There's been concern expressed in Mexico, that because Carlos Pascual, the new ambassador-designate to Mexico, has experience with states that have had big problems, the US really does think that Mexico is broken. I think this may be the prevailing view in the Administration even if they deny it. I think the Administration is way too incurious about Mexico, let alone other countries. The Obama government seems content to get its information the same old sources virtually all of whom, I would bet, have little or no direct experience with or much knowledge about Mexico.
On the other hand, I think, whether the Administration realizes it or not, Pascual may have quite a different perspective from theirs. I heard an interesting radio interview with Jorge Casteñeda yesterday regarding the choice of Pascual. Casteñeda foreign minister under Vicente Fox for three years, is a well-known Mexican politician, commentator and academic. He is currently Global Distinguished Professor of Politics and Caribbean and Latin American Studies at New York University. Discussing his work at Brookings, Casteneda said that while Pascual worked within the establishment and had to express himself carefully, nonetheless his writings offered hope for a more enlightened approach to Mexico. El Universal yesterday said the same. Pascual, both pointed out, does not see military solutions as good ones and emphasizes the need to redevelop US foreign policy and foreign aid from cross-discipline and international perspectives with an emphasize on addressing poverty and global warming and on the US taking responsibility for damage it has wrought. Not incidentally, Pascual spoke in 2008 to Congress as a very strong critic of the Iraq war.
I hope Pascual represents prevailing if unarticulated Administration views. But I am skeptical that he does. Obama seems oddly tone-deaf to Latin America in general, not just to Mexico. For instance, he doesn't seem to understand that Latin American countries are strengthening alliances among themselves and becoming increasingly independent and openly critical of the US. He doesn't get that it is embracing Cuba. American obliviousness was on view at the Summit of Progressive Leaders in Santiago, Chile held in anticipation of the upcoming G-20 meeting in London.According to La Jornada, Vice President Joe Biden said there that Obama's government was not going to lift the Cuban embargo at this time and that Cuba was not at an immediate concern for the US or the hemisphere. He said this in spite of the fact that at the meeting of the Union of South American Nations two weeks earlier, some of those same nations, including Latin American power houses, stated that Washington should normalize relations with Cuba. In sounding so casual about Cuba, Biden and by implication the US government, seems insensitive at best to Latin American positions, and even worse, ignorant of the hardships the embargo continues to cause in Cuba. Of course no one can doubt its failure as policy. (At this same summit, President Lula of Brazil said, in reference to a discussion of causes for the economic crisis, "My dear Gordon Brown, My dear Biden, my Dear Zapatero [President of Spain], unfortunately you have the most responsibility for the crisis."]
I have the feeling (totally without any documentation) that Mexico is not completely tied to a military solution to the drug problem, that perhaps Calderón in his heart of hearts may believe he acted rashly, or at least that things aren't going as he had hoped; that he'd be interested in widening efforts to enhance the legal economies of drug-ridden areas, particularly addressing the needs of the poor; that he'd be interested in aid to schools; in police assistance; in money to pay cops enough to be honest. And Calderón is not Mexico. Calderón faces internal debate and discussion all the time. US efforts to prop him up may in fact do the opposite. The following seem to me the consequences of US failure to know enough about Mexico.
--The nature of US support for Calderón seems weird. The Administration keeps bolstering him up in ways that may very well be counterproductive. By not only not questioning them but by heaping praise on Calderón's military approaches, the US is blindly closing the door on other alternatives.
--If you ask me, the US Administration is treating Calderón as if he is a shaky leader of a very shaky state, the way Bush treated Musharaff of Pakistan, the way Obama appears to be treating Karzai of Aghanistan. But Calderón is not the shaky leader of a very shaky state. His election was close enough to be challengeable, but he is clearly now (except in the eyes of a few) functioning as the legitimate leader of a legitimate government. The government survives because it is fairly sturdy, for all its problems. It doesn't survive because the US props up Calderón. The coddling may in fact create hostility not only to Calderón but to the US itself because it shows the US to be deaf to the nature of politics and political opposition in Mexico.
--The US doesn't seem aware of the growing hostility to the Mexican army in areas where the army operates. The military approach is not stabilizing these areas from the perspective of stabilizing the society. It may be knocking off drug folks, but it is leaving other serious problems in its wake. Here is an excellent article on the effects on Colombia of the drug war and the military with stark warnings for the US. It is very important reading.
--Although Hillary Clinton accepted the large responsibility of US drug use in the growth of the narco problem, Obama himself has brushed off suggestions that drug prohibition be lifted. Here, from the COHA article, a statement on the IMmorality of drug prohibition, let alone the material consequences (you should read the whole article ).
Legalization will be Messy, but Prohibition is Immoral
Prohibition has failed in Colombia, just as it has failed in the rest of the world. While the country has come a long way in reducing its levels of violence, its progress will always be limited as long as prohibition remains the international paradigm. Meanwhile the inherent violence of prohibition continues to spread across the continent, blighting an entire generation of young men in Mexico, El Salvador and Venezuela, to name just a few of the affected countries. And all this, because governments in developed countries have so little faith in their own societies that they can´t bear the thought of accepting the reality of drug consumption. Their prohibitionist arguments are fundamentally unjust and small minded.
Although it is rarely stated, the commitment of the developed world to the prohibition of cocaine and other drugs, and the enforcement of this policy via schemes like Plan Colombia imply a fundamental injustice: that the corruption, violence and impunity endured by drug producing and intermediary countries in the developing world, are prices worth paying to keep rich societies safe. If the prohibition-related violence wrought on Latin American societies was killing Americans or Europeans, cocaine and marijuana would have been legalized years ago. UN drug czar Antonio Maria Acosta claims that legalization would be an “emotional” reaction. He is wrong. As the Economist has claimed, legalization would not be a panacea and would be fraught with problems, but it would still be the most moral, rational response to the blind narrow mindedness of prohibition. Rightly, the debate should not be whether or not to legalize; rather, it should focus on the best way to do so.
Now why is the analogy to Afghanistan relevant? Not because Afghanistan and Mexico are very similar, they aren't, though they are both entangled in narcotráfico (so are a growing number of other countries). They have in common that they seem to suffer from US Administration blindness to points of view outside the US establishment, views which are wedded to military solutions where they are not very effective.
In both countries, the US doesn't seem to "get" the nature of the president or his position in his country. For instance, they keep kind of acting like Karzai is The only person they should deal with. Karzai is much less the main actor these days than Calderón. The US doesn't seem to recognize that neither of them are their countries. Karzai, of course, has a great deal more to do with the problems in Afghanistan with drugs and corruption than does Calderón in Mexico. Calderón hasn't been mixed up as a participant in the very business that the US thinks it is working to defeat.
The US doesn't seem to "get" the nature of the countries. Afghanistan is much more "tribal" than unified; Mexico is much more unified than broken into fiefdoms by the drug trade or anything else.
The US doesn't seem to "get" that its solutions may be praised by folks in the US, and on the surface by Mexicans and Afghanistanis to some extent, but that outside of the US and in Afghanistan and Mexico there is much criticism. For instance, Obama seems to think he can talk to "moderate elements" in the Taliban. In Afghanistan, this is seen as questionable. In Mexico, it seems the US is supporting war against that amorphous group known as narcos without trying to deal with anyone involved in it. In Mexico, you probably could talk to lower level people out of the narcobusiness if you could offer alternatives. In Afghanistan, the Taliban is composed of shall we say the ideologically committed.
In both countries, the army is not seen as an agent of peace and positive change. In both countries, it is regarded with hostility. In Afghanistan, this means the US Army. As Carlos Pascual himself points out, people sent in by the US as agents of change are in no way prepared to act as such.
In both places, as is the case in Colombia, the US advocates destroying drug crops. Go read the COHA article on what a poor idea that is. In Afghanistan, there has been an off again on again effort to replace drugs with wheat. It hasn't been effective. In Colombia, as in Mexico, there has been little effort at all to replace the drug crops with something that pays decently. Furthermore, crop destruction causes damage to fields so they can't be used again and damage to the environment and damage to people who live in the areas.
In neither country can one find evidence that there are new ideas coming from the White House. Policies seem to be streamlined, silkier versions of the same old same old. Added to this, the White House still seems to overrate the reputation of the US in the world, and its authority. Without thorough self-examination and self-correction, the US diminishes its ability to act as a force for good.