Majority of Mexicans support military leading fight against cartels

The next president should include some military operations in his organized crime strategy, but focus on a transition back to civilian policing, writes guest blogger James Bosworth.

• A version of this post ran on the author's blog, The views expressed are the author's own.

From El Universal and the Dallas Morning News:

64 percent approve of the Mexican military leading the fight against organized crime.
 21 percent say the strategy is working.

The majority of the Mexican population isn't angry that Calderon is using the military to fight organized crime. They're angry that he's done such a lousy job of it. This goes back to a criticism I've had of Mexico's president since he first began sending military forces into combat in early 2007. Calderon has the will to fight but he doesn't have a strategy to win.
 For the next president, the goal is to find a successful strategy. That strategy should include some military operations in the short term, but a transition back to full civilian policing over the course of several years.

That said, I think promises by some of the presidential candidates to remove all troops within the arbitrary time frame of one year are unrealistic, at least from a political and public opinion perspective. Given that a strong majority of the Mexican population supports the military and thinks the police are corrupt or incapable of providing security, there would be a backlash against a president who removed all troops from the fight a year from now. If EPN wins, watch him back off from that promise once his advisors realize the actual political stakes.

...52 percent said they back an expanded U.S. role. More than one-fourth — 28 percent — called for putting U.S. troops and drug agents on Mexican soil...

Anyone who has heard me speak about US policy towards Mexico recently has heard a similar point. The pundits who have spent decades claiming that the US can't work with Mexico on security because of longstanding historic tensions have missed the recent shifts in public opinion [See this Monitor story on warming Mexican support for US Military aid]. The Mexican population is becoming increasingly willing to have cooperation with the US government and military on fighting organized crime.
 These public opinion numbers, of course, are not an argument that the US should have large numbers of troops on the ground in Mexico. That would be a disaster. Those numbers would quickly reverse to enormous opposition once the troops were actually there. Nobody should interpret them that way.
 My point is that the US and Mexico should embrace the numbers and promote the cooperation that has been going on for the past few years. Hiding from the debate every time a criticism comes up isn't just bad policy, it's bad politics. More transparency about cooperation in an environment where citizens want to see more cooperation should be an obvious policy. As I wrote in 2010, "When dealing with our democratic neighbors in the hemisphere, either defend the policy publicly or don't do it."

In pictures: Life under military protection in Veracruz, Mexico

Policymakers in the US and Mexico need to get over the fear of mentioning security cooperation as if the ghosts of the 19th century will come strike them down. Pundits and grandstanding politicians aside, public opinion in Mexico is increasingly on the side of greater cooperation, far less concerned about 19th century grievances than 21st century violence. Potential and ongoing security programs should be a public discussion in Mexico that the US welcomes, even in a presidential election year.

– James Bosworth is a freelance writer and consultant who runs Bloggings by Boz.

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