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A Strategy for Mexico?

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A Strategy for Mexico?


by Johnny M. Lairsey Jr.

Download the Full Article: A Strategy for Mexico?

For over a century, United States foreign policy was guided by the Monroe doctrine. Then, around 1890, a nascent concept of American Imperialism was popularized and served to shift foreign policy away from the Monroe Doctrine. Since then the United States has exercised many different forms of foreign policy. The current United States foreign policy as evinced by the United States Secretary of State proclaims that United States freedom and prosperity is linked to the freedom and prosperity of the rest of the world. The approach the United States Department of State uses to preserve our freedoms and prosperity includes building and maintaining international relations and protecting ourselves and our allies against transnational threats. Given the existing conditions in Mexico and the United States current approach to foreign policy the United States should assert its national powers to defeat transnational criminal organizations and help to improve the conditions in Mexico. However, before taking action the United States must clearly articulate the purpose of why it is taking action in a foreign country.

Download the Full Article: A Strategy for Mexico?

Mr. Johnny Lairsey is DA Civilian serving as a Plans Specialist at US Army North, the Army Service Component Command to US Northern Command and is a recent graduate of the School of Advanced Military Studies. He has over five years of experience as a plans specialist in an operational headquarters and has extensive experience working with other US Government agencies. The views expressed in this report are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Department of the Army, the Department of Defense, or the U.S. Government.

Categories: El Centro

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Bob's World

Sat, 06/25/2011 - 8:40pm

It is good to distinguish that Columbia was a nationalist insurgency that got into the drug business to finance their revolution for political purpose; Mexico is a Drug business that challenges government for profit purpose. Two VERY different things demanding very different approaches. To attempt to transpose "Plan Columbia" onto Mexico would likely be a disaster.

To best help stabilize Mexico the US needs to focus on changes of domestic US policies that are endangering both of our countries over illegal drugs. Sure, we can offer them assistance as well, we owe them the offer, but it should only be done in full recognition that it is a mitigating and supporting effort to what we need to do at home.

motorfirebox (not verified)

Sat, 06/25/2011 - 8:06pm

Not to denigrate the efforts in Colombia that took down Pablo, but to say it worked requires carefully defining what success means. Yeah, Pablo's gone, and yeah, the current cartels aren't as bad as he was, but Colombia remains the #2 nation of origination for cocaine (having only recently been surpassed by Peru). And arguably, killing Pablo merely kicked the can down the road to Mexico, whose cartels swelled quickly to fill the Medellin void.

That's not to say it's a bad idea to engage the Mexican cartels the same way Pablo Escobar was engaged. But unless something changes on the demand end of the chain, the supply end is, I think, inevitably going to keep reforming into the same shape.


Sat, 06/25/2011 - 4:33pm

If you really want to take down an organization like the Zeta's just look at the Escobar op. It was nasty, bloody, even relatives of the gang were targeted. It crippled Pablo, his bankers and money men, his "safe houses" annihilated. I spent time in Central and S. america, Mex is no different. Thers gonna be alotta killing, its messy, but damn it WORKED.

motorefirebox (not verified)

Fri, 06/17/2011 - 7:39pm

As others have discussed, I don't think a successful strategy with regards to Mexico starts with Mexico. The major drivers for violence in Mexico have their roots in the US, and that's where any change has to start.

One pitfall that can make progress on strategizing difficult is the topic of legalization/decriminalization. There are deep ties between that topic and the current issues in Mexico, but it remains fairly polarizing--once brought into the conversation (heyo!), it can become difficult to maintain a reasonable exchange of ideas because legalization/decriminalization takes over the discussion.

Johnny Lairsey (not verified)

Mon, 06/13/2011 - 1:28pm

Thanks again for all the comments and thanks Carl for clarifying your point of view.

I am interested in everyones ideas regardless of how they see the environment so feel free to pile on.

Bob's World

Mon, 06/13/2011 - 6:56am


Most things in life are "complex" under that definition. My undergraduate studies were in Forest Management learning about complex ecosystems that are wonderfully diverse and "complex"; many of which have been seriously damaged by smart people who had come to approach them in a very linear way (US forestery was learned from Germen "experts" who put us on the path that step one to a well managed forestery system is to cut down all wild forest and replace it with nice, orderly plantations...).

Guess what? forests didn't become more complex, we just came to realize we had only been focusing on a very narrow aspect of the problem. Same is true with foreign policy. Strategists and policy makers became used to to the simplistic certainty of the Cold War balancing act, but that was not natural.

So, IMO, "complex" is normal as you define it, and as such is neither "wicked" nor "complex." Nature is far more predictible than most want to give it credit, be it how a forest ecosystem reacts to certain events or conditions or how a human ecosystem reacts. Einstein understood this in his approach to studying the Universe. Where others could only see overwhelming complexity, he was able to derive startling simplicity.

So, feel free to share with your complexity advocates that there is some half-crazy retired SF guy on SWJ who thinks they're smoking crack. When I see people saying a problem is "complex" or "wicked" what the really mean is "I don't understand this, and because I know I am smart, it must be the problem's fault." No, it is not the problem's fault, it is ours.

For example, today the vogue is to say that "COIN is complex." No, COIN must be tailored to the details of the particular populace-governance system that is in insurgency; but insurgency is simple. Good COIN is hard, but it is not complex.

Mexico-US drug related problems are not complex either. People just don't like the simple truth.



Mr. Jones,

If you use the Wicked Problems, EBO or Net-Centric Warfare* definitions of "complex" you actually get a useful (if limited) term:

Complex, adj. (kompleks) a set of relationships characterized by non-linear, constant change in links between actors and changing strengths of links between actors. Inputs and outputs of complex systems are non-linear and non-additive. Complex systems tend to be open-systems, but not necessarily, and closed complex systems tend to explode or collapse over time due to inability to sustain the system as a whole due to insufficient inputs, or failure to contain the effects due to over-abundance of outputs into a diminishing space. Equilibrium is hard (if not impossible to achieve) without an external release valve, thus destroying the closed nature of the system. An example of a complex system is an anarchist political rally in a downtown setting -- a small crowd reacts to police brutality by causing $3,000,000.00 in damages with six-months repair time and sends 25 cops to the hospital.

This is opposed to "complicated" systems where outputs are commensurate to inputs, or processes produce outputs that are additive or linearly related to the inputs. The generic example of a complicated, linear system is a car engine -- you release the brake and press the gas and the car will accelerate according to the pressure you place on the gas pedal.

As an example of non-linearity, GEN Petreus recently used "guerrilla math" to explain that lethal operations do not achieve desireable effects in insurgent Afghanistan (paraphrase): If there are 10 guerrillas, and a force kills 2, you are not left with 8 guerrillas, but 20 [because honor-bound societies are obligated to avenge murders].

Here, Mexico is an open, complex system as there are external inputs that are infused into the Mexican society (money, guns, desire for drugs, safe havens, refugee status in USA, etc.) and the relationships between villagers and the Mex government change when La Familia thugs show up -- now they pay taxes to La Familia instead of the Mex Gov't. When they leave, la Policia corrupta shows up and then relationships change again. Then los Federales show up and things change yet again. After time, the Army camps out there, sets up a garrison and the Mex tax man shows up and thus the relationships begin anew.

Mi dos centavos. *BTW, I'm not advocating any of those constructs, just cherry-picking a term.

carl (not verified)

Mon, 06/13/2011 - 3:37am

Mr. Lairsey:

Carl the Jacksonian here. Notice that I said we, the US, can do nothing IN Mexico about the problem. We can do plenty to help with their problem but we would have to do those things here in the US. I agree with Mr. Jones' that the Mexicans acting on their own in the way he suggests is about the only way to get us to do what we should do, legalize most or all drugs. We won't do it on our own. The politics of the drug trade in the US is too stable. We will have to be pressured from without.

Johnny Lairsey (not verified)

Sun, 06/12/2011 - 10:53am

Thanks for all the comments especially those that espouse a way ahead. This was not meant to be an article expressing the results of a design study on the existing conditions in Mexico rather an article that generates discourse on a potential strategy for US/Mexican relations. I began my research with the question of why the United States should care about its relations with Mexico which led me to the four main ideas in the article. I tried to make the case that the propensity for the existing conditions in Mexico will continue to deteriorate or at least favor the growth of the illicit market presently in Mexico.

The first respondent is a true Jacksonian and I appreciate their forthrightness. Doing nothing is a strategy; unfortunately the United States has already spent hundreds of millions of dollars and is projected to spend hundreds more on improving the existing conditions in Mexico. I can appreciate the respondents point of few and ask that if this is the consensus then stop spending the money, but if the consensus believes that as President Calderon has recently stated the "Mexican Cartels are a threat to Mexicos sovereignty" then we should plan to do something.

As Mr. Jones recommends that something can be directed in the United States and not necessarily in Mexico. He also recognizes that it is not a drug problem it is a market problem. Drugs only represent one commodity in the market, while human trafficking, counterfeit products and pirated software represent the other major goods in what is a global market.

So what is the problem and how should the United States address this problem? Does the consensus agree with the first respondent that the United States should do nothing or do you agree with Mr. Jones that consumption of illegal products in the United States is the problem and that the United States should address their portion of the market while Mexico proceeds to legalize drugs on their side of the border?

Thanks Mr. Jones for your insights and recommendations.

Bob's World

Sun, 06/12/2011 - 9:12am

There is nothing particularly "complex" about Mexico. In fact, I find the current overuse of that term in regard to virutally everything we can't fit within our historic perspective of problem solving as "complex" as an example of our inablity to escape the inertia of an obsolete set of perspectives formed prior to the empowering effects of the modern information age.

The US is a major consumer of a product that we insist maintaining as illegal to possess or use.

The US also continues to embrace policies that cast users as victims and sellers as criminals.

Mexico, as the closest state to the US, and therefore with the shortest supply lines, has become a base for illicit business interprises that seek to profit from this lucrative market.

The illegality of the market takes it outside of the control of the rule of law, and also increases the profits to those who are willing to assume the risks of operating outside the law, and who are strong enough to compete in such a lawless market.

The nature of this competition will be inherently violent and disruptive of the communities it takes place within due to the corrupting influence of the vast amount of illicit money involved and the associated violence.

If I were Mexico, I would reduce the strain on my own society by demanding that the US finally take on in a meaningful way a policy and program to take this out of the illegal marketplace and to also shift the primary onus from the seller to the user. I would also legalize the manufacture, possession and transportation of such products within Mexico and tax the crap out of it.

If I were the US I would listen to what Mexico just asked me to do.

This is not "complex," we just want the problem to go away without changing any aspect of how we currently deal with it within the US. That is not complex, that is ignorant and unrealistic.

Just as the problem in Mexico cannot be solved in Mexico; the problems in Afghanistan cannot be solved in Afghanistan and the problems in Yemen cannot be solved in Yemen. We need to stop fixating on the symptoms of the problems and focus on the root causes. That will mean shifting some of the responsibility for the problems that vex us the most away from convenient foils that we have built up and onto ourselves and allies, but that is reality. It is not, however, "complex."

carl (not verified)

Fri, 06/10/2011 - 8:34pm

Mr. Pengun:

You said "This why Osama flew planes into the WTC. You would not leave his country alone."

Maybe it is not sophisticated of me to say this, but I object to the tone of your statement. Mr. Bin Laden participated in the murder of thousands of innocent people because he was a coward and it made him feel good. He could have taken on the Saudi gov but he didn't. He could have attacked American soldiers, but he didn't. He chose to participate in an attack upon people who couldn't shoot back. He was evil and afraid so he did what the bully boys do, pick on the innocent.


I learned a lot more from your comment than I did from the article.

Hubba Bubba (not verified)

Fri, 06/10/2011 - 7:32pm

Yet another article that has a great topic, but never says anything new. Mexican cartel violence is a stellar example of a budding complex and irregular scenario for our national foriegn policy folks to ponder exactly what a "whole of government" approach ought to be. The hard part about Mexico is that it is still unfolding, it is asymmetric to what is within our institutional "comfort zones", and therefore- it is dangerous for an organization (Dept. of State, or NORTHCOM, etc) to wager on a solid strategy that does more than just describe what is already known.

This article does precisely that. No insult to the author, but this demonstrates ten pages of what is known. We know the history of Mexico, and we know the Monroe Doctrine. We know about violence statistics- this article uses description to answer a series of "what" questions- but never gets to the "why." Why is important- vastly more important than "what." Explaining why Mexico as a system is evolving the current behavior helps us understand how we might better influence the future state of that system to our advantage.

1. Why do Mexican Cartels limit violence to the Mexican side of the border?

2. Why does Mexican society prefer a legally corrupt system?

3. Why do military actions not impact societal pressures, including the outside demand for illegal narcotics- which chiefly comes from the United States and wealthy nations?

Is the Mexican drug environment just a system that needs a strategy that encompasses the United States and Mexico? Or, does the complexity of the system require a holistic approach where we consider domestic elements (hey, Hollywood- do we need drugs glamorized so much in film, music, and TV?) - the Catholic Church; how do they factor into the system? Central American drug production? Chinese and other regional demands? American immigration policy? And the ugly monster in the closet- will cartels profit and partner with radical ideological elements and non-state actors? If so- Why?

A Mexican strategy requires explanation, understanding, and a holistic approach that functions at a higher level of innovation and adaptation than the cartels currently reflect (which is a high bar to set)- is the massive Federal landscape (where seperate agencies mark their territory and build seperate and dissimilar castles) capable of crafting an effective policy for Mexico that demonstrates critical and creative thinking, or will we just stick to what we know- description, description, and stay in our institutional lanes?


However, before taking action the United States must clearly articulate the purpose of why it is taking action in a foreign country.

This why Osama flew planes into the WTC. You would not leave his country alone.

Just pointing out the obvious.

Carry on.

carl (not verified)

Fri, 06/10/2011 - 3:07pm

I am not impressed with this paper. It says that things are bad in Mexico and that is important because it can affect us. Then it states that we gotta have a strategy to deal with this because without a strategy, boy we will just spin our wheels. Right, got it. Unfortunately, Mr. Lairsey never suggests what the strategy might be. It is almost as if he is trying to be the first in the class to bring into the conversation the magic word "strategy" in order to prove sagacity.

Sometimes this civilian wonders if you score points at a SAMS cocktail party by stating the a strategy is needed and then quoting Sun Tzu.

Short of offering encouragement, there is nothing we can do in Mexico to help the Mexicans with this. We can just watch and hope.