On the stage during the second Republican debate, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis did not hesitate to say that he would invade Mexico. As The Hill reported, not only did DeSantis say that getting troops across the border was a “day one” priority, even “more moderate” candidates such as Nikki Haley and Tim Scott agreed that they would get in on the invading-Mexico game.
Military incursions into sovereign states are never a small matter, and they rarely end well for either invader or invadee. At this moment, Russia’s illegal, unprovoked invasion of Ukraine is not only costing thousands of lives and generating billions of dollars of destruction, it has left Russia isolated and outcast, with a shrinking economy and few prospects for any outcome that doesn’t leave it much worse off than where it started.
As The New York Times reports, the idea of using military force inside Mexico began in 2020 with Donald Trump pondering the idea of shooting missiles into drug labs. Since then, rather than condemning this ludicrous call to violate international law, Republicans have increasingly embraced it. And now an illegal invasion of Mexico by the U.S. military is something almost every Republican candidate is making a priority.
The United States has frequently had a genuine “open border” policy when it comes to American troops heading south. Not only did the United States declare war on Mexico in 1846, U.S. troops were back across the border in 1914 to blockade and occupy the city of Veracruz during the Mexican Civil War. In 1916, General John J. Pershing led a “punitive expedition” in pursuit of Francisco "Pancho" Villa. That adventure sent 14,000 American soldiers into Mexico for over two years while another 140,000 waited at the border. They didn’t capture Villa.
In 2023, not only are Republican candidates endorsing the idea of a fresh invasion of Mexico, Republicans in Congress have drafted an authorization of military force, according to the Times, “echoing the war powers Congress gave former President George W. Bush before the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq.”
Yes. Because both of those invasions worked out so well.
Trump has produced a huge number of false claims, false promises, and general foolishness concerning Mexico—making them pay for a border wall, threatening to completely close the border, designating cartels as terrorist organizations, and seeking “battle plans” for a full-blown war with Mexico. However, the difference between actual events and what Trump has said he would do in these cases is 100%. But making Trump’s fairy tales come true has become the go-to play for Republicans trying to capture the MAGA crown.
That means that not only have Republicans pushed a War Powers Resolution “for the introduction of United States Armed Forces into hostilities in Mexico,” DeSantis is now claiming he has figured out a way to make Mexico pay for the wall. And invading Mexico has become part of the standard call for any Republican seeking to show their “toughness.” If any of them win office in 2024, it’s extremely likely that both the U.S. Navy and special forces will be sent to conduct a “war on the cartels.”
The problem with this idea is that Mexico is extremely unlikely to read a hostile military force crossing their borders as pals coming down to help them with some police work. Mexico will see an invasion as an invasion.
This isn’t 1914, and while Mexico’s military is dwarfed by that of the United States, it’s not exactly nonexistent. With roughly 416,000 members, Mexico’s military is largely loaded with light weaponry and modified civilian transports. They don’t have anything like a modern fighter jet or an M1 Abrams tank, but they have a lot of people, rifles, and pickup trucks in units largely designed for fighting exactly the organizations Republicans claim they’re coming to take out.
There’s little doubt that many in the Mexican government would like to see the cartels fall. They’re well aware of the violence those cartels bring to the country, the way in which drug violence shapes the impression of Mexico everywhere else, and how those cartels encourage Republicans to promote Mexicans as lawless desperados in desperate need of some U.S. military attention. They’re also well aware of the corruption and disruption that the cartels bring to the Mexico government.
But even those not on the payroll of those cartels are unlikely to welcome an invasion by a foreign power as the solution to their domestic problems. The long history of U.S. interventions in Mexico already means that Mexico places more restrictions on U.S. agents traveling there than most other nations. Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador has denounced the idea of a U.S. war on the cartels as “outrageous and unacceptable,” per the Times. Americans with guns pouring across their border will not make them happy.
The cartels themselves are paramilitary organizations that have an iron grip on some localities. They’ve been the authors of horrendous violence and have supporters in both the Mexican government and the Mexican military. They’re also equipped with their own weaponry that often exceeds that of government forces.
If the U.S. sends a military invasion into Mexico, it will very likely be fighting both the cartels and the Mexican military. It’s not a question of whether the U.S. Army can defeat these forces—they can—but whether the U.S. is really willing to employ the level of force and destruction necessary to have a significant impact on the cartels when that violence brings high levels of civilian casualties, highly visible destruction in a nation that is both our neighbor and our ally, and the condemnation of the world.
Pursuing well-armed criminal bands through the forests of Quintana Roo would not be a cakewalk, and the idea that drug labs and criminal headquarters are easily identified and eliminated is laughable. Any such effort in Mexico would be long, would demand a sizable military presence, and would represent a significant threat to the lives of U.S. forces involved. There’s no guarantee it would ever work, and even if it did … what then? There’s a very good chance that as soon as those forces departed, the labs would be right back in business.
It’s the cheapness and ease with which fentanyl can be manufactured that makes it possibly the most-uttered word at the last Republican debate. It doesn’t take rocket scientists or a specialized lab to crank out fentanyl; that’s the problem. It should suggest that this is an issue better dealt with through education, treatment, and looking at the reasons people take the drug in the first place.
But then, nothing beats guns, guns, guns for getting Republicans excited.