Thursday, November 7, 2019

No, we can't just invade Mexico to go after the drug cartels

Well, I mean that we could, but that there is precisely zero chance that we would succeed.

Folks are talking about this and I want to throw my two cents in.  Sure, we would initially blow away the cartel's armored vehicles and heavy weapons, but the initial success would be fleeting.  There are a million reasons for this, but here's a quick summary:

  • The cartels would hole up in rough terrain, just like Pancho Villa's forces did in the early 20th century.  Sure, we have helicopters which mitigates the lack of roads but the last two decades in Afghanistan do not give confidence in quick military success in mountainous regions.
  • The Pancho Villa expedition in 1916 was called off because the Mexican military intervened to oppose American intervention.  Most Americans don't really realize just how viscerally Mexicans would react to US forces on their soil in numbers.
  • Since the cartels have bought off most Mexican politicians ("silver or lead" - take the payoff or a bullet) the last point becomes even more relevant.

So it's not a question of whether we'd inflict a lot of damage on the cartels.  Of course we would.  But ultimately we'd leave with our tails between our legs and this would make the situation worse than it is today.

And don't think that we would be safe, north of the Rio Grande.  The size of the drug market is unknown but RAND says that just the US black market for drugs was over $100B in 2010.  Add in the EU, Asia, the Anglosphere, and South America and this is certainly half a trillion dollars a year.  That's a lot of money.  The cartels have used this to purchase heavy weapons and armored vehicles, submarines and airplanes.  But that isn't where the threat ends.

Consider how much computer hacking $50M or so could buy.  We know that the power grid is already compromised - the hope is that it is by nation state actors.  But what if it is Black Hats for hire?  It's entirely plausible that if the cartels face a truly existential threat from the US military that they could take down big parts of our critical cyber infrastructure.  This threat has been pretty clear for a decade; I've been beating this drum for that long, although I've mostly given up by now since it's getting worse not better.  Someone in the cartels will have noticed this.

And so while the idea of "let's go blow the cartels away" sounds good on the surface, it's an enormously bad idea.  We'd be fighting a 3rd generation war while the cartels would escalate to a 4th generation one - and we are entirely unprepared for this.

I'm at an all day meeting, so more thoughts on just how fragile our cyber infrastructure is will have to wait.  But it's not just bad, it's worse than you can possibly imagine.

You want to hurt the cartels, then you dry up the cash flow.  You end the war on drugs, legalize everything, and give the drugs away for free.  They can't compete with free.  Anything short of this and you're just going to get a lot of people killed and end up right back where you started.


Fred said...

"Most Americans don't really realize just how viscerally Mexicans would react to US forces on their soil in numbers."
How do most Mexicans feel about killing off a bunch of gringos? I bet that doesn't hurt thier feelings at all.
" legalize everything, and give the drugs away for free."

Well that's a great solution. It's not like drug addiction hurts anybody here. What are all those now unemployed cartel people going to do once that line of work dries up? Human trafficing? Prostituion? Extrotion of cyber infrastructure?

Peter B said...

It would be naive to think that there are not US pols as compromised as their Mexican counterparts where it's tactically useful to the cartels — which already have intel good enough that plata o plomo has already been offered to LEOs and IIUC military personnel near the Mexican border. The cartels are already in human trafficking.

Is the distinction between "nation state actor" and "Black Hat for hire" so clear with a failed/failing state like Mexico whose pols and military are so thoroughly compromised by cartels? It's starting to look like you could say that Mexico's true internal political organization map is delineated by cartel territories and not the states (Baja California, Jalisco, etc.)

Saying that in no way diminishes the risk to critical US infrastructure which is the real point of the OP.

SiGraybeard said...

Not to mention that there's plenty of hard evidence that pols on this side of the border are in the pockets of the cartels and have no incentive to stop drugs. They have every incentive to keep the drugs flowing.

No. There's no easy way out of this.

Aesop said...

1) It's not 1916. The entire Mexican military is about the size of the Iowa Notional Guard, all in. Except less-well equipped. And poorly trained enough to make the Albanian Army look professional and organized by contrast.

The Confederate Air Force (or whatever PC term they're calling themselves these days) and the Gay And Shemale Soiboi Scouts would probably take them in an even matchup.
What they couldn't sort out would be handled by selling Letters of Marque to anyone who wanted them, and declaring open season on all ships, vehicles, and aircraft carrying drugs north from Mexican territory, or at sea.
We'd not only win in a month, the US Treasury would turn a tidy profit, and you'd make multiple millionaires amongst those selling spots on cartel hunting trips , which would go faster than seats for helicopter-hunting feral pigs with machineguns and grenade launchers.

You may have heard recently that the Mexican Army got their @$$#$ handed to them by the local cartel thugs (as they regularly do), in better homemade armored vehicles and with better weaponry than what the Fuerzas Armadas de Mexico possessed.
This was not a coincidence.
In response, the government there has surrendered to the narco-terrorists.
When you see cartel fights in your home town as a regular feature (like you will), let me know how that's working out for you.

2) The cartels are holed up in rich-guy villas. If they want to go live in caves, let them. It's tough to run a business while ducking rabid bats along with MOABs and napalm, but I'd be interested to see them try.

3) Mexicans could react as viscerally as they like. Lacking SAMs and AAA, I expect the best way to go about this would be to carpet bomb from the border southwards, and stop when they surrender unconditionally, and bring us the severed heads of the cartel members as a peace offering. Probably NLT Thursday, in any week when we start such a conflict on Monday.

4) And none of that retarded "You break it, you bought it" crapola this time.
We break it, we laugh, we leave, they get a new chance to not f**k it up this time, unlike their last 170 years. And now, with a handy new DMZ mined and wired from San Diego to Brownsville, and death penalty for entering it.

Good luck running that country after we get done with it, pendejos. It can't be any worse than what's happening now, and in many areas, would be a vast improvement.

Aesop said...

5) Cartels hacking something like our power grid would be carte blanche to make Mexico glow from the Rio Grande to Guatemala, and then hit it again until the rubble was too small to bounce. Such considerations are wholly irrelevant to what we should or shouldn't do, other than to pour gasoline on the flames of any war.
And FTR, at that point, we'd be fighting a first-generation war: Rome v. Carthage.

Besides, the idiots in charge of Califrutopia already took out the power grid here by incompetence and graft, so it isn't like we'd fold right up, is it? For that matter, how would anyone know it was the cartels, and not Gov. Gabbin' Nuisance just screwing the pooch here harder?

6) If you read closely, you would also have noted I said that it was 50 years too late for any of that, because we're now gutless and nutless to be that proactive.

7) If you read the comments, including mine, it'd never happen, because TPTB on this side want guns and people (and the money from both) flowing both ways, otherwise that nonsense would be over in about an hour. Instead, anyone who could change it is totally bought off, and anyone who tells you otherwise is a blithering idiot.

So take a chill pill, and relax.

8) The fairtytale nonsense about legalizing everything has been beaten to death on your blog and mine: it's kindergarten magical thinking applied to a grown-up problem. Like asking for the price tag on Medicare-For-All, the easiest way to disprove the very idea is simply to grant the premise.
We legalized weed in CA, and the cartels haven't folded here, in fact, they've about cornered the market in this state, and they're shipping from grow plots here to the other states. Suggesting that government spend literal billions to grow it and give it away is about as well-thought out as telling people communism would work if we just tried it harder and faster. And whose money is going to pay for your largesse? Were you planning on footing the bill yourself? Or did you want to put that plan to a vote?

One might be forgiven for expecting you'd have noted the critical flaw in that approach when that was tried with healthcare.

And you're worried about killing people there, so you'd rather triple or quadruple addicts here?
And expecting taxpayers to pay for the privilege?
Who's writing your material? Elizabeth Warren's Meme Team??

OTOH, if your goal was to float something more ridiculously unlikely than invading Mexico militarily, and pushing it all the way back to Guatemala like refugees fleeing Genghis Khan and the Golden Horde, because we ought to, I concede that you've outdone me.

Which has the unfortunate side effect of making carpet-bombing the entire country seem like the calm, rational approach, by default.
But the people in Congress on the cartels' payroll for the last 40 years would stab President Trump on the Capitol steps before the State of the Union speech before they'd ever let that happen.

Ed Bonderenka said...

Attacking Mexico could cripple our economy.
Auto plants would shut down with cascading layoffs.
Other than that, it's a failed state that we treat like a responsible nation.

Divemedic said...

I said a long time ago that we could have saved thousands of American lives and billions of dollars, if we had just issued a letter of reprisal offering $1 billion for Osama bin Laden, dead or alive.

I think that a similar reward would work in Mexico: offer a reward for the death of cartel leaders. It would be cheaper and less deadly to Americans. Offering escalating bounties for drug cartel members would be cost effective. The deadlier and more important the cartel member, the higher the bounty.

Similarly, issue letters of marque to American citizens who want to hunt down smuggling aircraft and ships.

Of course, you would have to let US citizens buy weapons and equipment, but this would get sorted out in short order.

Aesop said...

@ED B.,

You've evidently missed the stories about the yuuuuuuge unsold inventory of cars sitting around here in the states for the last 18 months?

Long before we laid anyone off, we'd open up manufacturing lines here, and/or outsource parts suppliers somewhere other than Mexico.

Problem solved.

For bonus points, the UAW has been rolling strikes through the makers already because they want more money. So it turns out the parts aren't that needed anyhow. The Big Three in Detroit would be happy to let them sit and stew for awhile to consider that tactic.


McChuck said...

We don't need to conquer all of Mexico. Just the northernmost 20 miles or so. We clear out the 3 miles closest to the border of any structure or living thing, using bulldozers and napalm. The remaining 17 miles are a free fire hunting ground with regular patrols and artillery firing H&I.

Glen Filthie said...

It all hinges on how that war is waged. If it were to be fought as a conventional war - forget it. The liberals and cucks would turn it into a chit show the way they’ve done with Viet Nam, Iraq, and Afghanistan. If those guys are involved in’s going to fail. They’ll get bogged down with their feelings, virtue signalling, and concern trolling. They’ll bring the media into it and that will be the same end of it.

To win they’d need to fight the War On Drugs the way other winners have. In Saudi Arabia dealers are publicly beheaded. Duterte in the Phillipines shoots addicts and dealers out of hand without a second thought. Until Americans are willing to do the same it’s pretty much a non-starter.

If I were King Of The World, I’d drone those suckers and if Mexico bitched - I’d threaten them with same. Those beaners have been making soft war on the US for a long time now... and it is time to put an end to it.

ASM826 said...

We're not going to do any of this. Not Borepatch's suggestion. Not invade Mexico. Not defend our border.

Aesop said...


As I said in the post that generated this teapot tempest,
"That pussification of America you keep hearing about?
This is it, writ large.

Will Brown said...

Not to put too fine a point on things, but y'all are putting too much argument on how to fight which battle, and ignoring the reality that the so-called "drug cartels" are actually SMUGGLING CARTELS. You're all fighting the wrong war.

Drugs aren't even that large a percentage of the cartels overall business model these days. The loss of that particular stream of income would hurt financially, and efforts would no doubt be made to restore the flow of money south, but considering how complex and diverse the total smuggling business is - people, data, pretty much anything you can thing of really - there simply is no way to interdict and stop smuggling.

Except - possibly, no it's too outlandish to consider; still, one could always try to out-compete the smugglers. The more they smuggle in to us, the more - and more dangerous for all of them - we smuggle in to them. At some point, enough of them die that their own families will kill the smugglers for us just to stop the pain and death.

I never said it was a good solution.

The Lab Manager said...

I've been baffled for a number of years now how we can find some ISIS or Al Quada guy in some cave or villa in some really truly shit hole countries that are far below even Latin American standards, yet we can't find all the heads of these drug cartel leaders in Mexico or other places.

It's almost like the US Government or maybe the Cocaine Importing Agency let it happen.

Arthur said...

How about if we merge with Mexico? Then we are not at war with the people of Mexico,instead our military (and theirs, well supplied now) are protecting them (as well as the rest of us). There is the extra benefit that Mexican immigration would now be legal as well as Northerners going south. To solve a blocked problem, try something very different.

Aesop said...

Right. Brilliant.

Because we don't have schoolkids in Chicongo or Portland finding eight severed heads in a duffle bag day in and day out, or bodies hung from highway overpasses, like happens in Mexico daily. And we need more of that up here. Everywhere. Every day.

Oh, wait, you missed that news?

So instead of different, let's try something smarter than that.
Just saying.

Mexico, as the president has aptly noted, is a sh*thole country. Since at least the 1500s, and probably going back a few millennia before that, if we want to be historically accurate.

Build a forty foot x forty foot wall from one end of the border to the other, gates optional but not recommended, and leave their problems on the other side.

Then start sending the illegals on this side back, via any way that tickles your giggleswitch. (My personal fave would be Trebuchet Airways: "Where all trips are one way, and the number of takeoffs always equals the number of landings.")

If that fails as hard as the nonsense we've tried for the last 70 years, get back to us around 2100 A.D., and we can try something else.

If, OTOH, it succeeds beyond everyone's wildest dreams, which is the likeliest outcome, game over.