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Military action against cartels could risk new Mexican-American war

Mar 28, 2023

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The rift between the U.S. and Mexico continues to widen. After four Americans were kidnapped in Mexico — with two being killed — Republicans in Congress called for American military action against Mexican drug cartels. Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador fired back, demanding that “Mexico be respected.”

Straight Arrow News contributor Ruben Navarrette notes that any kind of U.S. military excursion south of the border would be a huge mistake that could put both countries on a path to a conflict with no benefits.

The relations between Mexico and the United States have been icy since members of a Mexican drug cartel kidnapped four Americans in the northern border city of Matamoros. Two of those Americans died. One of them had traveled to Mexico to get a medical procedure at a much lower price than it would have cost in the United States. That discount came at a high price.

Former Attorney General William Barr has urged the United States to “use every tool at our disposal inside Mexico to battle Mexican drug cartels,” which he described as “Narco terrorist groups.” Did you catch that “inside Mexico?” Inside? 

See, Barr thinks the United States should send the military or CIA operatives to capture and kill Mexican citizens on Mexican soil while circumventing Mexican authorities. Sure, great plan. What could possibly go wrong? We’re not talking about surgical strikes here. There would be significant collateral damage. What Barr doesn’t know or care to know is that the narcotraficantes are integrated into Mexican society. Kill one and very likely innocent Mexican civilians will be killed in the process. If that happens, it’s Katy bar the door. 

We could be looking at a repeat of what happened in 1848. That was the last time that the United States, intoxicated by the elixir of manifest destiny, invaded Mexico. U.S. troops marched all the way to Mexico City to persuade the leaders of that country to hand over more than half of its territory, at the end of a rifle. Trust me, that is a humiliation that Mexicans have never forgotten.

I often say that those of us who can trace our ancestry to Mexico value three things above all else: Family, community and hard work. For Mexicans, that’s the sacred trifecta. But I would also add a fourth item to that list: Respect. Respeto means a lot to Mexicans, especially the 126 million of them who live south of the border. Not that doesn’t matter to the 40 million or so Mexican-Americans who live in the United States; it just means much more to those who reside in the motherland. So you can imagine how frustrating and maddening it is for Mexico and Mexicans to be constantly disrespected by Americans, especially Republican lawmakers who are now itching to go to war with our neighbor. 

The relations between Mexico and the United States have been icy since members of a Mexican drug cartel kidnapped four Americans in the northern border city of Matamoros. Now two of those Americans died. One of them had traveled to Mexico to get a medical procedure at a much lower price than it would have cost in the United States. That discount came at a high price. Former Attorney General William Barr has urged the United States to quote “use every tool at our disposal inside Mexico to battle Mexican drug cartels,” which he described as quote “Narco terrorist groups.” Did you catch that “inside Mexico?” Inside? 

See, Barr thinks the United States should send the military or CIA operatives to capture and kill Mexican citizens on Mexican soil while circumventing Mexican authorities. Sure, great plan. What could possibly go wrong? We’re not talking about surgical strikes here. There would be significant collateral damage. What Barr doesn’t know or care to know is that the narco traficantes are integrated into Mexican society. Kill one and very likely innocent Mexican civilians will be killed in the process. If that happens, it’s Katie bar the door. 

We could be looking at a repeat of what happened in 1848. That was the last time that the United States, intoxicated by the elixir of manifest destiny, invaded Mexico. U.S. troops marched all the way to Mexico City to persuade the leaders of that country to hand over more than half of its territory, at the end of a rifle. Trust me, that is a humiliation that Mexicans have never forgotten. Imagine the South and the Civil War times 100. I’m not surprised we don’t remember the land grab that created the Southwest. Americans wake up every morning and wipe the slate clean from the day or century before. 

No matter how terrible the injustice, we have no trouble sweeping it under the rug. We get over things, we look forward. And with the possible exception of the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941 and the toppling of the World Trade Center towers on September 11, 2001, we rarely look back. Think about all the tragic events we don’t like to think about, because in those cases, America was the bad guy. 

The enslavement of black Americans, beginning in 1619. The anti-Chinese leagues that popped up in western towns in Arizona and California throughout the 1800s; the massacre of Native American men, women and children at Wounded Knee, South Dakota in 1890; the mistreatment of Irish and German and Italian immigrants in the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries; the forced relocation and internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II. And now here we are, we’re picking at this old wound and the relationship between Mexico and the United States at a time when the two countries need each other more than ever as friends, allies, trading partners and good neighbors. 

It’s as if conservatives like William Barr skipped all those courses in U.S. history that spelled out the complicated relationship between Mexico and the United States because they ditched school that day to attend a John Wayne Film Festival. Mexican president Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador is pushing back against the Cowboys reminding everyone recently that Mexico is not, quote “a colony of the United States,” and insisting that he will not permit any foreign army to attack the sovereignty of his country. See, just because Americans never remember, does not mean that Mexicans ever forget.

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