By Philip Wegmann for RealClearWire
The clarion call to “build the wall” is no longer enough. Each of the declared Republican presidential candidates tells RealClearPolitics that Mexican drug cartels must be designated as foreign terrorist organizations. This is the newest populist orthodoxy, one that the Biden administration adamantly rejects.
The backdrop for the latest partisan divide was the Friday kidnapping of four Americans in the Mexican border town of Matamoros. Two of them were murdered, the other two were rescued and are in a Texas hospital. The White House insisted that this type of designation was unnecessary while implying that their critics are getting noticed.
“To designate these cartels as [foreign terrorist organizations] wouldn’t grant us additional authorities that we don’t really have right now,” press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters on Wednesday, adding that the United States already has “powerful sanctions authorities and “we weren’t afraid to use them.”
The steady flow of fentanyl across the southern border and the ensuing violence has left Republicans unconvinced. They say the federal government must do more. The legislation reintroduced on Wednesday by the senses. Roger Marshall of Kansas and Rick Scott of Florida would designate the cartels as terrorist organizations, providing what they describe as “extra power” to law enforcement to combat drug trafficking.
The bill’s sponsors say it would grant the Treasury Department the new power needed to freeze cartel assets beyond the sanctions put in place by the United States. Beyond banking, it would also mark any foreign national officially associated with a cartel as an individual “engaged in terrorist activity” and bar them from entering the country, while prohibiting anyone from knowingly providing them with “support.” material “.
Related: Former AG Bill Barr calls for military action against drug cartels inside the Mexican border
Once Mexico’s drug cartels were placed in the same legal category as al-Qaeda and the Islamic State, the Republicans now vying for the presidency have revealed an appetite for more than financial assets. Former President Donald Trump, who is running again in 2024, promised in January that he would “designate major drug cartels as foreign terrorist organizations” and then deploy special forces to “inflict maximum damage” to their infrastructure and operations.
A Trump campaign spokesperson told RCP the goal is simple: “Keep the scourge of drugs and violence from crossing our southern border.” The plan, simple: “Declare war on the cartels”.
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By design or not, this decision creates a contrast with the current president. Republicans have accused him of being MIA on the whole border issue since taking office, with the Trump campaign saying “Joe Biden is leading from the back and siding with the cartels” and “as a result he has put the safety of Americans and their communities at risk.
This isn’t the first time Trump has promised to designate drug gangs as terrorists. He threatened to do so after a faction of the Sinaloa Cartel ambushed and killed nine US citizens in the Sierra Madre mountains in 2019. The victims were on their way to La Mora Ranch, a tight-knit community of Mormons in the Mexico. Among the victims were two 8-month-old children.
“All necessary work has been done to declare the Mexican cartel terrorist organizations,” Trump said at the time. “Statutory, we are ready to do so.” But he resisted the request of Mexican President Lopez Obrador, “whom I love and respect, and who has worked so well with us”. It was only a temporary move, he explained on Twitter, in order to give both nations the opportunity “to intensify our joint efforts to decisively confront these vicious and ever-growing organizations!”
Obrador celebrated this decision, thank trump “for respecting our decisions and for choosing to maintain a policy of good neighborliness, a policy of cooperation with us.”
Republican patience has since run out and the call to fight cartels like terrorists has hardened into something approaching political orthodoxy. In February, Republican attorneys general from 21 states sent a letter to President and Secretary of State Antony Blinken requesting terrorist designations for drug organizations. Noting that 100,000 Americans now die each year from drug overdoses — two-thirds of them from fentanyl smuggled across the border — state law enforcement officials noted that the cartels have builds private armies to protect against rival cartels and the Mexican government.
“The existence of such forces just across our southwest land border and the inability of the Mexican government to control them poses a far greater threat to our national security than a typical drug trafficking enterprise” , they said. This view has now morphed into the view of the Republican Party.
GOP presidential candidate Vivek Ramaswamy told supporters on Wednesday that fighting cartels would be a “top foreign policy priority.” The former biotech CEO vowed to use military force, unmanned drones in particular, to cut them off in the head. A campaign spokesperson told RCP that the cartels should be “decimated” and said Ramaswamy did not consider their leaders better than “bin Laden, Soleimani and Al-Zawahiri”.
Mexico could be a partner in this effort – if it wishes: “As President, Vivek will call Mexican President Obrador (or the next Mexican President) in January 2025 with a clear message: we will support you to decimate the cartels “. But he told RCP the candidate would be willing to move without Mexico’s blessing: “And if you don’t, we’ll come and do it for you.” It’s time to end the fentanyl crisis.
A political newcomer, Ramaswamy is considered a longshot. But his bellicose rhetoric is increasingly reaching out to a bloc in the country that is fed up with the situation on the southern border. Hawks once comfortable with launching cruise missiles in the Middle East now seem willing to fire them across the southern border.
In New Hampshire last September, former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo reminded voters of previous the news that “Trump wanted to bomb Mexico”. According to Mark Esper, the former secretary of defense, Trump had asked his military advisers at least twice if he could “fire missiles at Mexico to destroy the drug labs”.
But that idea didn’t come from the Oval Office, Pompeo said. The media got it wrong. According to Pompeo, who is considering his own presidential bid, “It was actually me!” He compares the border to “an ungoverned space”, not so different from Afghanistan, except that it is “a stone’s throw from El Paso”. The real story, he said, was how the Trump administration was thinking about how best to stop the cartels from moving Chinese fentanyl across the southern border and “what tools could we have? “
Citing the need to cut the money supply, Pompeo told RCP that Biden was “making a glaring mistake by refusing to designate the Mexican cartels as a terrorist organization” and missing an opportunity to “hit them where it hurts.”
Related: US Treasury Sanctions Cartel-Run Timeshare Fraud Ring Targeting Americans
A campaign spokesperson Nikki Haley told RCP that the former UN ambassador also supports the designation of the cartels as foreign terrorist organizations.
The fight against cartels such as terrorist cells would be accompanied by controversy on both sides of the border. The Mexican government has already expressed concern over the idea, and former U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, who served in the administration of George W. Bush, warns that the move could erase established norms in the United States.
“There is a long-standing tradition that we do not use our military within our borders for law enforcement matters,” he said in an interview with NewsNation, noting that even arguing something like rules of engagement would be a thorny legal issue.
“It just remains to be seen whether or not this can be framed enough so that the military and law enforcement don’t fall on each other,” Gonzales continued, “which we don’t have. the army that fights against the rights of American citizens in this country.
But if the Republicans win the White House, the next president will have made contrary commitments. The political momentum is already behind the idea.
“The same cartels that produce and traffic this dangerous chemical are also assassinating rivals and government officials, ambushing and killing Americans at the border, and engaging in armed insurrection against the Mexican government,” wrote the 21 GOP state attorneys general. “This dangerous terrorist activity occurring at our border will not diminish unless we step up our response.”
Syndicated with permission from RealClearWire.
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