Drug war at forefront of Obama's visit to Mexico
He's likely to stress shared responsibility for rising border violence during trip that begins Thursday.
President Obama arrives Thursday for a two-day visit to the Mexican capital intent upon demonstrating that he wants a new relationship with America's southern neighbor based on common interests and shared responsibility – in particular when it comes to addressing the drug-trade violence hammering Mexico.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
Mr. Obama and his Mexican counterpart, Felipe Calderón, will discuss a range of issues, from the economic crisis and energy to global warming and microfinancing for women in small business. Obama is likely to broad-brush with President Calderón the immigration reform he says he will attempt to move through Congress, raising an issue of particular interest to Mexicans.
But the focus of their meetings will be the two-year war Calderón has been waging against the powerful drug cartels that control Mexico's lucrative narcotics trade.
Obama has said he is determined to broaden the US-Mexico relationship beyond the perennial fixations of drugs and cross-border illegal migration. But a violent drug war that has cost the lives of more than 10,000 Mexicans – and signs that the violence is now spilling across the border into southwestern US cities – will keep the issues of drugs and violence in the forefront.
Obama's first mission is to demonstrate to audiences back home – Congress and a public that is increasingly wary of Mexico – that Mexico is a viable partner. One simple reason the president will stay overnight in Mexico City is a desire to show that Mexico is not the failing state that a recent Pentagon study concluded it risks becoming.
Beyond that, Obama wants to underscore a new day in US-Mexico relations based on recognition that responsibility for the drug trade and its violence rests on both Mexican and American shoulders.
Obama's visit to Mexico is "designed to send a very clear signal to our friends in Mexico City that we have a series of shared challenges as it relates to the economy, as it relates to security, insecurity, the threat of violence, and the impact of drug trafficking on both our countries," said Denis McDonough, the National Security Council's director for strategic communications, in a pretrip briefing with reporters.
That theme was first sounded by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton on her visit here last month, when she acknowledged that America's insatiable drug habit is what feeds the cartels and spawns their violence.
That is a welcome perspective in Mexico, but also one that some US-Mexico analysts say reflects the more pragmatic and realistic foreign policy that Obama is developing in general.
"There is a simple reason Obama is talking in what is admittedly a refreshing way about the shared responsibility in addressing the violence, and it's not some newfound sympathy or brotherly love for Mexico," says Jorge Chabat, a drug-trafficking expert at the Center for Economic Research and Education in Mexico City. "It is that for the first time in our bilateral relations, what is happening in Mexico has the real potential for touching daily life in the US."