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Michael Brenner

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Special Forces -- Down Mexico Way?

Posted: 05/18/11 12:22 PM ET

Washington is abuzz with talk that drastic steps may be in the offing to deal with the 'narco-state' across the Rio Grande. Heady with the dramatic success at Abbottabad, our warrior monks are casting their eyes on new threats and new glories. Go south = young heroes. Spiraling violence threatens to spill across the border. A government whose writ doesn't run across whole province. Drug traffickers run amuck. The spectre of alliances with Islamic terrorists. Intervention could be necessary.

Before embarking on another adventure abroad, it is prudent to reflect for a moment. Here is one huge but hidden piece of information. We are the source of Mexico's violent narco-culture. It is the addictions of millions that create a craving demand that indisputably is going to be met by someone -- whatever the risks, whatever the consequences. Mexico used to be the toll gate through which cocaine and marijuana passed into the U.S. from South America. Decline of the Medellin and Cali clans opened new opportunities for the middle men to expand operations and to get their hands on riches previously only imaginable by Wall Street racketeers.

For a long time, the Mexican government's attitude was benign neglect. Recall the scene in the Godfather -- "selling it across the border doesn't bother me; they're just gringos over there anyway."

 Then there is a falling out among drug families. Break-up of the Guzman/Sinaloa cartel leads to the eruption of violent turf battles and rampant corruption spreads as police and even military units are bought off wholesale. Greedy crime families started planting and processing their own stuff in Mexico. Then they add custom designed drugs to their inventory. They put on the payroll every sociopath and psycho they can lay hands on. They start hitting on Mexican kids to boost the home market. Washington imposes the Merida Accord on President Felipe Calderon in 2006 and the newly anxious Mexican authorities accede. We welcome Mexico as a co-belligerent in the 'war on drugs' -- you're either with us or against us. They try their best but find themselves outgunned politically, ethically and literally by the narco gangs. So for now they help; but the costs mount. Tomorrow they equivocate. Criminality mounts. Border cities like Juarez and Laredo become fiefs of the Zetas cartel. So, the Panetta/Petraeus team considers plans to send in the drones and Special Ops.

Before we start the hunt for our next Moby Dick, we may find it prudent to consider alternatives. One alternative: invite the Mexicans to send special teams (Spanish speaking only) schooled in detoxification/rehabilitation techniques to transform American drug addicts into responsible citizens who are adapted to a slower paced, more family oriented, caring America that the enlightened Mexicans promote. We are a failed state in this respect. Lack of social cohesion, a cult of hedonism, unaccountable leadership, educational lapses -- all point to the need for external assistance from the world community with Mexico as its lead altruistic agent. On strictly humanitarian grounds.

Yes, there are the sensitivities of a highly independent minded American people who have never taken to foreign rule. But we probably could count on the Mexicans leaving once the job is done and the danger eliminated. Perhaps they will want to keep a few large bases for social activism to deal with any recrudescence of the drug plague. They would be restricted to the outskirts of our major cities, though.

Don't like those Latino foreigners taking over American towns and cities? Here's alternative two. Legalize drugs, cut the ground from under the drug cartels and use the tax revenue to hire a few hundred thousand laid-off teachers. If your preference does not incline in that direction, the money could be used to underwrite the next "War on something or other."

Mexico's drug cartels get 80% of their revenue from the marijuana trade. Legalize pot and their influence is cut by a corresponding 80%. There is no medical case for treating marijuana as more dangerous than alcohol. There is a ton of medical evidence that alcohol is more dangerous than marijuana -- in the short-term and over a lifetime. The social consequences of alcohol are even more pernicious.

It is the potent combination of studied ignorance and latent Puritan attitudes that prevent us from acting accordingly. It's little different than the 1920s when the blue stockings and evangelicals denounced the jazz saxophone as the devil's instrument that led innocent young women into a life of sin and eternal damnation. Anyone who is around today's liberated young women will offer a retrospective toast to the jazz saxophone. They may well feel the same way about legalized marijuana and the sharp reduction in alcohol related deaths among the young that would result.

It strikes me that there is a correlation between attitudes toward marijuana and attitudes toward "counter insurgency." We Americans are a 'can do' and 'pro-active' people. Pot is a 'why bother' and 'pro-passive' substance. Hence the apprehension that marijuana's supplanting of alcohol as the national intoxicant carries risk of jeopardizing our ability to hit and fast and hard when necessary. The image of mellowed-out citizens recumbent on cushions as opposed to the vibrant image of raucous inebriates jumping into their cars to hurtle down the turnpike at 120mph makes us shudder at the implications. Casualties from the 'pro-active' speed-fiends? Unavoidable collateral damage incurred in keeping the high spiritedness of those who will protect the United States from foreign enemies.

This goes back to the 1960s. Peaceniks were in the vanguard of the pot culture. Alcoholics were gung-ho for the war. As President Obama might say, "it is time to put behind us the stale debates of that bygone era; to reject the harsh language of the culture wars. Let us together learn to inhale and shoot straight at the same time -- going forward."