President Barack Obama's visit to Mexico today marks the culmination of a month-long binge of attention from the U.S. government. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made a heavily publicized trip to the country in March, followed soon thereafter by Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano, Attorney General Eric Holder and a congressional delegation, who took part in a series of meetings in Mexico City on immigration and border issues.
The diplomatic flurry couldn't have come at a better time, steadying a bilateral conversation that the Obama and Bush administrations had increasingly lost control of over the last six months. U.S. officials had been delivering mixed messages, praising Mexican President Felipe Calderón on the one hand, then lumping Mexico in with Pakistan and Iran as worryingly problematic countries on the other. U.S. media outlets started piling on as well, using episodes of drug violence to further the notion that Mexico is a failed state. Not surprisingly, none of this was well received in Mexico, and the response of the nation's leaders was increasingly testy.
In terms of soothing Mexican irritation, the U.S. diplomatic offensive has been a smashing success. Clinton's visit, especially, broke new ground. She was far more direct in admitting U.S. responsibility for Mexico's drug violence than previous officials have been, calling U.S. drug demand "insatiable." Clinton also promised to crack down on the arms trade along the border and swiftly deliver the hardware promised under the Mérida Initiative.