Back to the Halls of Montezuma? No way!

Looking for one of the most serious foreign policy crises facing the nation? You don't have to go as far as the Middle East. Just consider what's going on right next door.

Looking for one of the most serious foreign policy crises facing the nation? You don't have to go as far as the Middle East. Just consider what's going on right next door.

Drug-related violence, especially along the U.S. border, has brought the Mexican government to its knees. Some 6,200 people died last year in Mexico as a result of the drug war, and more than 1,000 were killed in the first eight weeks of 2009. Some states are entirely controlled by drug lords and the Mexican government has proven totally ineffective in stopping the violence.

Which raises two questions: Who's responsible? And what's the solution?

On her visit to Mexico, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton became the first U.S. government official ever to acknowledge that Americans share in the blame, both by buying drugs and exporting guns. "Our insatiable demand for illegal drugs fuels the drug trade," she said upon her arrival in Mexico City. "Our inability to prevent weapons from being illegally smuggled across the border to arm these criminals causes the deaths of police officers, soldiers and civilians." Indeed, Mexican authorities report that 90 percent of weapons seized from Mexican organized crime came from the United States.

As partly responsible for the violence in Mexico, we also have a responsibility to help end it. Surely, sending American troops to the border is not the answer. But, God forbid, that seems to be the way we're heading.


For her part, Secretary Clinton pledged $80 million to equip Mexico with three Black Hawk helicopters to chase drug runners along the border. And Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano announced that the administration was open to, and indeed actively considering, a request from the governors of Texas and Arizona to deploy National Guard or Army forces along the border.

What a big mistake. For starters, you can't patrol the border without crossing the border. Haven't we had enough military invasions of Latin American: from the Halls of Montezuma to the shores of Cuba, Nicaragua, Panama, Guatemala and Grenada? By sending American troops into Mexico, even with the blessing of the Mexican government, President Obama would be begging for his own Bay of Pigs.

By deploying troops to the border, we would also be repeating in the "war on drugs" the same mistake we've made in the so-called "war on terror": thinking there's a simple military solution to a multi-layered problem. We can no more stop people at gunpoint from using drugs than we can stop would-be terrorists from hating the United States. And, besides, if military force alone could end the drug violence, why hasn't it worked for the Mexican government?

There is, lest we forget, one other obstacle, although one too easily ignored by any administration: the law. The Posse Comitatus Act, enacted in June 1878 to limit the presence of troops in the former Confederate states, prohibits federal military personnel and units of the National Guard under federal authority from acting in a law-enforcement capacity within the United States, except where expressly authorized by the Constitution or Congress. Only the Coast Guard is exempt. Absent new legislation passed by Congress and signed by the president, sending troops to the border would be illegal.

In the end, there are only two things we Americans can do to help reduce the drug-related violence in Mexico. First, as proposed by candidate Barack Obama during last year's campaign, is to reimpose the ban on assault weapons, originally passed by Congress in 1994, which was allowed to expire by President George W. Bush five years ago. "I think that will have a positive impact in Mexico at a minimum," Attorney General Eric Holder said recently.

The second part of the solution is finally to get serious about decriminalizing the use of drugs. After 30 years and billions of dollars, it's clear the "war on drugs" is not working. Time for a whole new approach: Make all but the most dangerous drugs legal, then regulate them, tax them, and use the revenue for drug education, prevention and rehabilitation.

But keep American troops off the border. After a surge in Iraq and a surge in Afghanistan, the last thing we need is still another surge -- in Texas!

-- Press is host of a nationally syndicated radio show and author of "Train Wreck: The End of the Conservative Revolution (and Not a Moment Too Soon)."

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