Rick Perry Wants to Send the Military into Mexico to Fight Drugs

The Texas governor told a New Hampshire crowd that doing so might be necessary to stem the flow of narcotics into America

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Before this weekend, the strongest argument against putting Gov. Rick Perry in the White House came from Radley Balko. "A state government has no more awesome, complete, or solemn power than the power to execute its own citizens. If you're going to claim to loathe big government, this is one area where you ought to be more skeptical of government than any other," he wrote. But confronted with the possibility that Texas had executed an innocent man, "Perry used his own power to keep himself and his constituents ignorant, lest they begin to question whether government should have such power." And his success meant that the state's citizens were prevented from a full investigation of "a possibly historical government error."

Put another way, Perry behaved like a man who shouldn't be trusted with extreme power. As objectionable as his actions remain, however, he reminded voters and pundits of an even bigger reason to doubt his judgment in the weekend speech he gave in New Hampshire, where he mused on a step he might take if made Commander in Chief. "Texas Gov. Rick Perry said Saturday that he would consider sending U.S. troops into Mexico to combat drug-related violence and stop it from spilling into the southern United States," The Washington Post reported. "The way that we were able to stop the drug cartels in Colombia was with a coordinated effort," Perry said. "It may require our military in Mexico working in concert with them to kill these drug cartels and to keep them off of our border and to destroy their networks."

For starters, it's worth describing in detail the Colombia policy that Perry regards as a success and wants to emulate. Here's the big picture: we've been helping that country to fight the drug war (along with its leftist rebels) for almost 40 years, and still haven't won (though Colombia had recent, notable success against the rebels). Since the last year of the Clinton Administration, we've given billions of dollars in aid each year and provided a combination of U.S. military personnel and DEA agents to give on the ground advice. How's it all going? Summarizing a 2010 study conducted by academics from Harvard and the Center for Global Development, Ray Fisman wrote that "a recent evaluation of military and anti-narcotics aid to Colombia argues that neither American nor Colombian interests were well served by U.S.-supplied training and arms. The authors find that rather than bringing stability, increases in military aid caused spikes in violence from Colombia's infamous paramilitary organizations and had no impact whatsoever on coca production. Plan Colombia, it seems, may have served as little more than a conduit for channeling weapons to the destabilizing influences that it was meant to suppress."

Here's how Amnesty International characterizes American policy in the country: "The US has continued a policy of throwing 'fuel on the fire' of already widespread human rights violations, collusion with illegal paramilitary groups and near total impunity. Furthermore, after 10 years and over $8 billion dollars of US assistance to Colombia, US policy has failed to reduce availability or use of cocaine in the US, and Colombia's human rights record remains deeply troubling. Despite this, the State Department continues to certify military aid to Colombia, even after reviewing the country's human rights record." It concludes that "Plan Colombia is a failure in every respect and human rights in Colombia will not improve until there is a fundamental shift in US foreign policy."

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Conor Friedersdorf is a staff writer at The Atlantic, where he focuses on politics and national affairs. He lives in Venice, California, and is the founding editor of The Best of Journalism, a newsletter devoted to exceptional nonfiction.

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