THE MEXICAN DICTATOR Porfirio Diaz, who assumed power in 1876, once lamented that Mexico was “so far from God and so close to the United States.”He was mindful of his country’s recent history. American settlers had split off a chunk of Mexico in 1836, creating what would eventually become the state of lexas. A decade later the United States invaded Mexico outright, taking away the rest of its northern tier—the territory that would become California, Arizona, and New Mexico. That wasn t the last ot it. After Díaz went into exile, in 1911, U.S. troops entered Mexico on two other occasions, in 1914 and 1916-1917.
If the United States has made Mexico uncomfortable, the reverse has also been true. Of course, what long troubled Americans was not Mexico’s power but the fact that a country contiguous to the United States should be so alien: Catholic, Hispanic, chaotic, and poor. Washington’s main interest was simply to keep the lid on. As one observer, Louis C. Simonds, wrote in these pages in 1913, while Mexico was engulfed in violent political turmoil that would not end until the 1920s, “It is almost a truism to say that it is more important that the President of Mexico should have the qualifications necessary to enable him to govern the Mexicans than that, in other respects, he should measure up to AngloSaxon standards.”
Now the lid is off. During the past two decades overpopulation has joined the roster of Mexico’s problems, ensuring that they will be carried north on millions of human feet. As William Langewiesche explains in this month’s cover story, the U.S.-Mexican border, never truly a barrier between the two countries, now functions more as a seam, making inescapable the economic, demographic, and cultural influences of each country upon the other. The border region, no longer sparsely populated, is now a grim, disturbing world. What to do about the problems for which it provides a showcase is a subject of increasing prominence in, among other places. Congress, which this year may decide whether to approve the North American Free Trade Agreement that is being negotiated by the United States, Mexico, and Canada. Whether its provisions would, on balance, be good or bad for the United States remains a matter of bitter dispute.
For four decades the United States conducted a foreign policy built around the Cold War, more or less successfully. Now the country is returning to an era of “normal” foreign policy, focused primarily on our dealings with neighbors and trading partners. Such a foreign policy is not necessarily exciting or fraught with ideological significance. But as the case of Mexico suggests, in some ways conducting it may make the Cold War look easy. —THE EDITORS