Congress, in a burst of hearings, has a sudden interest in Mexico's war on drug traffickers – and the spillover into the US. If this new-found concern finally cements a sustained partnership with Mexico and ends America's benign neglect of its neighbor, then ¡viva!
Mexico's war on the powerful drug cartels began in 2006 when a courageous new president, Felipe Calderón, realized their corrupting threat to the country's democracy. He has deployed more than 30,000 troops to root out the gangs, igniting a secondary war between them that has hindered their trade but led to thousands of murders – some in the US.
It's not "mission accomplished." Mr. Calderón still needs an equal measure of courage from Washington to reduce the massive drug consumption among Americans and to curb the flow of arms to the cartels, as well as provide more aid to Mexican security forces that was promised last year.
If Congress needs an incentive to act now, it would lie in two recent developments: The cartels have rapidly expanded into hundreds of US cities and have shifted some of their business to human trafficking, or smuggling Mexicans into the US, often in abusive ways. This month, federal agents arrested 755 alleged members of Mexico's Sinaloa cartel operating in the US and seized $59 million in criminal proceeds.
President Obama, perhaps aware of the potential political backlash from these threats, has dispatched Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to Mexico this week. He will visit next month, but Mrs. Clinton might be the best person to guide Congress to work with Mexico on a whole range of issues, from immigration to drugs, that bind the two countries. Like it or not.
Democrats in Congress got off to a bad start this year by caving to a request from the Teamsters union to end a NAFTA obligation that allows Mexican trucks to enter the US. Now Mexico has rightly responded with tariffs on 90 American products. Such US-initiated protectionism does not set a good example for the world during a global recession, let alone help Mexico uplift its economy.
Mr. Obama will also soon announce a re-inforcement of US security in border states, such as Arizona. Cartel-related kidnappings are becoming almost a daily occurrence in Phoenix as are drug-related home invasions in Tucson. In Texas, the governor has asked for 1,000 more soldiers of the National Guard and military observation helicopters to help keep the border secure.
The most difficult task for Obama may be in tightening gun laws and their enforcement in order to crack down on gun shops that sell weapons to cartel-related buyers. About 90 percent of the guns in Mexico come from the US.
To curb US drug use and reduce the cartels' biggest market – about $14 billion – both federal and state governments need better prevention and rehabilitation programs in addition to antidrug enforcement.
Mexico can't reform its society – and end the flow of migrants to the US – without America's help in smashing the drug cartels. The cartels' bribery of officials is as much a threat as their violence. Calderón needs Obama as a close partner just as Washington is starting to realize that it needs to help Calderón succeed on many fronts.