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Strategic Horizons: All Options Bad If Mexico’s Drug Violence Expands to U.S.

Wednesday, Feb. 19, 2014

Over the past few decades, violence in Mexico has reached horrific levels, claiming the lives of 70,000 as criminal organizations fight each other for control of the drug trade and wage war on the Mexican police, military, government officials and anyone else unlucky enough to get caught in the crossfire. The chaos has spread southward, engulfing Guatemala, Honduras and Belize. Americans must face the possibility that the conflict may also expand northward, with intergang warfare, assassinations of government officials and outright terrorism in the United States. If so, this will force Americans to undertake a fundamental reassessment of the threat, possibly redefining it as a security issue demanding the use of U.S. military power.

One way that large-scale drug violence might move to the United States is if the cartels miscalculate and think they can intimidate the U.S. government or strike at American targets safely from a Mexican sanctuary. The most likely candidate would be the group known as the Zetas. They were created when elite government anti-drug commandos switched sides in the drug war, first serving as mercenaries for the Gulf Cartel and then becoming a powerful cartel in their own right. The Zetas used to recruit mostly ex-military and ex-law enforcement members in large part to maintain discipline and control. But the pool of soldiers and policemen willing to join the narcotraffickers was inadequate to fuel the group’s ambition. Now the Zetas are tapping a very different, much larger, but less disciplined pool of recruits in U.S. prisons and street gangs. ...

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