On Saturday, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis said, “We are going to act” to fulfil his campaign promise to send US Special Forces into Mexico to combat drug gangs if he is elected president.
The Republican presidential candidate stated to reporters on Saturday at the start of his “Never Back Down” bus tour through Iowa, “It’s embarrassing to see the cartels have that type of authority. Our country is being invaded, and our people are being slaughtered.
On Wednesday night, during the Republican presidential debate, Florida’s governor was the first to bring up the subject. DeSantis gave a direct answer when asked if he would back sending Special Forces into Mexico, saying, “Yes, and I will do it on day one.”
The President of the United States must exercise all of his authority as commander in chief to ensure the safety of the nation and its citizens. On Wednesday he declared, “Yes, we are going to use lethal force when they come across; yes, we reserve the right to operate.” In a subsequent tweet, he made the same promise.
Ron DeSantis, according to his spokesman Bryan Gryphon, will modify the rules of engagement at the border and declare a national emergency on day one, mobilise all military resources, and label the cartels as narco-terrorists. Every resource at his disposal will be used to stop the flow of illegal drugs, and he will use the full might of the federal government to do so.
It’s not just DeSantis among Republicans who wants to use force against the drug cartels. While experts agree that anger at Mexico’s drug gangs and their effect on Americans is warranted, they warn against taking military action on Mexican soil for fear of sparking a diplomatic crisis with the United States.
When questioned on Saturday about the wisdom of conducting such an operation in another country, DeSantis supported the notion by saying that the cartels bring “death and destruction” to the United States.
Designating the cartels as a foreign terrorist organisation would allow “for lethal action,” according to Vanda Felbab-Brown, director of the Brookings Institution’s Initiative on Nonstate Armed Actors; however, doing so “doesn’t eliminate the diplomatic controversy and outrage in Mexico that any Mexican government would have.”
The “major implications for trade,” as Felbab-Brown put it, could result from such a label.
She argued that “from the perspective of the Mexican government and the Mexican military, that would very much be seen as a massive violation of sovereignty,” regardless of what the United States could claim.
US Ambassador to Mexico from 2011-2015 Earl Anthony Wayne agreed, calling US military operations in Mexico “an extremely sensitive issue” for many years.
The manner DeSantis has been talking about doing this “would create a massive crisis with Mexico,” as Wayne put it. “Whoever’s in charge” in Mexico, even if they have a strong relationship with the US, “would be forced to take drastic action and close the borders or do other things.”
Wayne argued that the legality of such a deployment of US forces would be “under the same rubric as launching a military operation in any other country around the world.” While presidents don’t always need Congress’ assent before launching a military operation, they still must deal with the legislature afterward.
A “reason” would be required, he said. “And questions would be raised in Congress, such as why you didn’t seek approval for this and what the emergency was that triggered this. The United States and Mexico would both react negatively if you decided to do this without first informing anyone or reaching an agreement with the Mexican authorities.
The president would “almost certainly” be required to notify Congress following such an action, according to Ezra Cohen, a fellow at the Hudson Institute and acting assistant secretary of defence for special operations and low-intensity conflict in the Trump administration.
“Congress could pass a law prohibiting funding for such operations, but it would be hard for Congress to prevent this sort of activity,” he explained.
On the other hand, Cohen said that the United States is “out of options” since the Mexican government has shown to be “too corrupt and not strong enough to deal with this.”
While acknowledging the seriousness of the situation, both Wayne and Felbab-Brown stressed the importance of finding common ground with the Mexican administration. They did, however, concede that it is getting harder to do so.
While “there is no cooperation” with the government at the moment, “there are still officers, law enforcement officials, government officials who understand the narcos are taking over Mexico,” as Felbab-Brown put it. She emphasised that the potential for future cooperation would be “tremendously” reduced if military action were taken.
Felbab-Brown argued that the Mexican government was “letting Mexico be eaten alive by the cartels” because of its lack of cooperation. To quote the author: “But, you know, fatal military action, particularly involving US forces… would be tremendously problematic in terms of the optics and the bilateral relationship, and it would really sour even individuals who want to collaborate with the US. It would be really challenging for them.
To cope with this “massive problem,” military intervention is not a viable option, according to Wayne.
It’s not just that “these groups have grown and become powerful; they’re all mixed with the civilian population,” he claimed. “Let’s talk about a serious answer. Don’t make us all pleased just by saying you’re sending in the Special Forces. The goal is to stop the flow of fentanyl, not only eliminate a few individuals involved in the drug trade.