Mexico’s War of Choice

MEXICO CITY – Three years ago this month, Mexican President Felipe Calderón donned military fatigues and declared a full-scale war on drugs, ordering the Army into Mexico’s streets, highways, and villages. Back then, Calderón received broad support, both domestically and from abroad, for what was viewed as a brave, overdue, and necessary decision. Tangible results were predicted to come soon.

Moreover, George W. Bush’s administration quickly promised American support – the so-called Mérida Initiative, signed in February, 2007 – and public-opinion polls showed that Calderón had, in one fell swoop, left behind the travails of his close and questioned electoral victory, gaining the trust of the Mexican people. But today, things look very different.

At a recent debate with, among others, Fareed Zakaria of Newsweek and CNN, Asa Hutchison, the former head of the United States Drug Enforcement Agency, the main question was whether the US was to blame for Mexico’s drug war. I pointed out that neither the US nor Mexico was to blame; only Calderón was. Just like Bush’s invasion of Iraq, Mexico’s drug war was a war of choice. It was a war that Calderón should not have declared, that cannot be won, and that is doing enormous damage to Mexico.

Today, a growing number of Mexicans shares this view. As the war drags on, positive results are nowhere to be seen, while violence in the country is escalating. On December 9, for example, according to the daily newspaper Reforma , 40 people died in firefights between police and army forces and the drug cartels. More than 6,500 fatalities will have occurred this year alone, topping last year’s total, which was double that in 2007.