Joakim Soria, the ace relief pitcher for the Kansas City Royals, recently asked that people stop using the moniker "The Mexicutioner" for him. Soria, allegedly the all-time saves leader among Mexican-born relievers, said that, "It is sad when you see your country like that, and that nickname is a negative to the kids in Mexico. There's too much violence. It's really bad."
Personally, I wish the general worried a bit more about the damage done to America by the government's embrace of torture as a policy under President Bush.
By Amanda Pfabe
Best Defense All American roving correspondent
Retired Air Force Gen. Michael Hayden, former director of the CIA, spoke the other day at Johns Hopkins University's Rethinking Seminar about six security concerns that would keep him up at night were he still in the government. All six, he said, have a degree of imminence to them:
No. 1: Proliferation (specifically concerning Iran)
Hayden noted that answering questions pertaining to Iranian nuclear capabilities is easier to do than articulating how the Iranian government makes decisions. No one seems to know who or what influences policy. The confusion and mixed messages coming from Tehran surrounding the detention of the three American hikers, two of whom are still being held in Iran, in 2009 underscores the fact that Iran is a fully functioning society with a fully dysfunctional government.
His scary bottom line: Iran's quest to obtain nuclear weapons is a means to deterring the United States. Attempts to affect their nuclear capability, such as Stuxnet, will simply make them more committed to that quest.
No. 2: China
Hayden was quick to explain that China is not necessarily an enemy, as there are "logical non-heroic policies available to both sides" that can prevent conflicts. However, China's recent international behavior, such as the Chinese fishing boat's collision with Japanese coast guard vessels, can be described as triumphal and akin to that of a teenager whose strength has outstripped his judgment, experience, and wisdom. Several structural problems, including its uneven distribution of wealth, gender imbalance, and environmental disasters, promise to cause growing pains for China as it continues its ascent. Moreover, the legitimacy of the Communist Party governance is based on an unsustainable ten percent GDP growth per year.
In 1974, the military became all volunteer. In the 1980s, the Reagan tax cuts began a huge transfer of wealth to the already wealthy, top 1 percent of American society. Normally we don't connect these two events, but with the passage of time, I suspect we may come to see them together as the moment when the wealthy checked out of America and moved into physical and mental gated communities.
I've already talked about how over the last 30 years, the proportion of wealth going to the top 1 percent has gone from 10 percent of annual national income to almost 25 percent, a greater share than in the Roaring '20s. And many of the readers of this blog have contributed thoughts about the All-Volunteer Force, especially how many American parents no longer have a sense of skin in the game.
In a nutshell:
(The chart shows inflation-adjusted percentage increase in after-tax household income for the top 1 percent and the four quintiles, between 1979 and 2005.)
I bring all this up again because when I think about the Tea Party and the broader national mood of anti-incumbency, I suspect it all is part of a growing national distrust and dislike of elites. If Washington is getting whupped today, Wall Street can't be far behind on the hit parade. While I have problems with the Tea Party, I do think it is correct to suspect that the elites are not doing their part. So where I think this winds up is probably a sharp populist backlash, in five or 10 years, when all the national bills really start coming due. Ireland today may be America soon. Get ready for increase in income tax rates. But, as the wealthy will tell you after a few drinks, occupational income is really for the little people. The real game is capital gains taxes, and the rate there is just 15 percent. I suspect it will double sometime down the road.
And while we are at it, let's have a parallel debate about national service, OK?
Bringing back a draft does not mean bringing back the draft we saw in the 1960s. Rather, I think we design a new deal that offer a three-part set of options:
The military option. You do 18 months of military service. The leaders of the armed forces will kick and moan, but these new conscripts could do a lot of work that currently is outsourced: cutting the grass, cooking the food, taking out the trash, painting the barracks. They would receive minimal pay during their terms of service, but good post-service benefits, such as free tuition at any university in America. If the draftees like the military life, and some will, they could at the end of their terms transfer to the professional force, which would continue to receive higher pay and good benefits. (But we'd also raise the retirement age for the professional force to 30 years of service, rather than 20 as it is now. There is no reason to kick healthy 40-year-olds out of the military and then pay them 40 years of retirement pay.)
The civilian service option.Don't want to go military? Not a problem. We have lots of other jobs at hand. You do two years of them -- be a teacher's aide at a troubled inner-city school, clean up the cities, bring meals to elderly shut-ins. We might even think about how this force could help rebuild the American infrastructure, crumbling after 30 years of neglect. These national service people would receive post-service benefits essentially similar to what military types get now, with tuition aid.
The libertarian opt-out. There is a great tradition of libertarianism in this country, and we honor it. Here, you opt out of the military and civilian service options. You do nothing for Uncle Sam. In return, you ask for nothing from him. For the rest of your life, no tuition aid, no federal guarantees on your mortgage, no Medicare. Anything we can take you out of, we will. But the door remains open -- if you decide at age 50 that you were wrong, fine, come in and drive a general around for a couple of years.
Mexican drug boss Tony Tormenta ("storm" in Spanish) went out Butch Cassidy-style in a running firefight the other day across the border from Brownsville, Texas. Not only automatic weapons, but also grenades, were involved. Final score: Drug gang lost 4, Mexican marines lost 3, with one observer, a Mexican reporter, also killed. Border bridges were briefly closed.
Speaking of violence against journalists, a leading Russian reporter got his legs, jaw and fingers broken by someone who apparently disliked the attention he has given to political extremist groups. It takes real courage to write honestly about politics in today's Russia.
What's not to like? Col. Robert Killebrew (U.S. Army, ret.) and Jennifer Bernal-Garcia, both occasional contributors to this blog, are gonna roll out a ground-breaking report on the national security implications of drug cartels. I think this one will get some notice.
It is Sept. 30 at 5 pm. RSVP here. And if you tell 'em Best Defense sent you, you might get a free beer afterwards.
Here's a comment from our drugs ‘n' violence reporter, who lately has gone all "old media" and has been moonlighting for the Washington Post's op-ed page.
By Jennifer Bernal-Garcia
Best Defense cocaine cartels correspondent
The new issue of Foreign Affairs features an article by former DEA Administrator and former CBP Commissioner Robert C. Bonner titled "The New Cocaine Cowboys - How to Defeat Mexico's Drug Cartels." It provides a great overview of the factors that led to the current situation in Mexico, covering pre-existing corruption but also the incremental efforts of the past three presidential administrations to try to curb cartel influence. It also, however, misses a number of points that would have made it truly timely and therefore falls short of providing a true outline for government success.
Bonner makes three main assertions. First, Mexico can learn important lessons from Colombia's struggle against its own cartels in the ‘90s. It is a more apt comparison than the Plan Colombia period, as has been already pointed out by scholars like Vanda Felbab-Brown of Brookings. Basically, fighting very fragmented cartels requires the skillful use of law enforcement against every level of their organizations.
A few days ago a former Mexican presidential candidate apparently was kidnapped. Yesterday half the police force in a town quit after two of their colleagues were ambushed. Attacks on the political and security systems look like an insurgency to me.
This looks like a classic candidate for an inter-agency wargame: How could the various arms of the U.S. government, from military to legal to diplomatic, economic and political, help the people of Mexico?
Spencer Platt/Getty Images
This kind of atrocity, allegedly committed by a drug gang, reminds me of Chechnya. But it is in a place where I have vacationed, and where my son has lived.
Meanwhile, the cartels seem to be ganging up on a group of hit men in the border area.
Honduras also is seeing drug violence.
I'm voting for growing drug-related insecurity along the U.S.-Mexican border as the sleeper national security issue of the year. It may even combine with post-Castro Cuba, as drug gangs seek to move into that island's ungoverned spaces -- and there will be some.
LUIS ACOSTA/AFP/Getty Images
By Col. Robert Killebrew, U.S. Army (Ret.)
Best Defense criminal cartels correspondent
The media has picked up on the Mexican cartel wars, and Hillary Clinton's high-level trip down there is an indication of official concern. From where I sit, the danger now is that we'll overreact, in the grand old American tradition, and do more harm than good. The danger of doing so is particularly acute in regard to Mexico, which has a key presidential election coming up in 2012 and whose continued fight against the cartels is by no means assured. Here are some thoughts.
First, Mexico is only one part, though probably the most important one, of a theater of operations that stretches from the Venezuelan-Cuban-Iranian alliance and the Andean Ridge, through Columbia and the FARC, up the cartel-controlled drug routes through Central America, the Caribbean and Mexico, and into the United States, where the cartels control most of the wholesale drug distribution in the US and "subcontract" to the Latino gangs (and others) for retail sales. The same outfits that slit throats in Mexico are also operating in Atlanta.
Spencer Platt/Getty Images
Gunmen killed two Americans and a Mexican associated with the staff of the U.S. consulate in Ciudad Juarez.
"The cartels are already in full operation in the US in most cities, wake up Americans! It is your problem too, it is your OTHER war," comments "Jen" in Mexico.
Jesus Alcazar/AFP/Getty Images
I think Mexico is the wild card in our national security situation, which is one reason I like carrying reports by my CNAS colleagues Bob Killebrew and Jennifer Bernal-Garcia about drugs, gangs and such. Along those lines, John McCreary's NightWatch reports that
Local TV news in Texas reported that the Zetas have left Reynosa tonight. They've moved about 150 miles west to Nuevo Laredo. Sources reported the Zetas want to take over the city and make it their base of operations. The U.S. Consulate General's office already has confirmed a gun battle in Nuevo Laredo. ... According to the TV news cast the Zetas are already calling in reinforcements. Some 700 Zetas from around Mexico are joining the 500 already brought to the area last week. The Gulf Cartel also called in reinforcements last week and reportedly joined forces with La Familia Michoacana (LFM) and the Sinaloa Cartel."
McCreary's conclusion: "If this report is accurate, Laredo, Texas, needs to prepare for a spillover of violence and an influx of drugs."
Here's a guest post from Jennifer Bernal of CNAS regarding a recent Washington Post article about Mexican cartel operations inside the United States:
By Jennifer Bernal
Best Defense Drugs, Crime & Terror Beat Reporter
The story caught my eye because beyond outlining the mind-boggling scale of certain Mexican cartel operations in the U.S., it illustrates a key question when fighting them: Does fragmenting groups ultimately make detecting and dismantling them easier or more difficult? In Mexico, Felipe's Calderon government has been repeatedly criticized for trying to take on all the country's drug cartels at once with agencies that did not have the capacity to do so. It is argued that the extreme flexibility of the cartels simply allows them to reconfigure, and they end up striking back with more horizontal and unruly violence.
The story of the Flores brothers shows how associations between domestic gangs and international drug trafficking organizations can spring up in ad hoc ways, which contributes to easily-shifting alliances. In the case of the Flores brothers, their father and older brother ran drugs for the Sinaloa cartel. While the article does not explicitly state whether the brothers joined a local Chicago gang like the Latin Kings or the Two-Six, it's easy to speculate that they would, with their family ties providing the necessary bridge between the two types of groups.
LUIS ACOSTA/AFP/Getty Images
Here is a report from my CNAS colleague Jennifer Bernal-Garcia, who is working with Bob Killebrew on the merger of drug gangs and terrorism, about a meeting they held recently with law enforcement experts on gang violence:
By Jennifer Bernal
Best Defense Drugs & Crime Correspondent
Cops are the first line of defense against gangs, and they have a pretty good understanding of the issue. Talking with them yields a pretty grim assessment: There is a huge gang problem in the United States. Our cops in attendance estimated that the U.S. might have up to 1 million gang members, although the problem is often underreported both because it is difficult to detect and because of local politicians' incentives to downplay crime figures in their areas. The gang problem is inherently tied in to broader regional criminal trends. The extensiveness of drug trafficking south of the border and the degree to which cartels violently contest state authority is well acknowledged. There is nonetheless a common misperception that drug networks disintegrate when you cross the border into the U.S. They don't. Gangs -- mostly youth gangs -- step in to domestically distribute the drugs that cartels traffic in.
Jesus Alcazar/AFP/Getty Images
For all you national security law junkies, here's a firsthand report from my CNAS colleague Jennifer Bernal on the American Bar Association's two-day long annual hoedown on National Security Law. (I know, what was second prize?):
There was one panel that I made not sure not to miss: 'Narco-violence Along the Border,' correctly -- in my opinion -- flagged as 'an emerging issue in national security law.'
I work on issues related to this narco-violence at CNAS, so I found the fact that this issue was prominently featured at the ABA conference both striking and encouraging. Now, as with most unsettling geopolitical phenomena, one can argue at different levels whether and how the situation in Mexico poses a national security threat to the United States. (The 'failed state' argument that an unstable southern neighbor is inherently detrimental to U.S. security versus the view that only considers direct attacks on the U.S. homeland, and so on.) What is certain is that the drug war in Mexico now routinely spills across the border. (It's why cities in places like Arizona are now tremendously unsafe, with drug-related kidnapping rates that have tripled in the past eight years.)
As the panel moderator put it: To what extent should we deal with drug-trafficking groups with the same methods we use with terrorist ones? How should the U.S. government handle the line between law-enforcement and intelligence- and military-oriented responses? Given a national legal framework that depends on formal categories (citizen vs. non-citizen, state vs. non-state) and the ways in which drug violence and associated problems repeatedly defy them, the answers are complicated indeed.
Unfortunately, the panel fell flat of my expectations by omitting to address these questions completely. The preceding discussion, 'Legislative Update on Developments in National Security Law,' was as jargon-y as you would expect from its title, setting my expectations for the upcoming one. Yet -- and as ironic as this sounds -- what was missing from the panel on narco-violence was a discussion of, well, law. What we got instead was a very thorough run-down of the situation in Mexico. The panelists discussed mounting death tolls (more than 5,600 casualties in 2008 alone), the alarming amount of manpower and firepower wielded by cartels, the chaotic nature of the confrontations between them, as well as the ways in which the U.S. exacerbates the conflict (drug demand and gun supply). Most of this information was on point, but it never evolved into a policy discussion.
Fact: most people don't know as much as they should about Mexico. (This became painfully obvious during a low moment in the panel when the speaker asked the audience a number of very basic questions about the country, to astounding general silence.) There's value to informing people. Yet I would have hoped for more from a discussion hosted by the ABA. Even what is arguably the biggest and most obvious legal question when it comes to policies to curb U.S. drug demand, the de-criminalization of marijuana, emerged as an afterthought in the very last question of the Q&A. Really?
Certainly, even just getting the facts right is important. It's also why I'll take this chance briefly to discuss two particular items of misinformation that I hear cited at just about every turn. I don't mean to claim that they're the most important, only that they keep coming up and require clarification.(Read on)
Police in Guatemala police rousted out an training camp being run there by Zeta, one of the major Mexican drug cartels. Reportedly the fleeing trainees left behind some 500 hand grenades, along with some rifles and ammunition. The camp also had an airstrip, an obstacle course, and a shooting range with moving targets.
As Mexican troops drove by in Humvees in downtown Juarez, Mexico, a textile salesman told a reporter, "The drug hitmen are in control here. Things are out of control, there's so much death. At six o'clock I go home and I don't go out at all after that. There are so many killings."
What will the U.S. military do? The last time that the U.S. Army invaded Mexico, according to a study by Army historian Matt Matthews, was June 12, 1919, when "soldiers under the command of US Brigadier General James Erwin attacked [Pancho] Villa's base and drove him out of Juarez."
The most interesting news story of the day is that the governor of Texas wants to deploy 1,000 National Guard troops to the Mexican border. I am not sure where this situation is going, but it is the kind of thing that can come out of left field and upset all our plans for our ongoing wars elsewhere.
Meanwhile, the Mexican government also says it is sending troops to the border area, apparently to re-take parts of the city of Juarez, where, according to Reuters, more than 250 people have been killed in drug violence this month. "We aren't going to give up an inch of the city," vowed Interior Minister Fernando Gomez Mont. Kind of reminds me of the recent comments of the Pakistani government about Swat. The difference, of course, is that Swat is near Afghanistan, while Juarez is across the river from the west Texas town of El Paso.
As I've mentioned, my son moved out of Mexico earlier this year because of the violence in the capital. It all kind of reminds me of Sam Peckinpah.
There is a weird analogy between Pakistan and Mexico. In both places, American addictions -- to oil and to drugs -- have helped fund those who are destabilizing those countries. The Pakistan connection is generally less direct -- I am thinking of Saudi Arabian funding of extremists.
Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military for the Washington Post from 2000 through 2008.