A War You Can Stop

Guess which city leads the world in kidnappings?

No, not Beirut. Not Baghdad. Mexico City.

And guess who comes second? Ready? It's Phoenix, Ariz.: 370 recorded cases in 2008 alone, and who knows how many unrecorded cases.

When you think Phoenix, you may think of retirees and golf courses. But here's what the late Paul Harvey used to call "the rest of the story," courtesy of the Web site Stratfor.com:

"Late on the night of June 22, [2008] a residence in Phoenix was approached by a heavily armed tactical team preparing to serve a warrant. The members of the team were wearing the typical gear for members of their profession: black boots, black BDU (battle dress uniform) pants, Kevlar helmets and Phoenix Police Department (PPD) raid shirts pulled over their body armour. The team members carried AR-15 rifles equipped with Aimpoint sights to help them during the low-light operation and, like most cops on a tactical team, in addition to their long guns, the members of this team carried secondary weapons--pistols strapped to their thighs.

But the raid took a strange turn when one element of the team began directing suppressive fire on the residence windows while the second element entered--a tactic not normally employed by the PPD. This breach of departmental protocol did not stem from a mistake on the part of the team's commander. It occurred because the eight men on the assault team were not from the PPD at all. These men were not cops serving a legal search or arrest warrant signed by a judge; they were cartel hit men serving a death warrant signed by a Mexican drug lord."

Every time a North American indulges in illegal drug use, that user subsidizes and incentivizes the gangsters who dump charred, decapitated bodies in Mexico's cities.

Mexico has become one of the most violent places on the planet, as drug cartels battle each other and police. More than 6,300 people have died violently since January, 2008, more than 1,000 in just the past two months.

These killings are not obscure hit-and-runs. As former U. S. drug czar Barry McCaffrey told National Public Radio last week, "[S]quad-sized units of police officers and soldiers [have been] abducted, tortured to death, decapitated." Decapitation is new to Mexico: The narcotraffickers seem to have been watching al-Qaeda snuff films.

Mexico's violence has reached deeper and deeper into the United States. and Canada. In July, 2008, for example, police raided a house in an Atlanta exurb and rescued a man who had been blindfolded, chained to a wall, beaten and left to die of thirst. Apparently he had owed traffickers $300,000.

In a March 10 interview with the Associated Press, a spokesman for the Drug Enforcement Agency claimed: "[Y]ou see the escalation in violence ... because U. S. and Mexican law enforcement are winning. You are going to see the drug traffickers push back because we are breaking their back. It's reasonable to assume they are going to try to fight to stay relevant."

On the U.S. side of the border, there are signs of anti-narcotic success. Border crossing has been tightened--which is why the worst of the violence occurs in border cities like Juarez, adjoining El Paso, Tex.

At the end of February, U. S. Attorney General Eric Holder announced that a recent crackdown had netted 755 arrests and the seizure of millions of dollars in cash and drugs, as well as 160 weapons. The price of cocaine on U. S. streets has risen and purity has deteriorated, two signs of constrained supply. As supply dwindles, traffickers as far as Vancouver turn their guns on each other to increase their share.

Progress on the Mexican side, however, is not so impressive. Of the 755 February arrests, only 20 occurred inside Mexico. Corrupt officials inside the Mexican attorney general's office have betrayed police activities. (It's hard to say whether it is good news or bad news that the Mexicans have arrested their country's former drug czar for allegedly taking bribes from drug dealers. Better, I suppose, than not arresting him, but still ...)

The most audacious demonstration of narco-power occurred in February in Cancun. Drug traffickers kidnapped, tortured and murdered a retired army general serving as the city's chief anti-drug officer.

Forty-five thousand Mexican troops have been deployed against the narcotraffickers. But they need help from their North American neighbours, and not just military aid.

Every time a North American indulges in illegal drug use, that user subsidizes and incentivizes the gangsters who dump charred, decapitated bodies in Mexico's cities. It's our buying that creates the profits for which the gangsters kill. An estimated 2.8% of American adults and 2.3% of Canadians use cocaine at least once a year. If they quit, they'd put the gangsters out of business. This is one war that ordinary individuals have the power to stop. So here's a challenge next time you meet a campus peace activist. Ask them: What are you doing to put an end to this murderous trade?

David Frum is a resident fellow at AEI.

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About the Author


  • David Frum is the author of six books, most recently, Comeback: Conservatism That Can Win Again (Doubleday, 2007). While at AEI, he studied recent political, generational, and demographic trends. In 2007, the British newspaper Daily Telegraph named him one of America's fifty most influential conservatives. Mr. Frum is a regular commentator on public radio's Marketplace and a columnist for The Week and Canada's National Post.

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