Don't Call Mexico a 'Failed State'

Let me tell you one thing about Mexicans. Nothing makes their blood boil faster than having to endure insults from the United States -- especially when it concerns a problem that their neighbor helped create.

Case in point: The Mexican drug war, which has raged for more than two years, cost more than 7,000 lives, and resulted in a level of violence that Mexico hasn’t seen in decades. Since Mexican President Felipe Calderon effectively declared war on the cartels -- on the very day he took office in December 2006 -- these multi-million dollar criminal enterprises have been fighting back. Soldiers have been captured and beheaded, and hundreds of police officers and government officials have been killed. Whole communities have been terrorized, as when a grenade was lobbed into a crowd during a holiday festival in, not coincidentally, Calderon’s home state.

Last week, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano told the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs that the violence had not spread into the United States. Napolitano apparently forgot about Texas; just a few days earlier, Texas Homeland Security Director Steve McCraw told a committee of the state legislature that violence from the drug cartels had indeed spilled into Texas. “No question about it,” McCraw said. Napolitano also forgot about her own state of Arizona; the former governor is presumably aware that Phoenix has become the nation’s kidnapping capital, in large part because of spillover violence from Mexico.

Now the level of violence has some academics and government officials in the United States eager to declare Mexico a failed state. That’s the chatter from nativists on cable television and talk radio, and it picked up steam recently when the Pentagon put out a report warning that Mexico -- along with Pakistan, no less -- could face a “rapid and sudden” collapse.

Every time they so much as hear the phrase, “failed state,” Mexican officials go loco. Last week, Calderon rejected the idea that the Mexican government has lost control to the drug cartels,insisting that his administration has not “lost any part — any single part — of the Mexican territory” to drug traffickers. Then he pointed the finger north and said the United States should worry more how much control it has over its own law enforcement agencies, which Calderon insisted have been corrupted. The Mexican president also vowed to win the drug war by the end of his term in 2012.

Those comments echoed what I heard in a recent interview with Arturo Sarukhan, Mexico’s ambassador to the United States. When asked if Mexico was a failed state, he bristled.

“It’s a shoe that does not fit,” Sarukhan said. “If you look at Mexico and you look at any criteria of indicators of what a failed state is and isn’t, Mexico is simply nowhere close to that, whether it’s control of its territory, whether its international recognition, the ability to fulfill its international commitment, print currency, raise taxes, there are no massive population migrations within Mexico. There’s a functioning civil society. There’s a functioning press. ... In fact I would form the argument that, because the state is strong, it has had the ability to do what no previous Mexican president has done in the past, which was take the fight to the heart of the drug syndicates.”

One reason for the indignation of Mexican officials is that Americans are, you could say, financing the crisis by consuming enormous quantities of drugs. According to the Office of National Drug Control Policy and other sources, about 90 percent of the cocaine entering the United States comes from Mexico, and our neighbor is also the source for much of the heroin, marijuana, and methamphetamine consumed in the United States. Americans are also financing the crisis by providing -- for a profit -- most of the guns that are used to kill soldiers, police officers, and innocent civilians; according to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms & Explosives, an estimated 90 percent of the weapons seized in Mexico are from sources in the United States.

So whose failure is this really? Americans and Mexicans share the drugs, the money, and the guns. Why not share the blame?