In an editorial last week, the Chicago Tribune scolds Congress for failing to act on the president's proposal to fuel the Mexican government's crackdown on drug cartels:
Within weeks of being sworn in as Mexico's president in December 2006, Felipe Calderon launched a scorched-earth assault on the drug cartels that infest the Sierra Madre Occidental.
Thousands of federal troops and army soldiers were dispatched to the mountainous region that stretches through northwestern Mexico into southern Arizona. Cocaine shipments were seized; marijuana fields were burned. Local police suspected of protecting or abetting the cartels were disarmed. Imprisoned drug kingpins who made a mockery of the judicial system by running their operations from behind bars were extradited to the United States to stand trial for trafficking.
The blowback has been breathtaking. More than 2,500 people -- including hundreds of police officers and soldiers -- died in drug-related skirmishes last year. More than 850 have been killed so far this year. The last few weeks have been especially bloody, with a dozen top police officials assassinated. Four gunmen ambushed and killed the acting federal police chief in his home. The deputy chief of Ciudad Juarez died after being riddled with 50 bullets.
Brazen drug lords continue to use both carrot and stick to recruit police officers to their ranks. Fliers advertise higher pay and benefits, and cops who refuse to switch sides often find their names on publicly posted death lists. The bodies of murdered snitches are displayed openly to discourage others. Signs boldly declare certain neighborhoods the exclusive province of one drug honcho or another.
Some analysts see the recent spike in violence as a sign of progress. Calderon's campaign has disrupted established drug-trafficking channels, creating cash shortages and causing turf battles among the cartels. But the drug business in Mexico has a way of rebounding, thanks to relentless demand from the north. The supply of cocaine in the United States declined in the months after Calderon's assault began, but it was back to normal by the end of the year, according to a multi-agency federal report.
Meanwhile, the front lines have pushed north to towns such as Tijuana, Nuevo Laredo and Ciudad Juarez. The violence could easily spill across the border into the United States. Already, the U.S. State Department has issued a travel alert, warning citizens to think twice before visiting Mexico.
The United States has a huge stake in this conflict, and not just because of the growing security risk along the border. About 90 percent of the cocaine smuggled into this country comes from or through Mexico. Recognizing this, President Bush pledged $1.4 billion to help fight drug trafficking in Mexico and Central America. The money would provide military hardware and training, but no troops.
But the Merida Initiative, named for the city in which Bush and Calderon forged a partnership, has had a difficult slog through Congress. Some House Republicans wanted to withhold the money until Mexico certifies that its police officers aren't working for the drug lords -- which is part of the problem the money is meant to help solve. Democrats who resent Bush entering the agreement on his own relish the chance to remind him they're in charge now. So far, they've whacked $88 million from the proposed first installment.
There's no good reason to oppose this initiative. This is our war too. Mexican soldiers and police officers are dying while fighting an enterprise that exists largely to feed the drug habits of users in the United States. We have a strong vested interest in this battle _ and a responsibility, as Calderon himself noted pointedly in a recent visit to the United States.
"I'm not asking the United States for a favor,'' he said. "This is a shared problem that requires a shared solution.''