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Mexico: A Very Interesting Talk by General (ret.) Barry McCaffrey


Command in Afghanistan is hiding behind the failed Dustoff policy.  Good luck with that. I don’t care.  If they are upset now, they’ll be apoplectic before this is over.  Many Army Dustoff and Air Force Pedro people are fully behind what I am doing.  This must be driving the Army crazy.

If Afghanistan is out, I’ll finish some writing projects and shift to Mexico/US coverage.  This will entail moving probably to Texas or Arizona.
Meanwhile, please check out this interesting and informative speech by General McCaffrey.

By the way, General (ret) McCaffrey told me that he fully supports a giant wall across the entire frontier with Mexico:

20 October 2011

Mexico: Drugs, Crime and the Rule of Law

Barry R, McCaffrey, General, USA (Retired)

Presentation to:

The US Army War College Center for Strategic Leadership and George Washington University Homeland Security Policy Institute

“The Hybrid Threat: Crime, Terrorism, and Insurgency in Mexico”

Let me thank you for the kind introduction. That was very generous. And more importantly, let me thank you for the opportunity to be here. I really came because I wanted to hear the two panels. You have brought together a number of people I have enormous respect for and who really understand the issues.

To set up remarks for the remainder of the session today, I must confess a bias. In my mind, the most important nations to the U.S. today in terms of economic health, in terms of political realities, in terms of our future—are Canada and Mexico. With us, they constitute this giant economic basket. To a very large extent, we have enjoyed a tradition of open borders, allowing for the free movement of goods and services across a huge economic zone that was formalized by NAFTA[1]. I would also tell you that, when we examine our relationship with Canada and Mexico, we are taking into account 100 million-plus people who are central to our economic well being.

When you look at the United States, 307 million people who comprise the wealthiest society in the history of the world, and you look internally at how we keep this unprecedented prosperity going, a lot of it is based on immigration. Whether it is Nigerian petroleum engineers, Russian bridge engineers, Polish aviation engineers—we reap the benefit of a huge amount of intellectual talent that comes by way of immigration into the United States. They arrive just like many of our forbearers, with little else than hope and talent…and like those forbearers, they have done, and will do, okay.

But the inescapable fact is that 10 to 12 million of those migrants (depending upon the numbers you want to believe) are here illegally. And the majority of those are Central American and Mexican laborers. They are growing our food, providing for the foundation of our construction industries, and running our daycare centers. Increasingly they are getting Green Cards[2], gaining U.S. citizenship and voting. They are buying businesses. That is all to their credit. To our shame too many of these people incapable of going to the police and asking for protection, not receiving minimum wage, not working under OSHA[3] safety standards, and are unable to wire money home to their mother (which is why they came here in the first place). All while carrying a significant portion of our economic vitality on their backs.

These things figure prominently when we start talking about counterterrorism or counterdrug activities or border control, because until you recognize that you have a million people a day crossing the border from Mexico—legally or illegally—we’re still talking about a half-million or more moving across the frontier. So, we have to regularize immigration, without which very little of the discussion that follows makes much sense.

In that discussion, I will tell you that I am an unabashed friend of Mexico’s. When you look inside Mexico, filled as it were with a hardworking, humble, spiritual people—terrific businessmen, terrific friends—we find a culture that has permeated much of the United States. This is true in terms of food, music, and language; in fact, the only language (other than English) you can speak in the United States—freely, anywhere in the country, and be answered immediately—is Spanish. The inter-penetration of our two cultures that has been beneficial to both of our peoples.

Our response and interaction on a people-to-people basis is extremely positive. There is an enormous affinity shared between the Mexican and American people, both along the border and throughout the country. But on an official level, for hundreds of years, there has been a tremendous anxiety—bordering on paranoia, on the part of Mexico. The classic saying, “Poor Mexico: So far from God… So close to the United States,” is indicative of this “official divide” that is not manifested in a “personal divide” between us. And I think a corresponding position on the part of official Mexico calls for a frank discussion of the political realities will be a harmful thing because it will negatively affect foreign investment and tourism.

So the dialogue between the United States and Mexico, outside of the last ten years, has been based upon a combination of U.S. ignorance and arrogance, and Mexican paranoia…and that does not lead to sensible policy. And the problem is exacerbated by chasing policies that are based on what I consider to be a misnomer. What we are facing now in Mexico is not a “war on drugs.” It goes well beyond that. What’s happening in Mexico is a struggle to establish the rule of law; not just on a police and military level, but also on a cultural level. We are struggling with a contradiction: on the one hand, you are trying to create a society that is internally democratic and self-governing; on the other hand, a significant element of that society has operated with impunity under the law. The short-term problem—chief among the realities they’re facing in Mexico—is that somewhere between $19-$35 billion a year of drug-related commerce is being generated there. The numbers vary depending on your source, but the impact is clear. That amount of money is a blowtorch that melts democratic institutions. It establishes a level of violence…a sophistication of violence…that is perpetuated in and among 120,000 people directly involved with the drug cartels.

Some of them are organized in platoon- and company-sized units—and I use those phrases provocatively to tell you that we are dealing with 50 to 70 people with automatic weapons, RPGs[4], other military-grade grenades, machine guns, and 50-caliber anti-aircraft guns, who will engage in direct firefights and engagements with Mexican Marines and Soldiers. And they will abduct squad-sized units of the Army and the Federal Police, torture them to death, decapitate them, and leave them as provocative gestures. And they will abduct Mexican general officers and murder them, and leave them with a sign around their necks. They have created an internal atmosphere of intimidation that is so pronounced that, in some ways, it has become impossible for local police (and to some extent state police) to deal with it. It is some kind of threat.

How many people have died at the hands of these elements? Again, the numbers vary with the sources you choose; but one could safely posit 42,000 murders during the current struggle to establish the rule of law.

To reiterate, it’s more than just drugs. It’s also prostitution, abuse of women in the immigrant population, violation of commercial control laws, and potentially (although I don’t think this is a dominant concern) it bears an associated threat with terrorism.

As Frank (Cilluffo) mentioned, we have just been through a Congressional hearing[5] surrounding a report I recently released[6] with (Major General–Retired) Bob Scales. As the hearing progressed the focus shifted to the cartel’s cross-border drug activity. There were a lot of sparks flying, with U.S. Congressmen in denial over this situation; but basically, I think, there is an unwillingness to accept the fact that the problem is not just internal to Mexico.

You have to start with the fact that there are seven major cartels and forty or so subsidiary groups which, combined, represent a peril to the United States. Yes, Stupid, they do. There are 280 some-odd cities in the United States whose dominant organized crime activity is Mexican cartel. They have associates in more than a thousand cities. I just did a seminar for the Portland (Oregon) Police. They are facing a Mexican cartel activity. I participated in the Alameda County “Urban Shield” exercise. They house another Mexican cartel activity. The cartel and their gang foot soldiers are all over the country. They are armed, they are dangerous, and instinctively (because they are a business) they don’t want to confront the FBI.

You and I ought to thank God for the FBI, because the other threat to U.S. democracy associated with the ones we are dealing with here is corruption. You know, when you are talking about the amount of money being offered at this level, it’s not “silver or lead” being thrown up against a U.S. Border Patrol agent—it’s silver. And we’ve had some problems because of it.

Some of our institutions are almost impossible to penetrate: not totally impossible, of course; but when you consider the Coast Guard, the FBI, the Marshall Service, the U.S. Air Force (with regard to radar operators)—it’s pretty hard to penetrate our institutions. That impenetrable nature keeps those institutions from crumbling.

But that cross-border threat from Mexico is real, and—as I said—is using gangs in America as its foot soldiers. There are 30,000 gangs in America, with a million gang members in them. In Texas alone there are 18,000 gang members. And unwittingly, we are contributing to their numbers. The United States has some 2.1 million people in our prisons—nearly the highest incarceration rate on the face of the Earth. Within those prisons we are providing a means for these gangs to socialize, recruit and expand. When the incarcerated leave the prisons (and we turn out a half million every year) many of them are schooled and prepared to enter into the Mexican cartels’ activities. We have found that to be particularly true along the southwest border. And the ranks of the foot soldiers grow, with guns and power distributed from the rural communities of the southwest to the streets of our major metropolitan areas.

And by the way, these are not hierarchical organizations. This is not an ideological struggle. This isn’t a religious struggle. It’s a criminal struggle. And that’s the threat we are facing.

Now we put something in the report that raised ire and anxiety in the law enforcement community.   We said the conditions along the Texas border are like “working in a war zone.” That doesn’t mean El Paso, that island of tranquility that stands as the Geneva of the Southwest. The zone we are talking about is at “the end of the fence,” where people are crossing the border in gangs of 20 or 30 people with automatic weapons, cutting fences, intimidating ranchers, and abducting people. We had a wonderful Texas veterinarian rancher, Dr. Mike Vickers, testifying at the hearing, and he said, “Well, you know, in my county alone there were maybe 600 homicides in the last several years, primarily Mexican migrants crossing that frontier—absent the protection of U.S. law.”

We have completely, inadequately resourced the control of our own frontiers with federal law enforcement. This isn’t a military operation…that “working in a war zone” comment didn’t come from me—it came from a Texas Ranger…and a similar comment came from one of the border communities’ Sheriffs. If you put together those border counties in Texas, and said “you are now a state,” it would be the poorest state in the union, bar none. And it would rank number 1 in federal crimes recorded. We’ve got a struggle going on in the frontier. And the frontiers are inadequately resourced.

We’re doing better. Thank God for Janet Napolitano and Judge Chertoff and Tom Ridge who have led the building of a Department of Homeland Security that is effectively the third largest department in the government. We have consolidated law enforcement organizations. We have put $40 billion-plus a year into their works. So a lot of good has happened. When Mark Coomer[7]—who intellectually propped me up through several assignments in life—and I were working on the Colombia issue, we had—I think—approximately 4,000 people on the U.S. Border Patrol. That was it. And now we are up, I think, to 19,000[8]. I tell people that the right answer is 45,000 people on the U.S. Border Patrol…and the Attorney General—for budget reasons and programmatic issues—will ask, “Well, General, what are the analytical underpinnings to your argument calling for that number?” Underpinnings? I just made the number up out of whole cloth! 45,000 was the high water mark number of the NYPD and its civilian component.[9] They’re protecting 8 million Americans. How would you expect to control 5,000 miles of Canadian frontier, a couple of thousand miles of Mexican border, the Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico and the Gulf Coast states with less than that number?

Nonsense. We have not yet created the institutions of domestic security that we need along the borders. And by the way, you can’t just count on uniformed officers of the law. You have to include the justice system in the ultimate equation, along with detention capabilities and a host of other functions. If you end up with a Mexican family being used as surrogate mules for drug smuggling, you can’t just turn them back to Mexico…you have to have some legal resolution that will incorporate all these functions and more. We haven’t built that capacity yet.

Finally—what do you do about it all? If I was running for public office I would want to now proceed to tell you whatever you wanted to hear. But since this is such a complicated issue involving such a broad diversity of people, you can’t offer a quick message with a single solution. I think that one of the things you have to do is to hit upon a decent strategy to approach the complexities. When we used to talk about complicated strategies of these sorts at the Kennedy School in Harvard, we sought after an architectural framework on which to hang our policies. The framework would necessarily include the resources that will be required to carry out the concepts you are trying to convey and apply, and the ends you are trying to achieve. I make no argument against Iraq, Afghanistan and other foreign terrorist operations we have undertaken; but right now the economic “burn rate” in Afghanistan is $10 billion a month. We are running 300 to 1,000 killed and wounded a month. And it’s a pretty primitive and desperate struggle being executed 7,000 miles away from home, with 150,000 NATO troops. Compare that to the expenditures being devoted to the requirements we are addressing here.

The Merida Initiative[10] is the biggest slice of those expenditures to date. All told, it has cost $1.3 billion over the last three years. We have given the Mexicans 11 helicopters so far. Are we kidding ourselves? Colombia has experienced a night-and-day change—primarily because of the courage of the Colombian people, the Colombian National Police, and the Colombian Armed Forces. President Santos Calderón had me down there a year ago to witness the change. The last time I was there in public office in 2001 there were a couple thousand people in my security detachment, because it would have been considered embarrassing to have had me “whacked” on my farewell visit. When I visited last year, there were a dozen of these professional security officers. You could drive all over the country. The ELN[11], a goofy group of Marxists, is coming apart…they’re disappearing. The FARC[12] is overwhelmingly repudiated by the Colombian people. The Plan Colombia story is a good one…but a lot of the reason is that we stood with them, often to the tune of a billion dollars a year for several years. We gave, for instance, 250 aircraft and other means that allowed the Colombian national police to establish the rule of law across the one-third of the country where it had been lacking.

It is a success story. Earlier some of us were reminiscing over the work that we had done in support of the Plan. Once I was at a Congressional hearing, with 14 Representatives who spanned from the far-left to the far-right. All of them badgered me and whined and sniveled for the entire four-hour hearing; and then all of them voted for Plan Colombia. Afterwards we went with a bi-partisan delegation down to Colombia, with the Republican Speaker of the House and the President of the United States on hand to sign that treaty.

There is a similarity here. And what I am suggesting is that, besides immigration reform, besides border control, I think what we need to do is to provide better support to the government of Mexico. There is no danger of a failed state there—in spite of alarms to the contrary. You are not going to be able to take down the Mexican Marines and Army in a firefight with 70 narco-terrorists. That’s not going to happen.

But the question is, when the new Administration comes in—whether the PAN[13] or the PRI[14]—are they going to come to an accommodation with these criminals and dismiss our concerns as a “gringo problem, not our problem”?

That would, of course, constitute a disaster for the rule of law in Mexico…but it would also be a huge problem for us. So we need, it seems to me, to demonstrably stand with these brave men and women in Mexico—to include the media, local police, local mayors, business leaders—all of whom now stand on the edge.

It is time for us to come out of the state of denial. Some of this is normal, bureaucratic behavior. If you come in with a critical evaluation of any issue, the tendency of an Administration—U.S., Mexican or what have you—is to roll up in a ball and deny the critique. In the hearing last week I called for a coherent strategy for border security. There is no unifying strategy for the border. We are better off with DHS, thank God; having an agency that is overseeing and coordinating the issues is essential. But you still run into these bizarre things; for instance, where the Border Patrol for the longest time was forbidden to set foot on Department of the Interior land. Now I think they have to “negotiate” their arrival to the same one to three days ahead of the requirement. What are we thinking? I recently heard that the Border Patrol responded directly to an unnamed television media inquiry having to do with the situation on the border by saying “I’m sorry we can’t take you out there. We’re not allowed to demonstrate that the 2011 Department of Justice threat report is valid.” We’re in denial. And we have to get over it.

We have got to decide what is important to America; and that, it seems to me, is to work coherently with both Canada and Mexico on a range of these inter-related issues. And I think we will.

So again, Frank, thanks to you and Bert for allowing me to make these opening comments, and I look forward to learning from the subsequent discussions.

[1] North American Free Trade Agreement

[2] The “Green Card” is issued by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. Its holder is someone who has been granted authorization to live and work in the United States on a permanent basis.

[3] Occupational Safety and Health Administration, of the United States Department of Labor

[4] Rocket Propelled Grenades

[5] House of Representatives Homeland Security Subcommittee on Oversight, Investigations and Management, “A Call to Action: Narco-Terrorism’s Threat to the Southern U.S. Border,” 14 October, 2011

[6] “Texas Border Security: A Strategic Military Assessment,” Barry R. McCaffrey, Robert H. Scales, September 2011, commissioned by the Texas Department of Agriculture

[7] Mark C, Coomer, COL, USA(RET), currently the Director of Homeland Security and Defense Business Development, ITT Corporation

[8] There are currently over 20,000 agents in the U.S. Border Patrol

[9] The number of uniformed police officers in the NYPD peaked in October 2000 with 40,800 officers

[10] The Merida Initiative is described by the Department of State as the multi-year program demonstrating “the United States’ commitment to work in partnership with governments in Mexico, the nations of Central America, the Dominican Republic and Haiti to confront criminal organizations whose illicit actions undermine public safety, erode the rule of law, and threaten the national security of the United States.” To date, some $465 million in equipment and training has been delivered under Merida.   In 2011 roughly half a billion dollars in equipment and capacity building programs will be delivered.

[11] National Liberation Army (Ejército de Lieberación Nacional)

[12] Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia)

[13] The National Action Party (Partido Acción Nacional)

[14] Institutional Revolutionary Party (Partido Revolucionario Institucional)

Michael Yon

Michael Yon is America's most experienced combat correspondent. He has traveled or worked in 82 countries, including various wars and conflicts.

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