Most eyes are on Syria. It’s important. They’re watching Egypt. It’s important. They’re watching Israel and Gaza. It’s important. But while most folks are focused on the Middle East, a meeting at the White House on Tuesday has a much more direct and immediate impact on the people of the United States.
President Barack Obama and the President-elect of Mexico, Enrique Peña Nieto, are scheduled to discuss “broad range of bilateral and regional issues,” according to a statement released by the White House last week.
Translation: They’ll be talking about trade. They’ll be talking about immigration. They’ll be talking about turning the border into something a little more solid than the sieve it is now. And they’ll be talking about drugs.
All are interrelated. And, as pressing and overwhelmingly important as the tensions in the Middle East are, U.S.-Mexico relations and the challenges they face together are a critical national security issue hiding in plain view right now.
Undoubtedly, the Middle East is a tinderbox. And vitally important. The flare-ups there have global implications for a variety of reasons. There’s the oil, of course. There’s the Holy Land. And there’s the ever present danger that fighting there will spread to other nations and fan the flames of war far beyond the region.
But policy changes on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico threaten to upset the delicate and difficult balance that has kept the rampant drug violence in Mexico from exploding in the United States.
Yet, most Americans who don’t live directly along the Rio Grande or who can’t see the lights of Mexican houses from their own backyards think that the problems confronting our neighbor to the south aren’t worth worrying about.
Narcoviolence has killed an estimated 60,000 Mexicans since the country’s soon-to-be former president, Felipe Calderon, sent the military to battle the powerful drug cartels in 2006. But for most Americans, that’s Mexico’s problem.
They ignore the fact that bullets are flying across the border. They ignore the fact that drug smugglers are believed responsible for the murder of Americans on both sides of the dividing line between the two countries. They ignore the fact the bulk of the drugs — marijuana, cocaine, heroin, and methamphetamine — are intended for customers in the United States.They ignore the fact that the narcoviolence is one of the reasons Mexican immigrants sneak across the border with their entire families. To them, a better life means a safer life. One in which they don’t risk losing their children to kidnappings, murder, or accidental deaths from stray bullets or bombs.
And they ignore the fact that Peña Nieto was elected, at least in part, because of his promise to end the violence.
That sounds like a good thing. And it is. For Mexico.
But the means Peña Nieto proposes may pose more of a risk for the United States.
The White House knows it. So the statement Press Secretary Jay Carney issued last week, included tons of diplomatic code:
“President Obama will host President-elect Enrique Peña Nieto of Mexico at the White House on Tuesday, November 27. The President looks forward to meeting President-elect Peña Nieto and hearing about his vision for leading Mexico over the next six years. They plan to discuss a broad range of bilateral, regional and global issues during their Oval Office meeting. The President welcomes the opportunity to underscore the shared values and strong bonds of friendship between the United States and Mexico. The United States remains committed to work in partnership with Mexico to increase economic competitiveness in both countries, promote regional development, advance bilateral efforts to develop a secure and efficient 21st Century Border, and address our common security challenges.”
Not a single mention of the drug. Not a single mention of narcoviolence or the cartels. And not a single mention of the concerns that Peña Nieto is turning back the clock to a time and a policy in which Mexico bought relative safety for its citizens by giving the drug lords free reign.
Which is why Tuesday’s meeting is so important. Free reign there means more drugs — and, very likely, more violence — here. Obama knows it. The challenge both leaders face is finding a way to stop the traffickers and end the violence, not just one or the other.
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