Mexico Isn’t a Failed State — Yet.

By Mark Krikorian on March 25, 2009

But we need to protect ourselves now.

Mexico is in trouble. The drug wars there have claimed more than 7,000 lives since President Calderón took office in late 2007. Police are being beheaded, politicians are being assassinated, and pundits are talking of Mexico’s becoming a “failed state.”

The potential consequences for the United States are very serious, much more serious than anything likely to happen in Afghanistan or Iraq. The violence has already started to spill over the border, and it is only a matter of time before an American police officer or Border Patrol agent or judge is beheaded. The even greater danger is massive refugee flows, inundating the Southwest with unprecedented numbers of Mexicans fleeing violence, few of whom would likely return, regardless of changed conditions at home.

But first, the good news: Mexico is not a failed state, and won’t be any time soon. In fact, the reason for the explosion of violence is precisely that the state is asserting itself, trying to end the cozy and corrupt arrangements that allowed drug cartels to buy all the pols and cops they needed to conduct their business unmolested. What’s more, the bulk of the violence is taking place in only three states (though two of them are on our border), while much of the country is relatively calm.

And there is as yet no mass emigration of the kind we saw from El Salvador, 25 percent of whose population fled during the civil war there in the 1980s. In fact, illegal immigration from Mexico has fallen significantly, initially because of tighter enforcement and now also because of the economic downturn here. In El Paso, for instance, the Border Patrol in 1993 apprehended an average of more than 1,000 illegal aliens a day; now it’s down to 38 a day.

But that’s pretty much it for good news, and the bad news is daunting. Retired Gen. Barry McCaffrey, in a December analysis, issued a dire warning:

The incoming Obama Administration must immediately focus on the dangerous and worsening problems in Mexico, which fundamentally threaten U.S. national security. Before the next eight years are past, the violent, warring collection of criminal drug cartels could overwhelm the institutions of the state and establish de facto control over broad regions of northern Mexico.

A failure by the Mexican political system to curtail lawlessness and violence could result [in] a surge of millions of refugees crossing the U.S. border to escape the domestic misery of violence, failed economic policy, poverty, hunger, joblessness, and the mindless cruelty and injustice of a criminal state.

What’s more, our military’s Joint Forces Command reported last fall:

In terms of worst-case scenarios for the Joint Force and indeed the world, two large and important states bear consideration for a rapid and sudden collapse: Pakistan and Mexico.

Any country whose name follows the words “Pakistan and” is probably frakked. The report continues:

The Mexican possibility may seem less likely, but the government, its politicians, police, and judicial infrastructure are all under sustained assault and pressure by criminal gangs and drug cartels. How that internal conflict turns out over the next several years will have a major impact on the stability of the Mexican state. Any descent by Mexico into chaos would demand an American response based on the serious implications for homeland security alone.

So, what do we do?

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Topics: Mexico