The Policy That Killed 100 Times as Many Mexicans as Fast and Furious

By Conor Friedersdorf

For political reasons, GOP partisans suddenly care a lot about dead foreigners. They should turn their attention to the war on drugs.

shoes reuters.jpg
Shoes of missing people form the number forty-nine, in memory of the mutilated victims dumped by hitmen in Cadereyta, at the Macroplaza in Monterrey May 13, 2012. Suspected drug gang killers dumped 49 headless bodies on a highway near Mexico's northern city of Monterrey in one of the country's worst atrocities in recent years. / Reuters

Self-serving political considerations can have the salutary effect of spurring Congress to investigate wrongdoing in the executive branch, as in the House GOP's Fast and Furious investigation.

It can also bring out the partisan's inner humanitarian.

Before Fast and Furious, I never recall the conservative movement giving much thought to dead Mexicans. But now that the body count can be attributed to a bureaucracy run by Democrats?

The right is invoking the tragic deaths of foreigners with great frequency.

Said Texas Governor Rick Perry, "We've had over 300 Mexican nationals killed directly attributable to this Fast and Furious operation, where they brought those guns into Mexico. A former Marine and a Border Patrol agent by the name of Brian Terry lost his life. With Watergate you had a second-rate burglary."

Mark Steyn brought up the body count while complaining about the liberal reaction to the investigation. "Insofar as they know anything about Fast and Furious, it's something to do with the government tracking the guns of fellows like those Alabama 'Segregation Forever' nuts, rather than a means by which hundreds of innocent Rigoberta Menchús south of the border were gunned down with weapons sold to their killers by liberal policymakers of the Obama administration," he wrote.

There has been enough commentary of that kind that political satirists are starting to notice. Said Bill Maher on his HBO show, "First of all, let me just say, Republicans don't care about dead Mexicans." His comments spurred outraged posts in the conservative blogosphere. But the problem isn't that he was wrong, so much as that his biting remark ought to have been broader. Democrats don't care about dead Mexicans either assuming a reasonable definition of "care."

Abstractly, do they regret it when foreigners die?

Sure. So do Republicans.

Does either party put forth any effort to change the American policy that results in more dead Mexicans than any other?

Nope.

They talk about how tragic it is that 300 Mexican nationals were killed by Fast and Furious. But they keep right on supporting the war on drugs. President Bush and President Obama both insisted that our southern neighbor to keep fighting it, and our Latin American allies too, though they're despairing.

Since the 2006 crackdown on cartels that the United States urged on, between 35,000 and 40,000 people have been killed by drug violence in Mexico alone. The drug cartels are powerful enough to cause that kind of carnage only because Americans keep buying their drugs, even as U.S. politicians and voters back domestic policies such that all narcotics transactions take place on a black market that inevitably empowers murderous criminals. It's an unintended consequence, to be sure, but after all these decades is that really an excuse anymore?

We all know that prohibition fuels violence.

When the prohibitionist worries that legalizing drugs would increase drug use and addiction, that U.S. productivity might fall, and that it would send a bad moral signal, their argument is effectively, "The harm legalization might do is worse than tens of thousands of foreigners dying, worse than decades-long wars with cartels, worse than whole regions being destabilized."

It's a very easy calculation to make when the dead people are mostly far away, in foreign countries or in bad neighborhoods you don't pass through.

Everyone seems to agree, for purposes of arguing on cable news, that Fast and Furious was indefensible -- that it was illegitimate to risk the lives of Mexicans in an effort to bring down the cartels.

I certainly concur.

I also think the policy that killed tens of thousands of Mexicans over the last few years is illegitimate. But both political parties are inextricably implicated in that policy, so no one cares about those dead foreigners. (They don't think much about the Americans prohibition kills either.)

Our drug policies do far more to cause violence in Mexico than Fast and Furious ever did. That doesn't mean gun-walking wasn't scandalous. It just means the bigger scandal has yet to be addressed.

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2012/06/the-policy-that-killed-100-times-as-many-mexicans-as-fast-and-furious/258974/