Perry: Send U.S. troops to Mexico to fight drug wars

October 1, 2011

Texas Gov. Rick Perry said Saturday that he would consider sending U.S. troops into Mexico to combat drug-related violence and stop it from spilling into the southern United States.

“It may require our military in Mexico,” Perry said in answer to a question about the growing threat of drug violence along the southern border. Perry offered no details, and a spokesman, Robert Black, said afterward that sending troops to Mexico would be merely one way of putting an end to the exploding cartel-related violence in the region.

Black said Perry’s intention is to work with the Mexican government, but he declined to specify whether Perry is amenable to sending troops into Mexico with or without the country’s consent.

“If he were president he would do what it takes,” Black said. “The governor said, ‘I’m going to work with the Mexican government to do what’s necessary.’ ”

The remarks prompted speculation about exactly what Perry meant and the implications of his remarks for the nation’s relationship with Mexico.

The issue also opens the door to scrutiny of Perry’s position on U.S. military intervention generally. The governor has criticized President Obama’s management of military operations in Afghanistan and elsewhere; on Saturday, at the same campaign appearance where Perry made his remarks about Mexico, he promised never to send troops into another country without a detailed plan for winning and withdrawing quickly.

The issue is a timely one, with stories of rampant drug-related violence being reported out of Mexico — including the dumping of 35 tortured bodies last week onto a street in the Gulf Coast state of Veracruz. In addition, Mexican President Felipe Calderon pleaded with the United States last month for more assistance combating the drug cartels. At the U.N. General Assembly, Calderon said “consumer nations” such as the United States, the world’s largest consumer of illegal drugs, must do more to address the violence.

After the speech, the White House promised to continue “our historic level of cooperation with Mexico as we work to protect the public health and safety of citizens on both sides of the border.”

Perry was in New Hampshire for a two-day campaign tour, his fourth since declaring his bid for the Republican presidential nomination.

Pressed to explain Perry’s remarks, Black, the spokesman, offered this: “Never say never. Mexico has a problem. They have a significant problem with drug cartels at war with each other. And that is a significant problem for the United States.”

Michael O’Hanlon, a senior fellow and specialist on national security and defense policy with the Brookings Institution, said the idea of using troops to combat drug violence along the border is not unprecedented — National Guard troops currently patrol the border — and he gave Perry credit for trying to address the issue. But sending troops into Mexico, if that is what Perry is suggesting, would be entirely unacceptable to Mexicans, who partly blame U.S. gun and drug policies for their crisis, he said.

“It’s almost as sensitive as saying U.S. troops should go over the border into Pakistan,” O’Hanlon said. “It’s much more likely to cause a breakdown in our relationship with Mexico than make a difference in the drug war.”

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