‘South of the Border’ Reconsidered

Justin Raimondo’s latest column, "South of the Border," has stirred controversy with its apparent advocacy of stricter U.S. border controls as a response to the drug-related violence terrorizing the American Southwest. While Antiwar.com has traditionally stuck to issues of foreign policy, immigration is a more than tangentially related matter, and the severity of the recent gang warfare and its prominence in the press prompted Raimondo to present his analysis of the problem and his favored response.

But there is another view, one more in line with Antiwar.com’s commitment to non-interventionism and opposition to militarism. While Raimondo is correct about the intolerable barbarity and increasing urgency of the border crisis, he appears to have ignored the root cause of this calamity. This has led him to advance a political solution that neglects the underlying, endemic problem of U.S. meddling in Latin America.

Describing the drug cartels’ actions as "terrorism," Raimondo fails to mention that as truly horrific as this violence is, it is a logical, inexorable consequence of U.S. government actions. Like 9/11, the border warfare is blowback – in this case, blowback from U.S. drug policy, particularly Washington’s relentless strong-arming of its southern neighbor to serve as a satellite in America’s War on Drugs.

Mexico’s leaders may be as thoroughly corrupt as Raimondo says, but this has not stopped American politicians from insisting that the Mexican government crack skulls in its own country in a quixotic effort to stop Americans from using substances our federal government declares verboten. As any economist can tell you, the prohibition of drugs creates black-market violence. Alcohol prohibition produced Al Capone, Reagan’s crusade against drugs (crack cocaine, in particular) intensified gang violence on America’s streets, and the internationalization of such policies has led to international crises.

Raimondo praises Vicente Fox for having signaled a possible brake on Mexico’s corruption, but notably, when Fox planned to sign a bill liberalizing drug laws in Mexico, the Bush administration pressured him into vetoing it. This bullying of Mexico’s government to make it exercise even more force against the drug trade than it wants to is nothing new. President Obama has exacerbated the crisis by supplying the Mexican regime with over a billion dollars’ worth of aid designated for the drug war, including five helicopters and other military hardware. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has boasted of the new plan "strengthening institutions, creating a 21st-century border, and building strong, resilient communities." Talk about nation-building!

Of course, the War on Drugs has been a U.S. foreign policy issue for many years, and, as with similar issues, Republicans and Democrats have competed with one another to show how tough they can be. Combining anti-drug hysteria with xenophobia has become a perennial winner in American domestic politics, but the cost in ruined lives has been high, especially for foreigners. In 1988, Democratic presidential candidate Michael Dukakis chided Republican George H.W. Bush for being soft on Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega. In a dress rehearsal for Operation Desert Storm, the Bush administration invaded Panama in 1989 in the name of combating drug trafficking and regime change. Hundreds, perhaps thousands, of Panamanian civilians were killed in Operation Just Cause. In the 1990s, President Bill Clinton initiated Plan Colombia, which has involved the chemical destruction of peasants’ crops in order to wipe out cocaine. On the other side of the world, the Taliban was getting U.S. aid to stamp out opium. This all continued into the George W. Bush administration, which upped the ante with its enthusiastic support of Thailand’s murderous drug policies. Today, we see the tragic irony of the Taliban, once sponsored by Washington to combat opium, thriving on its production. No one should be surprised when the governments we finance to fight drugs also cozy up to big-time drug dealers: this alliance between drug cop and drug supplier can be seen in American domestic law enforcement, and the more corrupt the regime, the more likely it is to play both sides.

Antiwar and anti-interventionist Americans can disagree on domestic drug policy, but they should agree on its international counterpart. Americans’ thirst for illegal drugs cannot be properly addressed through the U.S. imposing its hard-line "Just Say No" policies on other nations. The consequences have been disastrous for millions of foreigners, and now Americans are starting to see the price of this imperialism at home.

If America were to legalize drugs or even allow Mexico more leeway on the issue, this aspect of the border problem would quickly subside. The atmosphere surrounding the trade is violent precisely because prohibition has created exorbitant profits available only to those willing to flout the law and use brutal methods. The repeal of alcohol prohibition destroyed the monopoly organized crime had on the liquor business; we could expect similar results with the drug cartels following legalization. That is a politically incorrect proposal, but as with the blowback of 9/11, the root cause must be addressed if we are to avoid a worsening spiral of violence and government repression.

Similar dynamics are at work with immigration. Raimondo discusses how inhumanely illegal immigrants are treated by drug cartels, but none of this would be possible if not for the drug laws and the immigration laws. As Ludwig von Mises pointed out with respect to the economy, every government intervention inevitably creates problems that lead to calls for more intervention. Antiwar.com has heroically applied this same insight to foreign policy. But it is also at play in the intersection of the war on illegal immigrants and the War on Drugs. Raimondo correctly points out to progressives that a European social welfare system typically entails a "Your papers, please" immigration policy, and he is properly opposed to both. But a loss of civil liberties is inherent in any comprehensive immigration control policy, as Europe also demonstrates.

Although Raimondo says "securing and protecting our borders" is the federal government’s "one-and-only legitimate function," it is unclear where this authority comes from. The Constitution does empower Congress to regulate naturalization and citizenship, but not immigration per se. If we choose to approach the issue as an "invasion," as some conservatives propose, then we are back to the militaristic siege mentality that breeds all the domestic horrors of war – surveillance of citizens, violations of economic liberty and freedom of association, suspensions of habeas corpus, erosions of due process, and all the rest.

Given the federal government’s bloody record abroad and countless failures at home, as documented daily on this Web site, Antiwar.com’s readers should shudder at the thought of what the federal government would do to "make the border airtight," as Raimondo recommends. It is an impossible feat, of course, and attempting to achieve it could wipe out the last of our domestic liberties and erase any remaining line, however blurry, between the police and the military.

Bringing U.S. troops home from abroad and stationing them throughout the American Southwest is a frightening prospect for Americans living there, many of whom are already harassed regularly, many miles from the border, just for the shade of their skin. Raimondo scoffs at the idea that sealing the border would result in a "police state," but we have already seen one begin to develop in the name of stopping terrorism, immigration, and drugs. Although the threat of terrorists sneaking into the country is real and the atrocities on the border are terrible, further militarization of domestic law enforcement will not solve this government-created crisis any more than an increasingly aggressive foreign policy has solved the government-created crisis of international terrorism. There will always be a way for al-Qaeda or drug lords to circumvent the draconian measures that, in truth, hurt innocent people more than they inconvenience the villains.

By framing the drug and immigration issues as national security problems, we open the door to ever more depredations against life and liberty. There is no reason to encourage the U.S. government to tighten its stranglehold over any aspect of our lives, or to enhance its power in any way, in order to quash a catastrophe of its own making. If Americans are uncomfortable with liberalizing Washington’s drug policies and immigration controls, then they should recognize that the horrors on the Mexican border are the price they have chosen to pay (and make others pay). But giving more power to the U.S. government cannot possibly be the solution. As we see with terrorist blowback, our runaway national debt, and now the border crisis, the "biggest single threat to our national security" is not, as Raimondo writes, the 6 million people who have crossed our unenforceable border without asking the government’s permission. The true threat is Washington, D.C., and giving it another excuse to flex its muscles would be a disaster.

The above article is endorsed by the following Antiwar.com staff members:

Michael Austin
Matt Barganier
Jason Ditz
Michael Ewens
Eric Garris
Malcolm Garris
Alexia Gilmore
Margaret Griffis
David Henderson (columnist)
Scott Horton
Angela Keaton
Thomas Knapp
Jeremy Sapienza

Author: Anthony Gregory

Anthony Gregory is a former research fellow at the Independent Institute.