The US and Mexico have had a rocky relationship recently. Now, obviously things were a bit tense under Trump, but despite Biden's best efforts, they haven't got much better over the past few years, in part because Mexico's current president Andrés Manuel Lopez Obrador, is generally pretty hostile to the US. And rhetoric has actually escalated to new highs recently, with various Republicans, including Vivek Ramaswamy, Ron DeSantis and Nikki Haley calling for US military intervention in Mexico to stem America's fentanyl epidemic. So in this article, we're going to take a look at the history of this idea, which was first floated by Trump in 2019. Why has become an increasingly popular Republican talking point, and why it now looks worryingly possible given Trump's emerging poll lead over Biden?
So the idea of first intervening in Mexico first hit the headlines in 2019 when, after the Sinaloa Cartel brutally murdered nine US citizens then President Trump announced that he would designate the cartels as foreign terrorist organizations. While this wouldn't necessarily entail military action, in an accompanying tweet Trump said that he wanted to wage war on them with Mexico's help. Now, nothing actually happened in the end, but this idea didn't leave Trump's mind. According to then Defense Secretary Mark Esper, Trump twice asked Esper if the US could destroy the cartels drug labs and in his memoir, Esper quotes, Trump is saying we could just shoot some Patriot missiles and take out the labs quietly. No one would know it was us. Apparently unaware that Patriot missiles are surface to air. Well, US-Mexico relations have improved somewhat under Biden, the idea of bombing Mexico hasn't gone away entirely within the Republican Party. In January, Republicans in the House introduced a bill to authorize military force against fentanyl traffickers, including the cartels, which was endorsed by former United States Attorney General Bill Barr via a Wall Street Journal op-ed in early March.
The clamor for intervention then really escalated in early March, when four Americans were kidnapped by a cartel in northeast Mexico, two of whom were eventually killed. A few days after the kidnapping, Republican Senators Lindsey Graham and John Kennedy again suggested designating the cartels as terrorist organizations, and Graham likened them to ISIS, telling Fox News that he would tell the Mexican government if you don't clean up your act, we're going to clean it up for you. A few days after that, Senator Tom cotton said that he would be in favor of intervention in Mexico even without Mexico's approval. And then Marjorie Taylor Greene tweeted a photo of a ball of sand which apparently quote, changes everything urging Biden to end the cartel led war against America. Trump himself has even apparently returned to the idea, in January as part of the opening salvo of his 2014 presidential campaign he posted this video on Truth Social.
Then, in late March, rolling Stone reported that he'd been asking advisers about how he could quote, attack Mexico. He's also apparently become interested in a policy paper written last October by Ken Cuccinelli, who served as deputy secretary of homeland security during the latter part of Trump's term, which argues that the US should wage quote, a defensive war against the cartels in order to protect America's southern border and help the Mexican government establish control of its territory. More recently the idea has come up repeatedly in the Republican primary debates and basically every big candidate has endorsed it. DeSantis pledged to use military force in Mexico on quote, day one of his presidency and Vivek Ramaswamy claimed military force would be both legally and morally justified. Even the supposedly moderate Nikki Haley said that she'd tell the Mexican president, either you do it or we do it.
Unsurprisingly, all of this chatter hasn't gone down well with Mexico's President Andrés Manuel Lopez Obrador, more commonly known as Amlo. Earlier this year, he stressed that Mexico would not allow any foreign government to intervene and much less foreign armed forces to intervene in our country, and described America as arrogant. Now, clearly, bombing Mexico would be a flagrant violation of international law and ruin both US-Mexico relations and America's international reputation. So why are Republicans even considering it? Well, as I see it, there are two major reasons. The first is the wider decline in US Mexico relations. Now, as I said, US-Mexico relations hit a low under Trump but things also haven't been helped by AMLO (Andrés Manuel López Obrador), who was elected in 2018. AMLO is perhaps best described as a Mexican nationalist or a sovereignty, and he doesn't really like the US, or at least he likes them less than the previous Mexican administrations. As an old school, left wing economic nationalist, AMLO doesn't like Mexico's economic dependence on America and has blamed NAFTA for Mexico's various woes, especially the decline of Mexico's agricultural sector. More recently AMLO has legislated for protectionist measures that defend Mexico's domestic oil producers at the expense of American and Canadian ones, despite the fact that it might be a violation of the US Mexico-canada agreement, the successor to NAFTA.
On top of this last year AMLO snubbed Biden's invitation to the summit of the Americas and suggested that the Statue of Liberty should be dismantled and returned to France if Julian Assange were imprisoned in the US. He's also scolded the US for expressing concerns about Mexico's democracy, which has been eroded by constitutional reforms implemented via AMLO legislative supermajority, and reportedly attacked what he described as America's global hegemony. Accordingly, AMLO has attacked US and NATO policy in Ukraine, which has really strained Mexico's relations with the EU too. Unsurprisingly, all of this has strained US-Mexico relations and opened up the political space for Republicans to truly suggest military intervention.
But the second, and perhaps most significant reason for this change is America's fentanyl epidemic, facilitated by Mexican cartels. Deaths from synthetic opioid overdoses, the vast majority of which are attributable to fentanyl, have been skyrocketing since 2013 and are now an astonishing 26 times higher than a decade ago, according to the US Drug Enforcement Administration, the vast majority of fentanyl consumed in the US comes in via Mexico. Interestingly, most of the raw material for Mexican fentanyl production actually comes from China, which gives Republicans another reason to call for military intervention because they see the fentanyl crisis as a form of Chinese interference in America. This is why, during their recent bilateral, Biden successfully pressed Xi to take stronger actions against Chinese opioid producers. Now, while the fentanyl crisis does need resolving, American military intervention in Mexico is unlikely to be the answer. Nonetheless, as it becomes consensus within the Republican Party and as Trump's poll lead over Biden widens, it's looking worryingly possible.