Former Attorney General William Barr penned an op-ed late last week outlining the true extent that Mexico’s drug cartels are responsible for devastation inside the U.S. and called for U.S. military intervention to end the carnage.
Barr highlighted recent legislation introduced in Congress that would give President Joe Biden the authority to use the U.S. military to wage war against the drug cartels, saying that since the head of the snake was on the southern side of the border, that is where the fight needs to take place.
The op-ed, featured in The Wall Street Journal on Thursday, noted that the 100,000+ Americans dying yearly from drug overdoses is more than the number of American soldiers killed during the bloodiest year of fighting for U.S. forces during World War II.
Barr noted, however, that simply looking at the number of Americans killed from drug overdoses does not reflect the full extent of the damage caused by the cartels.
“A 2017 analysis, accounting for the costs of healthcare, criminal justice, lost productivity and social and family services, estimated that the total cost of America’s drug epidemic was more than $1 trillion annually, or 5% of gross domestic product,” he wrote. “Given the explosion in illicit drug deaths since then, this estimate now seems conservative.”
Barr noted that aggressive action against cartels is effective and worked in the early 1990s when the U.S. and Colombian governments joined forces to eradicate the two most powerful cartels in the world at that time, the Medellín and Cali cartels. Barr said that Democrat President Bill Clinton was responsible for pulling back America’s aggressiveness in stamping out cartels on their home turf.
Barr then outlined what he believes it will take to destroy Mexico’s cartels:
What will it take to defeat the Mexican cartels? First, a far more aggressive American effort inside Mexico than ever before, including a significant U.S. law-enforcement and intelligence presence, as well as select military capabilities. Optimally, the Mexican government will support and participate in this effort, and it is likely to do so once they understand that the U.S. is committed to do whatever is necessary to cripple the cartels, whether or not the Mexican government participates.
Second, the danger cartels pose to the U.S. requires that we confront them primarily as national-security threats, not a law-enforcement matter. These narco-terrorist groups are more like ISIS than like the American mafia. Case-by-case prosecution of individuals can be a part of an overall effort, but the only way to defeat them is to use every tool at our disposal inside Mexico. Merely designating the cartels as terrorist groups will do nothing by itself. The real question is whether we are willing to go after them as we would a terrorist group.
The most recent DEA National Drug Threat Assessment noted that most illicit drugs come through the unsecured southern border, which has become less secure under Biden.
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“Mexican transnational criminal organizations continue to supply most of the cocaine, methamphetamine, heroin, and fentanyl smuggled into the country, while violent street gangs dominate the retail sale and distribution of these illicit drugs at the local level,” the report said. “Mexican TCOs are the greatest drug trafficking threat to the United States; they control most of the U.S. drug market and have established varied transportation routes, have advanced communications capabilities, and hold strong affiliations with criminal groups and gangs in the United States.”
Mexico’s drug cartels are so powerful that there are often situations in which the Mexican government is forced to back down, like in 2019 when the Mexican military captured Ovidio Guzmán López, the son of notorious Sinaloa drug cartel leader Joaquín Guzmán Loera, and was forced to let him go after hundreds of heavily armed cartel gunmen threatened to murder families and overrun the soldiers. Mexico launched a massive military operation in January to recapture Ovidio Guzmán that involved more than 3,500 soldiers. The mission was successful, but only after heavy gunfire that resulted in dozens of deaths.
Some have suggested that the military operation signaled a shift in policy by Mexico’s leftist president Andrés Manuel López Obrador, who came into office promising a “hugs not bullets” approach to dealing with the cartels.
Barr, however, is not buying that AMLO has had a change of heart and instead called him the cartel’s “chief enabler.” “In reality, AMLO is unwilling to take action that would seriously challenge the cartels,” Barr wrote. “He shields them by consistently invoking Mexico’s sovereignty to block the U.S. from taking effective action.”