Rick Perry has bobbed and weaved a bit on whether America should maintain its heavy military presence in Afghanistan. But Mexico? Send in the troops!
“The way that we were able to stop the drug cartels in Colombia was with a coordinated effort,” Perry said at a recent house party. “It may require our military in Mexico working in concert with them to kill these drug cartels and to keep them off of our border and to destroy their networks.”
His comments, which he repeated at last weekend’s Value Voters Summit, were actually nothing new. Perry has suggested deploying US soldiers, with Mexico’s permission, to help fight the country’s drug war since 2010. But experts and the Mexican government alike say the idea is absurd on practical and political grounds alike.
“Mexico has reiterated on repeated occasions that the presence of U.S. troops on Mexican soil is not and will not be an option,” an embassy spokesman, Ricardo Alday, told the El Paso Times after Perry first floated the suggestion. “It seems that some U.S. politicians insist on electoral campaigning.”
As Alday suggested, the local press played the troops idea up at the time as a political gambit to shore up Perry’s credentials on border security, where he’s taken hits from the right for opposing a fence and granting in-state tuition to illegal immigrants. Mexico has a historically skeptical eye towards American interference that makes direct military action a hard sell under any circumstances.
“I think anyone who understands Mexican politics will know how incendiary an idea this is,” Brookings Fellow Vanda Felbab-Brown told TPM. “It would make the problems of Afghanistan look easy, but right on our border. It just doesn’t have any reality to it beyond something a politician can say on the campaign trail.”
Perry’s bluster may play well in Texas, where concerns about drug violence spilling over from border towns are sky high. But nationally, things are a different story as the GOP base flirts with a more isolationist outlook. Perry’s chief campaign rival, Mitt Romney, has gone out of his way to condemn the notion of sending America’s sons and daughters to fight another conflict south of the border. It doesn’t seem hard to imagine it becoming a direct line of attack as the campaign continues.
“Mexico has its own military,” Romney said this month. “And it think it’s a bad idea to send American troops into Mexico. I think Mexico would consider it a bad idea. I consider it a bad idea.”
Mexico has upped its cooperation with the US on intelligence gathering significantly under Presidents Bush and Obama and reportedly CIA officials and civilian US military employees are geting involved as well. So for all we know, he may just be endorsing the current course. Or he may be talking Shock and Awe. But bringing troops into the discussion invites a whole host of questions. And since Perry has kept his rhetoric vague, it’s all open to interpretation.
“If you really think of length of the US border, almost 2,000 miles, what size force would be needed to go in and stop violence in Mexico?” Shannon K. O’Neil of the Council on Foreign Relations told TPM. “Are you talking 100,000 people, 500,000 people? Fifty people? if you’re talking about troops entering Mexico that is a huge commitment for a country of 100 million people much larger than Afghanistan Iraq.”
Asked for clarification as to the extent of US military involvement in Mexico Perry would support, spokesperson Katherine Cesinger offered little details beyond the broad goal of defeating drug lords.
“As president, Gov. Perry would work with the Mexican government to shut down the ruthless Mexican drug cartels, and he would do what it takes to keep Americans safe,” she said in an e-mail. “He essentially said that we need to keep all options on the table when it comes to protecting Americans from these brutal criminals and murderers. Mexico and the United States have a shared goal to put an immediate end to the violent drug war waging along our shared border, and Gov. Perry is committed to ending this escalating threat to America.”
Benjy Sarlin is a reporter for Talking Points Memo and co-writes the campaign blog, TPM2012. He previously reported for The Daily Beast/Newsweek as their Washington Correspondent and covered local politics for the New York Sun.