Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Military Aid to Mexico

Via Boz, The Washington Post on increased aid to the Mexican military:

The U.S. military has begun to work closely with Mexico's armed forces, sharing information and training soldiers in an expanding effort to help that country battle its violent drug cartels, according to U.S. and Mexican officials.

U.S. military officials have been hesitant to discuss publicly their growing ties with Mexico, for fear of triggering a backlash among a Mexican public wary of interference. But current and former officials say the U.S. military has instructed hundreds of Mexican officers in the past two years in subjects such as how to plan military operations, use intelligence to hunt traffickers and observe human rights.

The Pentagon's counternarcotics funding for Mexico has nearly tripled, from $12.2 million in 2008 to more than $34 million in 2010, according to estimates by the Government Accountability Office.

This doesn't really surprise me that much, given the increase in visits by American military brass to Mexico in the past couple of years, from Gates on down. Boz has some interesting commentary on the subject as well:
In any conversation about US military aid to Mexico, someone will immediately remark about how the Mexican public will oppose military aid because of the historical tensions. It's a mandatory line in any article about this issue. This leads to three possible conclusions:

1. Don't do it.
2. Do it, defend the policy publicly and accept the criticism.
3. Do it and don't talk about it.

I know lots of commentators who believe the first option. I happen to be a supporter of the second option, believing that military aid is important but an abundance of transparency should come with that aid, even if it means facing criticism. Mexico is a democracy and their president or Congress can reject the aid. If they accept it and the public disagrees, they can vote differently next election. If controversial military aid is going to be provided, this is a debate that needs to occur publicly and with some level of accountability. The US officials providing the aid and the Mexican officials receiving it should be willing and even eager to discuss the issue in public.
I tend to agree, and I'd also say that fears of Mexican nationalism are often stronger than the nationalism itself. Obviously, Mexicans don't want the 82nd Airborne patrolling in Zacatecas, but I think the number of people who are going to be truly apoplectic about this, and not just trying to make political hay, is pretty limited. I know people in the States assume Mexicans are permanently scarred by the Mexican War and therefore extremely distrustful of all things having to do with the US, especially its government. The Mexican War and the loss of territory certainly plays a big role in kids' history lessons growing up, and there's an element of lingering fear, but Mexicans increasingly have first-hand knowledge of the US that weighs much more heavily than events that they know only from classes. In my experience (which was in the North, which could affect my thinking) your average Mexican isn't much different than your average non-American in his views toward the US and its military, which is to say, once again, that no one wants American troops on Mexican streets, but $35 million in aid and some limited training programs aren't going to spark a popular uprising. That's not to say that there aren't risks, but the Mexican public is completely capable of concluding that the benefits (i.e., greater capacity to take down drug traffickers, perhaps evidenced by the Mexican marines' long and successful hunts for Tony Tormenta and Arturo Beltrán Leyva) outweigh the risks.

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