Invading Mexico in the name of the Drug War is a Really Bad Idea

Invading Mexico in the name of the Drug War is a Really Bad Idea 1

South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham eyes military intervention in Mexico after Americans were attacked in Matamoros. But past interventions show disastrous consequences.

Following the violent attack on Americans in the Mexican border city of Matamoros in early March, South Carolina Republican Senator Lindsey Graham stated that he was prepared to get tough and that he was prepared to introduce legislation to set the stage for U.S. military intervention in Mexico. The move would be a significant escalation in the long-running war on drugs that has been raging under the auspices of the U.S. for many decades and to the dismay of many Latin American countries. Graham continues to ignore the disastrous results of the use of force in U.S. foreign policy as he eyes adding Mexico to his growing bucket list of interventionist missions. If previous interventions serve as examples, a U.S. military intervention in Mexico would be just another excuse to expand national security interests and mire the country in another costly conflict.

Matamoros Attack

Graham’s comments on using military force in Mexico were sparked when four Americans were kidnapped in Matamoros on the Mexican side of the border with Texas. The area is known for having a heavy drug cartel presence due to its proximity to the U.S.-Mexico border. The four Americans have been identified as Latavia “Tay” McGee, Shaeed Woodard, Zindell Brown, and Eric James Williams. McGee’s mother told reporters that her daughter was traveling to undergo a cosmetic surgical procedure with the other three. There, they were fired on in downtown Matamoros and loaded into a pickup truck. A local woman, Areli Pablo Servando, was also killed by a stray bullet in the attack. Brown and Woodard were killed in the attack while Williams and McGee survived.

Later, a letter of apology along with five men found with their hands tied was turned over to authorities of the Tamaulipas state law enforcement purportedly by the Scorpion faction of the Gulf Cartel. The organization extended its apology to the families of the victims and to the people of Matamoros in general for the poor decision-making and discipline of its affiliated associates. This public relations move indicates that the cartel was alarmed by the outcry following the attack and wants to frame this as an unusual incident out of the ordinary rules under which it operates. Chances are that they want to do anything they can to avoid direct U.S. military confrontation.

Policymakers Against the Cartels

Graham told Fox News that he would introduce legislation “to make certain Mexican drug cartels foreign terrorist organizations under US law and set the stage to use military force if necessary to protect America from being poisoned by things coming out of Mexico.” This highlights the concern surrounding the trafficking of fentanyl into the U.S. from Mexico and the deadly toll it has been having on the population and there is a growing sentiment, especially among Republican leaders, for more to be done about it.

Former Attorney General Bill Barr concurred with the notion of U.S. military action against cartels and recommended declaring the groups as “foreign terrorist organizations.” Texas Representative Dan Crenshaw and Florida Representative Michael Waltz have expressed their desires to authorize the president to use military force against “those responsible for trafficking fentanyl or a fentanyl-related substance into the United States or carrying out other related activities that cause regional destabilization in the Western Hemisphere.” Sixteen Republicans have co-sponsored that resolution.

Georgia Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene wrote on Twitter that the U.S. “should strategically strike and take out the Mexican Cartels, not the Mexican government or their people, but the Mexican Cartels which control them all.” This common assurance that America’s execution of military plans will simply target the right people and nobody else has been used in virtually every instance of the U.S. using force in foreign conflicts. It shows either the hubris of U.S. foreign policy or its indifference to the lives of its innocent victims abroad.

Roots of Violence

These calls for military intervention would serve as another layer of policies and actions already implemented by the U.S. that have had disastrous consequences. After all, the violence in Mexico is an extension of the War on Drugs started by American policymakers. In just the last decade the U.S. DEA has been found laundering millions of dollars in cash and delivering drugs for Mexican traffickers and the ATF was found to have illegally proliferated nearly 2,000 firearms with the intention of tracking criminal elements but were subsequently lost and used in cartel violence on both sides of the border. Meanwhile, U.S.-trained Mexican troops and federal police officers have committed widespread human rights violations. If these are the policies that have already been implemented, sending the military would be adding fuel to the fire.

Graham followed up with his statements on military force and clarified that he did not mean sending the U.S. army to invade Mexico. This is reminiscent of the beginning of the U.S. missions in the War on Terror in Afghanistan when special forces under the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) were implemented in secret raids that were highly controversial in their lack of accountability in causing collateral damage and civilian casualties. Without any clear definition of success and the dubious effectiveness of using military force, this kind of endeavor would be susceptible to mission creep and the expansion of the scope and spending on the intervention just as it did in the many interventions of the War on Terror.

Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador has already responded to the remarks by Republican lawmakers, saying that any U.S. military intervention in his country would represent an unacceptable infringement of Mexican sovereignty. If the U.S. military’s track record provides any indication, the direct use of force in Mexico would likely cause more pain and suffering in the country to a population already plagued by violence.


  • Weimin Chen

    Weimin Chen has been a research assistant and contributor at the Austrian Economics Center. His work has also been featured at the Mises Institute, Antiwar.com, and the Scott Horton Show.

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The views expressed on austriancenter.com are not necessarily those of the Austrian Economics Center.

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