Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Rick Perry on Border Security at Texas Public Policy Foundation

Governor Rick Perry met briefly (36 seconds) on the tarmac of the Austin airport when President Obama traveled to Texas a year ago.  

Perry wanted more time with the president to discuss the issue one which he rode to victory in the primary contest and in the general election against his Democratic opponent.  It wasn’t the issue of his forthcoming book, Fed Up!, which is a tirade against big government and for states’ rights and unregulated private enterprise. Rather, Perry’s pressing concern was about border security.

“My hope was to have a very frank, face-to-face discussion [with the president] about the issue of border security,” lamented Perry, who took advantage of the occasion to hand a letter to the president complaining about his administration’s failure to secure the border.

Later that day Perry had a chance to talk at length about border security in Texas.  The Texas Public Policy Foundation, a conservative think tank in Austin with close ties to the governor, had invited the governor to address border security as part of its Lone Star lecture series. 

During his speech Perry criticized the Obama administration’s border control policy as “lackadaisical” and “an abject failure,” while warning that “spillover violence” from Mexico was wreaking havoc in Texas.  Not only was the drug-related violence spilling over into the Texas borderland but also was taking the form of increased “transnational gang” violence in the state’s interior cities.

In contrast to the get-government-off-our-backs messaging of his book Fed Up!, Perry insisted that the “federal government step up” and “secure our borders.”

The political community in Texas has long been aware of the governor’s close relationship with the Texas Public Policy Foundation.  The ideological alliance between the governor and the policy institute was underscored by the publication of Fed Up!, which Perry described as a product of his partnership with TPPF.  Within Texas, the governor’s political closeness with the institute was again highlighted when on Perry keynoted the institute’s 2011 Policy Orientation Conference, a traditional gathering of Texas Republicans.

In November 2002 the Texas Monthly profiled James Leininger, the founder of TPFF and a longtime Perry campaign contributor. In her “Mr. Right” story, Texas Monthly reporter Karen Ollson wrote:

What makes Leininger one of the most powerful people in Texas politics is less the amount of money he has given over the years than the broad reach of his spending and his commitment to a conservative agenda. By pumping tens of thousands of dollars into the previously ignored State Board of Education races, he turned an obscure committee of retired teachers into an ideological hornet's nest, whose debates over curriculum and textbook content have made national news. In addition to funding candidates personally, Leininger has launched several political action committees to support conservative judicial and legislative candidates and advocate for school vouchers. He has, moreover, established an entire politics and policy conglomerate in Texas. He founded and provided seed money for the Texas Public Policy Foundation, an increasingly influential conservative think tank, in 1989. He has invested millions in private school voucher programs in San Antonio, the first of which he initiated in 1993. Some regard the state Republican party as an extension of his empire; its chair, Susan Weddington, is a former Kinetic Concepts [a company founded by Leininger] employee, and the $475,000 Leininger donated to state party and caucus committees in the 2000 election cycle far exceeded the amount contributed by any other individual or organization in Texas, according to a report by the Center for Public Integrity.
After Perry announced his candidacy, Texans for Policy Justice issued a report titled Rick Perry’s Heavenly Host. The report observes:

Perry might never have been governor—nor now be a presidential candidate—but for James Leininger. In a game-changing 1998 race then-Texas Agriculture Commissioner Perry was elected Lieutenant Governor. That victory secured Perry’s automatic promotion to governor two years later when President-Elect Bush abandoned the Governor’s Mansion. Perry narrowly won his fateful 1998 race against Democrat John Sharp, capturing just 50.04 percent of the vote. This squeaker victory was secured by an eleventh-hour media blitz that Perry paid for with a last-minute, $1.1 million loan. Leininger and two other Texas tycoons guaranteed the loan, which supplied more than 10 percent of the $10.3 million that Perry raised for that election. Leininger’s family and company PAC contributed $62,500 to that Perry campaign. Leininger also was the No. 1 contributor at the time to the Texas Republican Party (then chaired by former Leininger employee Susan Weddington), which sank $82,760 into that Perry campaign. “I congratulate Leininger,” Perry opponent John Sharp said at the time. “He wanted to buy the reins of state government. And by God, he got them.”
Last weekend as Hurricane Irene dominated the national news, Leininger was hosting a meeting of Christian evangelicals and Perry at the right-wing magnate’s estate. As Dallas News reporter Wayne Slater noted in his Aug. 24 article, “A Marriage Made In Heaven”:

When Rick Perry heads this weekend to Jim Leininger's ranch for a confab of Christian conservatives, he'll be on hallowed ground. Leininger has long been one of Perry's financial angels. He's been a leading proponent of school vouchers and bankrolled the campaign to ban gay marriage. And he's given large sums to Perry campaigns over the years. In some quarters, he's seen as saving Perry's political career with a last-minute infusion of $1.1 million to fuel Perry's 1998 victory as lieutenant governor.
With Perry assuming frontrunner status in the race to become the Republican Party’s standard bearer for the presidency, the policy positions of the TPFF and its donor base deserve a closer look by the national media and electorate.

On Aug. 18 the  Border Lines of the Center for International Policy published a profile of the Texas Public Policy Foundation and its relationship to Perry titled “The Fed Up Think Tank in Austin,” which stated: If Rick Perry goes to Washington, it's likely that he will bring with him the conservative policies and principles of the Texas Public Policy Foundation.

I encourage you to join the Border Wars Google Group to follow/discuss border security, immigrant imprisonment, and drug policy issues at:

Monday, August 22, 2011

What's So Frightening About Mexico's Drug War and El Sicario

What’s so frightening about El Sicario isn’t that it’s so shocking in its details of drug war violence. The humanity of this “Autobiography of a Mexican Assassin” stays with you more than its inhumanity. 

The chronicles of the unnamed sicario (common term for a hitman in Latin America), as related to Molly Molloy and Chuck Bowden, include graphic detail of killings and torture. 

But we have already seen and heard much of it. Over the past four years, there has been no dearth of images and reports of the horrific violence that has besieged many parts of Mexico. Graphic photos and video of mutilations and torture sessions are readily available on the internet. If you missed all that, border law enforcement officials and the Border Patrol are busy presenting slide shows of the violence in schools and other public venues to warn about the consequences of drug use.

But what sticks with you after reading El Sicario (Nation Books, 2011) are not the horrors and magnitude of the drug-related violence in Mexico but the humanity of the story – how easily and understandably a person could become a killer for drug money. That’s truly frightening given the extent of the illegal drug market in the United States and Europe and its deepening penetration of less developed countries like Mexico.

He recalls his boyhood in a Juárez colonia – the special day at the circus with his dad – and his early dream of escape from poverty to a life of wealth and power. Easy money for smuggling drugs into El Paso led to a deeper involvement in the drug trade, along with the allure of favors of women, drugs, and spending money, especially after he agreed to enter a police training academy under the auspices of the drug trafficking organizations (DTOs). 

But years of killing as a drug cartel enforcer took an emotional, physical, and spiritual toll, eventually leaving him open for the first time to the seductive appeal of a highway billboard:

“If You Have Problems, Call Upon Him”

By helping this repentant killer tell his story, editors Molloy and Bowden offer the reader what is truly an inside story. In the telling, this sicario helps us understand how the hopes and dreams of a young man from Juárez can turn to a life of professional killing. It’s an insider story that provides an unusual window into the political economy of Mexico and its intersection with the drug market, both in Mexico and across the border in the United States.

As he begins his tale -- from child to sicario to religious redemption -- the killer tells us that, as a boy, he kept thinking about the day when finally he “could be somebody” – a person who could say: “I want that. And have it. I wanted to be the man who could wish for a really big house, and have it.”

It wasn’t that he was born a criminal, raised in a dysfunctional family, born evil. Rather he was at heart a consumer who, like most of us, wanted more – and the multi-billion dollar drug trade created by drug prohibition let him have it.

Looking Back to Mexico

Living in exile in the United States, the sicario looks back across the border with deep pessimism. Although he occasionally expresses sympathy for the government’s campaign against the cartels, this reformed assassin more often describes a political and criminal justice system that is thoroughly corrupt and compromised. 

God, the United States, and a handful of uncorrupted journalists and government prosecutors (generally killed off) offer the only possible paths to salvation and hope.

Disgracefully, everything in that country is evil. There is so much corruption that it can have no end, no matter how much help Mexico gets from other countries.

Sadly, desgraciadamente, all of our law enforcement academies in Mexico – the different police forces, the investigative police, the military police, and the army – have been used by the narco-trafficking organizations as training grounds for their future employees.  

 Who has the power? Try to imagine who has the power in this kind of government. When all of the open spaces, the back roads, and the streets are guarded and patrolled by the Army. So, who is allowing all of the drugs to pass?

The killing fields of Mexico, according to the sicario, are mostly unreported and undiscovered. In his opinion, it is often only when the DEA tracks the whereabouts of its informants that the mass graves are uncovered.

I think that here in the border region, that…well, let’s say that if there are one hundred of these narco-fosas [narco-graves], maybe only five or six of these places have been discovered.

As most close observers of Mexico’s drug war have noted, the common view (propagated by both the Obama and Calderón administrations) is that the 50,000 reported killings over the past four years are largely the result of inter-DTO violence. But the government’s war and the inter-cartel turf wars have spawned what the sicario calls a new breed of gang members he deprecatingly calls “the imitators.”

Within what Howard Campbell calls the “drug war zone” (in his book by the same name), the sicario describes a breakdown in cartel control and the rise of “imitators” without the traditional “professionalization” and “codes” that once guided the work of cartel assassins like himself.

There are no more real codes [such as not killing women and children] no more rules in business. Before, the different cartels that were working in the country respected the codes and arrangements that had been established. Now, there are no codes, they are all lost.

Inter-cartel violence isn’t the only explanation for Mexico’s recent drug-related violence. “Times have changed,” he says. The leading drug trafficking organizations have also been killing the “punks” that he says are imitating the cartels and have also branched into non-drug crimes like car thefts.

Compounding the problem is the rise of domestic drug trafficking and consumption of crack, cocaine, and methamphetamines. “Mexico has now passed from being an exporter and transporter of drugs and is now a consumer country,” he observes.

As the U.S. reinforces its border, the introduction of drugs into the United States is decreasing. So the narcos now are trying to addict the children in the schools in Mexico. They are now working to hook people who work in the maquiladoras [factories]. And they are recruiting women to distribute drugs.

Indispensable United States?

The sicario’s new world view is shaped more by moral imperatives (good and evil, temptation and redemption) than by policies and markets. This is a worldview consistent with Washington’s own morally-driven drug war and drug prohibition policies.

He acknowledges drug-related corruption in the United States, although “in the United States they at least make an effort to stop the corruption. But in Mexico they don’t even try.”

The sicario notes that the “government has some successes,” although only up to a point. In his view, “The successes have mostly been due to the experiments that the DEA is now carrying out in Mexico, and the [Mexican] president is doing what the DEA orders.”

Like many U.S. analysts, the sicario worries that a window of opportunity to crush the cartels may be closing as the Calderón sexenio draws to a close.

I think that the United States law enforcement needs to take advantage of the Calderón government, because he will allow them to do whatever investigation they want. Many other governments will not allow them to go so far. Another government will not allow the same cooperation and availability of their military to work with the United States. The United States needs to take advantage of this situation.

Editors as Drug War Guides

It wasn’t the opportunity write another headline story in the attention-grabbing drug war in Mexico that brought Molloy and Bowden to the sicario and his story.

In their respective introductions to the book and in their respectful editing of his story, Molloy and Bowden exhibit an interest in getting past the headlines to the fundamental truths of the drug trade and to the politics and economics that foster it: how easily dreams and ambitions can lead to violence and evil when surrounded by an immensely profitable international illegal drug market.

In El Sicario and in other books and journalism, Bowden has taken us to the heart of Juarense darkness. Bowden’s reputation brought him to the attention of this sicario, who tells his story both as part of his new redemptive path and in the hope that his story may help end the violence and evil of the drug trade and drug war.

Once again we are in debt to Bowden for helping us understand the borderlands and the border drug world -- not just through his reporting but also by way of his often stunning insights and frank reflections.

But here, as in such other of Bowden’s works as Murder City: Ciudad Juárez and the Global Economy’s New Killing Fields and Juárez: The Laboratory of Our Future, there are instances of analytical overreach, when impressions turn too quickly to provocative -- sometimes dubious -- generalizations.

For those who follow the scourge of the drug war and know the corruption of Mexico’s political economy, some of Bowden’s generalizations and declarations resonate and often affirm our own inchoate but perhaps less dramatic assessments. Bowden certainly has earned the right over his many years of reporting about the border to say what he believes and to share his worldview with us. We credit him for daring to reach into the complexities of the border, immigration, and Mexico for the back-story.

In the preface, Bowden once again articulates his conviction that the violence and social disintegration of Juárez are emblematic not only of the drug war, but also of the global economy – the murder city as the laboratory of our globalized society’s future.

“I believe,” writes Bowden, that “he [el sicario] is going to be part of our future. Killers like him are multiplying. The global economy has brought ruin to many, and he is a pioneer of a new type of person: the human who kills and expects to be killed and has little hope or complaint.”

He sees Juárez as a manifestation of an emerging Mad Max world created by a heartless global economy that alienates the individual, erodes ethical foundations, and destroys collective identity.

Extrapolating from the Juárez experience, Bowden offers a grim postmodern phenomenology. The sicario, writes Bowden, “does not fit our beliefs or ideas. But he exists, and so do others who are following his path.”

In this world, the statements of American presidents about Mexico mean nothing because they insist on a Mexico that does not exist and that has never existed.

Such provocative writing sets us searching for underlying meanings and forces behind Mexico’s drug violence and reminds us that official truths are usually lies.

We pause to reflect after reading Bowden, which is his special contribution to the Mexico drug war discussion. We are grateful for this challenge to reflect and reconsider. But questions need to be asked about the degree to which Bowden’s own answers reveal truth and reality.

“The sicario takes us to the real Latin America, not a place of magical realism, but a place of murderous realism.” Yes, perhaps for those who see Latin America with rose-colored glasses as a land bursting with tropical color, joyful living and solidarity, there may be a need for a closer look.

But whatever the meaning of “murderous realism,” the phrase is a stylistic and analytical step much too far – a deliberately vague generalization that distracts and does little to help us understand Latin American politics and people.

Complexity and simplicity often run parallel or intersect in Bowden’s reflections, as does his observation:

In some ways the book reminds me of the Illiad, a self-contained strange world that by its very existence upends all the lies and assumptions of our world. In the Illiad humans are toys for the gods’ pleasure. In this book humans are toys that are tortured and murdered by unseen forces wearing the mask of the Mexican state.

Bowden rightly insists that the violence in Juárez cannot be understood without recognizing the central role of the state not just as drug warrior, but also as drug trader. In his writing about the border, he also rightly points out that the violence in the streets of Juárez and at the hands of the sicario he interviews cannot be fully understood apart from the anomie and economic ruthlessness associated with the city’s maquiladora economy.

But, where is the evidence that this is the future of all communities integrated by outsourcing into the global economy? There are many evils in the global economy, surely, but gang violence, killing for hire (as the origin of the term sicario itself remind us), and epidemic social violence predate recent globalization trends.

No doubt that corruption and trafficking are widespread within Mexican security forces. But the putative equivalence between the state and the shadowy criminal underworld – “wearing the mask of the Mexican state” – tends to obscure at least as much as it helps illuminate the complexities of Mexico’s political economy.

Clearly the alienation and social disintegration related to the outsourcing development model embraced by Juárez should not be ignored. But it’s the city’s political geography as a border city and traditional smuggling corridor that are fundamental to its status as a “murder city,” not its role in the new global economy.

It could be argued that all such crossroads where complementary dimensions of the global economy meet will all give rise to the same reality and evil -- which is what Bowden seems to imply. But this doesn't always hold true. Nor, of course, is this type of routine killing and gang violence limited to the nexus points of the global economy. 

It’s not Bowden’s job, of course, to undertake comparative studies about the pervasiveness of cultures of murder and hopelessness in cities penetrated by the global economy’s outsourcing. Yet Bowden’s habit of conflating the global economy, mindless killing, and social despair in support of overly broad and ahistorical conclusions about “our future” and the global economy tend to undermine the essential integrity of his work.

Certainly, whatever connections exist between the maquiladora economy and drug violence merit our attention. Juárez may serve as a “laboratory” where these connections form and where they can be observed. Yet there is a danger of extrapolating without evidence and in the process leaving us with an even more superficial understanding of both the global economy and the illegal drug trade.

While less provocative, Molloy’s introduction is more helpful in understanding the reality of the drug world and Mexico. For those concerned about the policies and forces behind the drug war, Molloy’s introduction and details of the autobiography offer relevant information and insight about the structures of the drug trade and drug war.

“Historically,” explains Molloy, “the Mexican state has allowed criminal organizations to exist while at the same time maintaining control over them by designating a liaison to supervise their activities and take a cut of their income for the state. Whoever controlled the plaza kept crime orderly and profitable for the state. There have been variations of this concept in the United States as well…. In Mexico, the relationship is much closer, and it has become more significant in recent decades.”

Molloy, who monitors murders in Juárez on the Frontera List, disputes the common view that the surge of violence in Mexico is limited to those like this sicario who are the “soldiers” of the drug trafficking organizations. 

Instead, she notes, “the overwhelming majority of the victims are ordinary people and that most of them are poor: children, teenagers, old people, small-business proprietors who refused to pay extortion demands, mechanics, bus drivers, a woman selling burritos from a cart on the street, a clown juggling at an intersection, boys selling newspapers, gum, and perhaps nickel bags of cocaine or heroin on a street corner, an increasing number of women who are taking jobs in the drug business, and dozens of people who have been slaughtered inside drug rehabilitation clinics.”

Molloy and Bowden deserve our appreciation and respect for giving this ex-assassin the opportunity and freedom to tell his own story -- from his memories of mole sandwiches as a young boy on a family outing through his accounts of torture and killing as a routine drug trade practice to his reflections as a reformed and saved evangelical Christian. His story, apparently unscripted by the editors, gives us an inside glimpse not only into a largely hidden underworld but also into the mind and heart of a soldier in the drug trade.

What are the policies, principles, and beliefs that will bring the drug trafficking organizations and their imitators under societal control? Neither the editors nor the sicario offer a prescriptive agenda.

However, by helping us understand the complexity and forces that shape this drug trade underworld, we are certainly on better footing to evaluate such issues as border security, drug prohibition, Mexico’s drug war, and Washington’s own four decades of counternarcotics aid and intervention.

Join Border Wars Policy Group to follow/discuss border security, immigrant imprisonment, and drug policy issues at: 

Thursday, August 18, 2011

The Fed Up Think Tank in Austin: Rick Perry and the Texas Public Policy Foundation

If Rick Perry goes to Washington, it's likely that he will bring with him the conservative policies and principles of the Texas Public Policy Foundation.

Perry’s campaign book, Fed Up! Our Fight to Save America from Washington is copyrighted to this Austin policy institute. Founded in 1989, the foundation’s mission is to “promote and defend liberty, personal responsibility, and free enterprise in Texas and the nation by educating and affecting policymakers and the Texas public policy debate with academically sound research and outreach.”

The Texas Public Policy Foundation was founded by James R. Leininger on the model of the Heritage Foundation, the highly successful Washington, DC conservative think tank.

The foundation has worked closely with the state’s Republican leadership to set Texas policy and budget directions.  TPPF says:

For more than 22 years, the Texas Public Policy Foundation has stood as a voice of liberty, free enterprise, and personal responsibility in Texas. Our successful policy recommendations in Texas have made our state a model of applied conservative principles. Our success has put us in the unique and honorable position of leading other states to retain control over state issues and spending. Now considered one of the leading state-focused think tanks in the nation, the Foundation is being called on to provide model policy recommendations, oversee major national outreach efforts, teach our methods to likeminded groups throughout the nation, and defend liberty in a variety of policy areas.

In the book’s “Author’s Note” Perry writes that he has been “proud to partner with them to help ensure that Texas is a national leader in the cause of liberty and respect for limited government.”

Perry says the foundation “has helped make Texas stronger while defending the Constitution and demonstrating the harm caused by the excesses of Washington.” He then cites their role in fighting “Obamacare,” “rampant federal spending,” and the “perils of environmental policy” arising from the “hysteria of global warming.”

Perry’s bona fides as a social and fiscal conservative are underscored by his close association with this conservative policy institute.

Before joining the foundation as president and CEO eight years ago, Brooke L. Rollins worked in the governor’s office, first as Perry’s deputy general counsel and then as Policy Director. According to the profile on the foundation’s website, Rollins “managed the Governor’s Policy Division and all policy issues including education, transportation, natural resources, agriculture, criminal justice, economic development, health and human services, and insurance.”

The Texas Monthly (February 2011) named Rollins one of the state’s most powerful people – a member of the Texas “Power Company.” According to the magazine, “TPPF’s positions on issues can make the difference between life and death for major legislation.”

Another leading figure at TPPF is Wendy Lee Gramm, who is a senior scholar at George Mason University’s Mercatus Center, which functions as a free-market think tank. Married to former U.S. Senator Phil Gramm, she serves as the chair of TPPF and is also on the board of directors of the Independent Women’s Forum, a right-wing women’s advocacy institute. Gramm has also been a member of numerous corporate boards, including Iowa Beef Processors, State Farm, and Enron Corporation, which contributed to the Mercatus Center before imploding.

TPPF’s own conservative politics are readily apparent in its donor list and in its position papers.

As well as founding TPPF, James Leininger also underwrote the foundation with his personal wealth during its formative years. Other conservative advocacy and policy groups founded by Leininger include the two right-wing judicial groups, Texans for Justice and Texas Justice Foundation. He also founded several political action committees that have been instrumental in advancing conservative leadership in Texas, including the Committee for Governmental Integrity, Texas for Governmental Integrity, and Texans for Judicial Integrity.

In addition to funding the organizations he created in Austin, Leininger has funded national social conservative organizations, including the American Family Association, Christian Pro-Life Foundation, Family Research Council, and Focus on the Family.

Foundations account for 38 percent of TPPF’s $4.5 million annual budget. Two foundations associated with Koch Industries (Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation and Claude R. Lambe Charitable Foundation) have been longtime supporters of TPPF, contributing $383,125 in 2005-2009 and nearly a half million dollars between 1997 and 2009.

TPPF’s policy interests cover a broad spectrum of conservative causes – from disputing climate change science, promoting private imprisonment, developing states’ rights initiatives, and limiting federal regulation of business.

It offers various policy agendas for state and national legislators and officials.  Its “Agenda for Prosperity” is described as “a roadmap of effective principles that will keep Texas on its path of extraordinary economic growth, and preserve the Lone Star State’s role as a beacon of liberty to the rest of the nation.”

As part of the 2012-13 budget process, TPPF teamed up with another Koch-funded advocacy groups, including Americans for Prosperity-Texas, to form Texans for a Conservative Budget. Other coalition members included Americans for Tax Reform, Liberty Institute, and Heartland Institute.

TPPF reports that this year it also “conducted the federalism portion of the American Legislative Exchange Council’s [ALEC] midwinter conference in Washington, D.C., bringing together more than 900 state legislators from across the country to present our Agenda for State Action and discuss a series of proposals on what the states can do to reverse federal overreach and restore Constitutional rights.”

Throughout his book Fed Up! Perry argues a states’ rights position for downsizing federal government. Perry says that all his author’s net proceeds will go to TPPF’s newly established Center for Tenth Amendment Studies.

According to Perry, the “unprecedented federal intrusion” into American life violates the Tenth Amendment’s provisions. According to Perry, the Tenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution specifies that “all powers not specifically granted to the federal government are reserved to the states and to the people.” That’s an interpretation not shared by most constitutional scholars and manifestly conflicts with the “necessary and proper” clause of Article I of the U.S. Constitution.

The foundation is an avid and effective advocate of the privatization of prisons and other parts of the criminal justice system. In its Private Sector Public Safety Solutions policy brief, the foundation asserts that the “private sector can bring innovation and competition to the criminal justice system.” The paper echoes the highly contested argument that private prisons cost less than public ones, stating that “private prisons cost Texas taxpayers about 14 percent less to operate than their government-run counterparts.”

With respect to climate change science, the Texas Public Policy Foundation contends that the “scientific consensus has never been as broad as proclaimed.” In a policy paper on climate change, TPPF asserts that there are mounting questions about the scientific justification for binding CO2 limits and subsidies for alternative energy.”

It claims that “the U.S. government has dismissed mounting evidence of core errors in orthodox global warming science sponsored by the United Nations.” TPPF’s policy agenda recommendations include “urging federal policymakers to establish an independent, rigorous review” of UN climate science, “suspending state programs that require or incentivize” greenhouse gas reductions, and “avoiding state and federal mandates to reduce CO2” emissions. To combat what Governor Perry calls climate change hysteria, TPPF is promoting the development of “extending the new empirical climate science.”

In Fed Up! Governor Perry says that he knows of no other organization that is better positioned than Texas Public Policy Foundation to help “foster a national conversation” about “the proper role of government in our lives.”

I encourage you to join the Border Wars Google Group to follow/discuss border security, immigrant imprisonment, and drug policy issues at:

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

U.S. Drug War Turns to Transnational Combat

·         No Strategic Planning in Obama’s New Security/Crime Strategy
·         Policies Driving Transnational Crime Remain Unquestioned
·         Combating TOC Latest Phase in U.S. Drug War
·         Prioritizing American Power

The Strategy to Combat Transnational Organized Crime, released in late July by the White House, offers the strategic context for the increasing rhetorical focus of the Obama administration on “transnational crime,” “transnational threats,” and “transnational criminal organizations.” Over the past two years, administration and military officials have increasingly referred to the security threat of transnational organized crime – at home, along the border, and in Mexico and Central America.

The transnational rhetoric is a bit of a throwback to the mid-1990s.  In the wake of the Cold War and at the onset of the era of economic globalization, the Clinton administration, the U.S. military, and the nongovernmental policy community joined a new chorus in Washington warning about the rise of nontraditional security threats.

Not since 1995 has the U.S. government undertaken a comprehensive assessment of the threat of transnational organized crime.

Transition from War to Transnational Combat

The Obama administration in its National Security Strategy (2010) began reframing security to include such nontraditional transnational threats and challenges as climate change, pandemics, and organized crime. Its new Strategy to Combat Transnational Organized Crime expands this policy thinking about transnational threats.

As was the practice of the Clinton administration, the Obama administration repeatedly emphasizes the need “international cooperation” – a marked change from the aggressive unilateralism of the George W. Bush administration. In a letter introducing the strategy, President Obama commits the U.S. government to “building a new framework for international cooperation” to combat transnational organized crime.

Also notable have been the attempts of the two Democratic administrations to define national security challenges outside the context of war – the end of the Cold War in Clinton’s case, and the rejection of Bush’s “global war on terrorism” in the case of Obama.

Liberal critics of conservative nationalism and proponents of liberal internationalism have welcomed these rhetorical transitions from military-based concepts of national security to more a more holistic framing of security challenges.

Questionable Factual and Historical Foundations

A review of the White House’s new strategy to combat transnational organized crime (TOC) raises questions about its factual and conceptual foundations. 

Questions also need to be asked about the implications of the strategy for domestic and foreign security operations.

In the course of the last couple of years, when discussing the border and Mexico, officials from the U.S. military, Homeland Security, and Justice Department have been warning about  “transnational criminal organizations,” “ transnational crime,”  and “transnational threats” without defining them.

The new strategy statement helpfully addresses this failure to define terms by introducing the concept of transnational organized crime and defining it as:

Transnational organized crime refers to those self-perpetuating associations of individuals who operate transnationally for the purpose of obtaining power, influence, monetary and/or commercial gains, wholly or in part by illegal means, while protecting their activities through a pattern of corruption and/or violence, or while protecting their illegal activities through a transnational organizational structure and the exploitation of transnational commerce or communication mechanisms. There is no single structure under which transnational organized criminals operate; they vary from hierarchies to clans, networks, and cells, and may evolve to other structures.
In a statement accompanying the release of the new TOC strategy, President Obama links the purported rise of the transnational crime threat since the mid-1990s to the onset of “technological innovation and globalization.”

According to the president:

Transnational criminal organizations have taken advantage of our increasingly interconnected world to expand their illicit enterprises. Criminal networks are not only expanding their operations, but they are also diversifying their activities, resulting in a convergence of transnational threats that has evolved to become more complex, volatile, and destabilizing. 
In the strategy statement, the White House asserts that since 1995 transnational organized crime “has expanded dramatically in size, scope, and influence and that it poses a significant threat to national and international security.”

But how do we know this to be true?

The White House doesn’t bother in this strategy statement or anywhere else to back this assertion about the causal link between globalization and transnational crime with statistics or other supporting documentation.
Intuitively, one can easily accept the assertion that transnational crime (and what scholars refer to as “illicit globalization”) leverages the new instruments of the global economy – communications technology, rapid financial exchange, and free trade agreements – to expand its size, scope, and influence.

But any assessment about the rise of transnational organized crime in the age of globalization must also consider the steady decline in the national protections in the form of tariffs and quotas that historically have formed the breeding ground of international smuggling. As trade barriers fade, the province of transnational crime is more proscribed.

The TOC strategy statement regards the alleged rise in transnational crime as a function largely of globalization. Left completely unexamined is the role of government itself in the breeding of transnational crime and illicit globalization.

Today, probably more than ever in history, transnational crime is directly linked to national and international policies that prohibit or severely restrict commerce in certain goods and services -- mainly drugs, migrant labor, sexual services, and weapons.

Increased global trade and communications can and does facilitate illicit globalization. But illicit global trade is hardly a new phenomenon; it has long held a central place in international relations.

In the era of mercantilism and colonialism, the trade in goods from competing colonial power suffused the global economy in the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries. Traffickers in illegal goods were known as “free traders.”

Globalization has certainly limited the scope of national sovereignty. But rarely in history have international borders and commerce been effectively controlled by national governments.

In “Illicit Globalization: Myths, Misconceptions, and Historical Lessons,” a forthcoming essay in the fall issue of Political Science Quarterly, border scholar Peter Andreas reminds us that during the 18th century “Britain eventually built up a sizeable coast guard force in response to rampant smuggling, but the most-important factor curtailing smuggling was the emergence of free trade in the nineteenth century, undermining much of the incentive to smuggle.”

Strategy without Any Strategic Planning

In its much-heralded new strategy to combat TOC, the White House offers 56 “priority actions.”  Yet all the promised actions are either replicas or echoes of existing policy.

Nowhere in the TOC strategy is there any reflection about the policy environment in which transnational crime breeds. Instead of any evaluation of policy reforms that might staunch transnational crime, the TOC strategy resorts to the traditional hard line -- stressing the need for more and better coordinated law enforcement, border security, and intelligence operations.

It’s a strategy that is a synthesis of existing law enforcement imperatives rather than a serious initiative. It’s a strategy formulated, apparently, without strategic planning.

The Obama White House states that drug trafficking and transnational crime are closely intertwined. It notes, for example, that the “demand for illegal drugs within the United States fuels a significant share of the global drug trade, which is a primary funding source for TOC networks and a key source of revenue for some terrorist and insurgent networks.”

Yet there is no evaluation or defense of the drug prohibition policies that drive this illegal trafficking and associated crime.

Immigration and Border Security
Similarly, the White House expresses its determination to crack down on human smuggling but without any assessment of the policies – such as increasingly strict immigration policies and the border-security operations – that have dramatically increased the role of criminal networks in illegal immigration and illegal border crossings.

As part of its new professions of “shared responsibility” the Obama administration vows to crack down on illegal arms flows to Mexico and other countries. Yet this commitment remains disconnected from other U.S. government policies that encourage U.S. arms production and export and that make weapons readily available.

The White House is rightly concerned with the international trafficking of women who are forced to labor as sex slaves. This traffic is the life blood of many organized crime organizations, both domestic and international. Yet the legalization and regulation of consensual sex services would go a long way to erode criminal networks that profit from the sale of sex, allowing the government to focus its crime fighting on sex slavery and concentrate its regulatory powers on improving associated public health and labor standards.

Strategic Fallacies

Aside from the core failure to address the policy origins of transnational crime, the White House’s new TOC strategy suffers from three fundamental strategic fallacies, particularly as the strategy relates to the border and Latin America.

1. Exercise of Power, Absence of Reason

President Obama vows to “integrate the tools of American power to combat transnational organized crime and related threats to our national security – and to urge our partners to do the same.” In essence, it’s a showdown where American power faces the emerging power of transnational crime.

The White House intends to win this contest, stating that it will deploy “all elements of national power to protect citizens and U.S. national security interests from the convergence of 21st century transnational criminal threats.”

The strategy isn’t exactly a declaration of war, yet President Obama describes the strategy as fundamental to U.S. national security. The White House states that it will “identify those TOC networks that present a sufficiently high national security risk and will ensure the coordination of all elements of national power to combat them.”

Construed as a power contest, the U.S. and its unnamed partners are certain to lose this match-up -- just as it continues losing the four-decade long war on drugs despite its massive expenditures and routine exercises of the raw power of the U.S. military and law enforcement apparatus.

Without the profits from the illegal drug trade, the “economic power” of TOC would soon fade. 
No matter how power America mobilizes to combat transnational crime, the power of the market and human desire will prevail.

A strategy directed by common sense rather power would likely be more successful in undermining transnational criminal networks and draining their economic power. A more reasonable strategy would not only acknowledge the centrality of drug trafficking in TOC but also take steps to break the cycle of illegality and criminality that besets the illegal drug trade.

Reason also dictates that the Obama administration start exposing the myths propagated by the drug war, including the myth that all illegal drug use leads to addiction; that all illegal drugs damage mind and body; that drugs now categorized as illegal are more dangerous than legal drugs; and that the despite the large variety of illegal drugs, they are more alike than different in their immediate effects and long-term consequences.

By addressing international drug trafficking and related transnational crime primarily with instruments of American power rather than with eminently reasonable policy reforms, the Obama administration is empowering not dismantling TOC.

2. Combating TOC in a Drug Free America

The Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1988 led to the creation of the White House’s Office of National Drug Control Policy and created the institutional and legislative foundation for the U.S. to wage a multi-front drug war whose declared goal was a “Drug Free America.” Although the U.S. counternarcotics strategy no longer frames its mission in such ambitious (and delusionary) terms, there remains the conviction that illegal drug consumption can be successively reduced and even eliminated if we muster the needed collective and individual resolve.

When launched the U.S. drug war during the Nixon administration was framed mostly a moral crusade to purify the country of the deleterious consumption habits of the counterculture and ethnic minorities. Since then a national security imperative has been coupled with the moral imperative against drugs -- as first articulated in a national security directive issued by the Reagan administration in 1986.

The Obama administration, while distancing itself from the “drug war” rhetoric, has left unquestioned the basic tenets of the drug war, including the following: that drug flows constitute a threat to U.S. national security; that the proper combination of law enforcement, education, and treatment can significantly reduce demand; and that illegal drugs are equally pernicious and dangerous.

There’s no doubt that U.S. drug demand energizes the global drug market. But the corollary of this thesis -- as articulated by the Obama administration in the TOC strategy and elsewhere -- that holds that the U.S. has a “shared responsibility” in drug-related violence outside its borders is fundamentally flawed.

U.S. responsibility lies not primarily, as the strategy asserts, in the U.S. demand for illegal drugs. The consumption of marijuana (the most profitable part of the transnational drug trade) and other illegal drugs is not an inherently an illegal or harmful practice. Rather than blaming drug consumers, the Obama administration would do better to attribute the responsibility for drug-related crime and violence to the U.S. government’s senseless drug prohibition policies.

America will never be drug free no matter how many drug wars are waged and no matter how many drug education campaigns are launched.

3. Transnational Security

The power and violence of drug trafficking organizations do have serious implications for governance and national security. Clearly, this is the case in Central America, where Mexican DTOs have increased operations during the past few years, and also in Mexico itself, where various regions are controlled by DTOs and related gangs, making governance impossible.

In the face of TOC, the National Security Strategy commits the U.S. government and military to “devise and execute a collective strategy with other nations facing the same threats.” 

Echoing that collective vision of security, the White House’s Strategy to Combat Transnational Organized Crime outlines a series of priority actions aimed to downgrade the security threat from TOC to a public safety threat. The White House says it seeks an “end-state” in which TOC is reduced “from a national security threat to a manageable public safety problem in the United States and in strategic regions around the world.”

The concept of collective security sketched out in the Obama administration’s national security strategy and its TOC strategy represents a transition away from a U.S.-centric view of national security. At first glance, it appears to constitute a clear advance in security thinking in the 21st century. After all, in an increasingly interconnected world, a threat to the security of one country or region can quickly become a more generalized security threat.

But there are dangers lurking behind this embrace of collective transnational security.

The lack of distinction between the perceived threats to U.S. national security and other nations leads to blurred policy and strategy.  The first obligation of a U.S. security strategy is to address real security threats to the United States. Neither in the overall national security strategy nor in the TOC strategy does the Obama administration make a convincing case that drug trafficking organizations constitute a threat to U.S. security. 

By stipulating TOC – which is overwhelming drug trafficking – as a U.S. security threat, the Obama White House recklessly creates a foundation for an array of military and other national security operations to combat this alleged threat.

Clearly, DTOs are more than just a public safety concern in Mexico and Central America. The countries of the region do have legitimate concerns that their very security is threatened by the economic power and the fire power of the DTOs. But this is not case in the United States, where in no substantial way does the drug trade threaten governance and security.

A more credible, less alarmist strategy to address drug trafficking and other transnational crime take more care in articulating how and under what conditions crime rises to the level of a security threat.

Bureaucratic Shuffle

The Obama administration is blessedly free of the alarmism and fear-mongering that led the country into the two major wars and military occupations during the Bush administration. However, the Obama White House’s newly expressed determination to combat the rise of transnational crime suffers from the same type of exaggerations, moral imperatives, factual deficits, and ahistorical threat assessments that fueled Bush’s misbegotten global war on terrorism.

Dressing up the drug war in the framework of transnational threats and international cooperation represents a failure of vision. The Strategy to Combat Transnational Organized Crime is simply another bureaucratic shuffle and makes a mockery of the administration’s declared commitment to “shared responsibility” for the drug-related crime and violence roiling Mexico and Central America. 

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