Small Wars Journal

Book Review: Cartel: The Coming Invasion of Mexico’s Drug Wars

Thu, 12/01/2011 - 8:08am

Cartel: The Coming Invasion of Mexico’s Drug Wars

by Sylvia Longmire 

Published by Macmillan, New York 2011.  246 pp.

“Nearly 40,000 people have already lost their lives in the drug wars south of the border, and now the cartels are moving their operations north into the United States.”  Sylvia Longmire’s work provides an indispensable overview of Mexico’s Drug War and its current impact on the United States’ national security.  The monograph titled Cartel: The coming Invasion of Mexico’s Drug Wars details a thorough analysis of the drug violence in Mexico and explains the consequences of this brewing conflict. The factors that illuminate this important, but neglected topic are America’s insatiable appetite for drugs, President Calderon’s current strategy to counter cartels, and the transformation of drug trafficking organizations.  Drawing from her experience as a senior intelligence analyst of drug trafficking and border violence, Longmire helpfully unveils gaps in existing policies of both the United States and Mexico.  She is one of the few authors, who successfully brings to light the spill over effect of criminal activities that are historically associated with border towns, and are now present in cities like Atlanta; one of many which is evolving into distribution hubs of illegal narcotics.

Longmire provides several conceptions that serve as Drug War truths.  First, the demand for illegal drugs in the United States facilitates the existence of Mexican drug cartels.  Drug trade earnings are estimated to be between $8 and $35 billion dollars from the American Market, (p. 11). This financial power allows cartels to purchase state of the art American weapons that qualify them as veritable private armies.  Second, Calderon’s commitment against drug Cartels is unmatched; but his policies are narrowly focused on a limited kinetic approach and neglect the socio-economic conditions that fuel a criminal lifestyle.  Consequently, Mexican youth have two choices to prosper; they either cross the U.S. border or join a drug cartel, (p. 103). Third, drug cartels’ presence in the U.S. is not only felt in the distribution of illegal narcotics; it is also seen in the cultivation of drugs inside American borders.  Longmire drives the point home by shedding light on California’s extensive illegal marijuana cultivation by Mexican cartels.

Furthermore, Longmire holds that the drug war will never be won; it can only be contained, (p. 211).  To suggest that the conflict next door can only be contained or managed opens an important question.  For instance, what factors can be used to measure the rate of success in Mexico’s drug war? Longmire points out that units of measure to define success in such a hybrid conflict can be as difficult as determining the rate of success that the U.S. seeks in both Iraq and Afghanistan.  She holds that a useful tool to measure the conflict’s success may be seen in the improvement of security for the Mexican society. Here to illustrate this point further, Longmire makes a clear distinction in describing acceptable levels of violence between both Mexican and American societies. Within American society criminal activity is present, but not to the point where freedom of movement is restricted from U.S. citizens.  She explains that the goal of managing the drug war in Mexico should aim at improving the quality of life of the Mexican citizens.  Adding to the complexity of this problem is the disturbing fact that the Mexican populace dismisses the possibilities that newly elected politicians and law enforcement officials can change the status quo.  Most people in Mexican society have accepted the present level of violence and corruption as a way of life.  Occasionally, one hears stories about individuals attempting to make a stance against the overbearing cartels.  Unfortunately, these episodes of attempted heroism are not the norm and end in tragedy.

She then boldly discusses the existing counterdrug policies.  Interdiction has been the pillar of U.S. counterdrug policies for years.  Arguably, this approach produced more failures than successes.  Longmire does not completely dismiss the kinetic approach to combatting drug cartels, but suggests that efforts to dismantle smaller criminal entities will allow larger cartels to expand and in turn reducing the number of criminal organizations that the Government of Mexico (GoM) has to engage.  Although her suggestion is worthy of consideration, this idea might be problematic under one assertion.  Smaller cartels do not operate in an isolated environment.  Most of the smaller cartels that emerge are affiliated to the larger cartels like Sinaloa, Juarez and Los Zetas criminal enterprises.  If the government follows this strategy blindly, it may increase violence among rival cartels and exacerbate the very problem it was intended to solve.  Longmire goes further to suggest that this approach will return Mexico back to the days where organized crime and government enjoyed a paternalistic nexus; a relationship that in the end may be the prudent solution to reducing the current levels of violence.  Longmire also recognizes the fact that a counterdrug strategy that only focuses on the supply side and does not include preventive measures against the demand side will lead to less than desirable results. Longmire then urgently suggests a shift in policy and points the finger inward.  She holds that legalization in the U.S. must be considered sooner rather than later.

Regretfully, absent from this study is a closer look at the violent reality occurring in the eastern region of Mexico by criminal enterprises like Los Zetas.  This addition would have offered a more holistic view of the drug war.  Moreover, before implementing any given strategy against this hybrid problem one should first consider the potential second and third order effects.  Nevertheless, Sylvia Longmire’s book provides a relevant and current snapshot in time of the Mexican Drug war and its implications to American national security.  Ultimately, department of defense analysts, counterdrug policy makers, law enforcement and military professionals beginning to research the dynamics of the drug conflict in Mexico will find this work enlightening.  Cartel: The Coming Invasion of Mexico’s Drug Wars makes a great addition to the limited selection, yet necessary contemporary literature on the drug war in Mexico.

Categories: El Centro

About the Author(s)

CW3 Dennis J. Castellanos, U.S. Army Special Forces warrant officer with service in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Latin America; I am currently working towards a M.S. in the Defense Analysis Department at the U.S. Naval Postgraduate School.