Saturday, July 24, 2010

Who stand still move

My first foray into northern Mexico was back in the early 70s, just a kid back then, 17 or 18, and still a bit new to travelling the world, though I'd been on the road for a few years by then, through a minor war zone, into and out of ghettos and crime scenes, witness to a fair number of close-up and ugly murders, gang rapes, and the usual brutal violence of the world at the bottom. But still, I was a kid and didn't really know much, just enough to manage to stay calm and stay alive. So, when I got a ride across Chihuahua in a van driven by a blond hippie from San Diego I jumped at it, thinking, "What could be better than this?" I climbed in to the cab, turned to toss my backpack into the cargo space, and saw as I did so, a pair of feet sticking out from a tarp. I turned back and put my pack between my legs and looked out the window. Didn't say a word, and my host didn't speak, so everything was cool. Sort of. Except that even in deep winter Mexico isn't a cold storage area. I sort of rolled down the window, and that prompted my host to ask me or tell me or command me to roll it back up, which I did, pronto. Or maybe he didn't actually tell me to do anything with the window, and I only thought he did, because he said to roll it down again, which I did. Had to, pretty much, or I would have died anyway. The body in the back was higher than any living hippie ever was. Went on for hours across the desert till we pulled in for gas, at which point I told the driver I'd be staying to check out the local church and all and thanks for the ride. He chased me around the lot in his van for a bit but must have gotten bored 'cause he took off in a cloud of dust, and I hid till dark behind some wooden barrels, not seeing him again. Frankly, I'd been through far worse, but that was my first memorable experience of Mexico. Way it is today, I wouldn't blink at a dead body in a van. Today, northern Mexico is just damned dangerous.

Robert Eugene Simmons Jr, "The Southern Border Could Get Much Worse" American Thinker. July 01, 2010

The southern border of the USA is no longer something that we can ignore or use as a political tool. Successive presidents have failed to control this border for one reason or another, but the escalation of drug cartel violence on the southern side of the border is making the issue of illegal immigration almost an afterthought. It seems that if something doesn't change, we could be looking at an all-out war with Mexican drug cartels.

Police Chief Jeff Kirkham of the border town Nogales, Arizona, told Tucson Channel 9 (ABC) news that he has received threats that the Mexican drug cartels will start using snipers to target on- and off-duty police officers from across the border.

Given the fact that Nogales sits right on the border with the town of Heroica Nogales on the other side, the threat is entirely credible and feasible. Heroica Nogales would provide ample places to hide within sniper range of many parts of Nogales. With an effective range of over one mile, modern rifles could easily target U.S. citizens and police in an eerie echo of the siege of Sarajevo in the Bosnian war.

If snipers start setting up shop in Heroica Nogales, we certainly won't be able to count on the Mexican military to take care of the problem. The cartels clearly don't fear the Mexican military, given the enormous intimidation and bribery that they are able to bring to the table. Leaked stories of massive Mexican military corruption and intimidation are commonplace in the border regions.
Given that the Mexican military would be of dubious worth, what options are left for the Obama administration to deal with the problem? Would Obama fire predator missiles into Mexico from drones to take out snipers, or would the risk of a real military conflict with the regular Mexican army and civilian casualties make that option out of the question? Would counter-snipers be employed to take out drug cartel snipers? Given Obama's reluctance to deploy anything more than logistic personnel from the National Guard to the border, the answer is likely "no." If Obama will not authorize return fire, what is the game plan for the police and civilians being shot at from across the border? If Obama did authorize return fire across the border, how would Mexico react to military snipers from our side shooting drug cartel snipers from theirs? Finally, what would the rules of engagement be? Would American military snipers be authorized to take out anyone deemed a threat, or would the life of a police officer or civilian have to be taken before they can fire back? Even the military will admit that counter-sniper operations are complex and fraught with risk.

However dismal the sniper scenario sounds, the problem doesn't stop there. The Mexican drug cartels are exceptionally well-manned and armed with fully automatic AK-47 rifles, RPGs, and standard grenades, none of which are available for sale in the USA. How long before the cartels realize that they have far more men and armament than a border crossing and outright attack the police manning the crossing? It could start with the Mexican border control agents abandoning their post to avoid certain death and end with the cartels attacking a border crossing, thus opening up a floodgate through which tens of thousands of illegal immigrants, narcotics traffickers, criminals, and terrorists could flood into the USA in a matter of hours.

If the Mexican drug cartels stop fighting each other and unite, this scenario could rapidly become a catastrophe. Imagine a wave of violent drug cartels overrunning the border, crossing in Nogales and then the entire town. The most frightening thing is that the scenario is entirely plausible. With a foothold in the USA, the flood of people and narcotics would be virtually unstoppable, and we would end up with an urban war in our own borders.

Make no mistake that America is under an invasion. The army is not that of the Mexican government, but it is an invasion nonetheless. If we continue to turn a blind eye to the situation, it could easily escalate out of control into an international and human catastrophe. We can no longer wait and see what happens on the border and then react to it. Any military strategist will tell you that if you are merely reacting, you are losing.

It's time that we send the American military, not just the National Guard, to the border to defend the USA, as is the responsibility of the federal government. This suggestion is not meant to disparage the Arizona National Guard, but they are simply not built for large-scale combat operations, and this is no longer just a simple law enforcement situation. We need to secure the border with combat troops and convince the Mexican drug cartels that they are better off squabbling with each other than fighting the USA. In fact, if the border becomes so secure that nothing can get through, the cartels will have to find other routes for their drug trade, leave the border area, and improve the lives of law-abiding Mexicans on the other side of the border as well.

In addition to securing the border, it is time for Mexican President Calderón and Obama to meet to discuss the possibilities of worsening assaults on the border and our possible responses to these events before they actually happen. If protocols and understandings are there beforehand, the likelihood of any incident spinning out of control into a war is greatly reduced.

Finally, Obama needs to reprioritize his administration away from attempting to sue Arizona and toward addressing the problem that prompted Arizona to pass the law in the first place. Only after the border is secure should we talk about what to do about illegal immigrants still in the USA and expanding work permit programs for law-abiding Mexicans to make a living here.

This makes me wonder how often I'm likely to return to some of my favourite border towns in Mexico for the cheap delights and weird thrills I used to enjoy. All that dangerous stuff of decades past came to little in today's terms, then it being a night out with the local lawyer and journalist, maybe with the local accountant and town doctor, middle class guys having drinks in the taverna and flirting with the girls, staggering to the hotel singing Mexican love songs and wailing sentimental vows of eternal friendship.

I used to like Mexico because it wasn't violent. Not like back home where I'd survived a gun battle in a living room in L.A, got caught in the middle of a gang shoot-out on the street in Chicago, watched a big Black guy gutted on the street in New Orleans, been in a couple of serious car wrecks, saw a kid get hanged by a mob in the forest in the mountains [....] I'd had lots of bad adventures on the road, those events and a hundred more similar, and Mexico was a nice place to escape to for cheap good-times, more or less pretty safe.

Things change. Things go wrong in spite of what we work to make good, and no matter how hard we work and how much we want things to work out right. I've got some scars now, some that show and some that don't, and I still find myself working to make things work for the good, even though little turns out the way I want it to no matter how hard I work at it. I'm just one guy, and I will never change the world. No, I'm not even capable of making it worse. Neither though were those who did their shitty little violent things to others, the killings and the brutalities and the small damages against the world, none of it making any real difference in a meaningful way. But things change. Things get worse when we don't notice them changing all around us, like going to the office one find morning in early Fall to find a passenger jet crashing through the windows, destroying office towers full of ordinary folk who had no clue what was coming. It ain't the same for a family man going to work in an office as it is for a wild guy on the road seeking adventure. It's worse for the poor bastard who doesn't know how bad it can get and doesn't see it coming. I came to Canada after two years in the wars in the Middle East and the Balkans just in time for 9-11. I left a week later for a year of travelling around Mexico and Central America. I came back here to rest. But things have changed, and the peace I expected on my return is gone. Now I find myself travelling through my days with corpses in the back of my mind that I don't want to turn and confront, maybe someone next to me asking if I've done something wrong, leaving me to account for myself in ways I would rather not. There's no escaping it now, nowhere to run off to, and nowhere to hide. Things have changed for the worse, but not so much for me as for those who didn't sign up for this, didn't want it, and don't know how to deal with it. It's a bad change in spite of how hard so many have worked to make things right.

The borders I've crossed all my life seem now to have dissolved into fog, and the demons lurk everywhere without one having to seek them out as adventure. Now my crazy travels in a wild youth are your normal day. No boundaries any more. No borders between normal and mad. Folks just sit and stare straight ahead and hope it will all go away, the miles and the days clicking past, the smell getting worse, afraid to roll down the window....

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