number of criminal enterprises and they’re trying to launder their money through other licit sectors in Mexico and the United States, which has made the money go deep and go far. However, we have seen exactly this sort of situation in recent American history. We know exactly where it leads. So during the Afghan war, we discovered that there were militants operating in northwest Pakistan in a place called Northwest Frontier Province, that were launching assaults against American forces and Afghan forces backed by the United States North of the border in Afghanistan, and then they would retreat back south of the border. And so we ended up carrying out a number of military operations on both sides of the border to chase them down. 

The problem we rapidly discovered is that Pakistan is a weak state, and they do not control Northwest Frontier Province. And by launching and strike south of the border, we were inflaming local passions of Pakistanis, even if they were not in support of these militant groups. And we ended up weakening the Pakistani state, which made it even easier for these groups to operate. So in this case, strikes across the border just poured fuel on the fire.

If we were to do this in Mexico, two problems. Number one, Mexico is a weaker state than Pakistan. And so anything that inhibits its ability to function would probably make the situation even worse. And second, the most pro-American portions of Mexico are the northern tier of states, where we’d be likely to launch these strikes. So we’d be taking on our regional allies who are not just political allies, but economic partners. Remember that the United States and Mexico are now each other’s largest trading partners. And especially if we decide we want to move away from the Chinese system, we need help with mid-skilled, mid-range manufacturing, and that is a sector in which Mexico absolutely excels; it’s arguably the world leader. 

And launching military assaults on what is the location of our most important, most tightly integrated supply chain networks, would be a disaster for aerospace and automotive and manufacturing in general. So I really would encourage you to think otherwise. This is a thorny problem. The solution is not to not get tummy tucks in Mexico, although I would argue that maybe common sense would tell you that you don’t need to do that, anyway. The solution is to stop using so much goddamn cocaine, because as long as we are providing the financial existence of the system, it’s going to persist. 

Now this is far too big of a topic to do … for me to do in a single video. So I’m going to be breaking this into a few different topics when we talk about some of the individual cartels and the economics of the drug war and how it has evolved in recent years. So think of this as a starter and in the days to come we’re going to be turning this into a full-on series. So stay tuned. See you soon.

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