The number-two civilian official in the Army committed a Kinsleyan gaffe Monday by telling the truth. Undersecretary of the Army Joseph Westphal, speaking at the University of Utah, said:
“As all of you know, there is a form of insurgency in Mexico with the drug cartels that’s right on our border.”
“This isn’t just about drugs and about illegal immigrants,” he said. “This is about, potentially, a takeover of a government by individuals who are corrupt.”
Westfall — who said he was expressing a personal opinion, but one he had shared with the White House — said he didn’t want to ever see a situation in which “armed and fighting” American soldiers are sent to combat an insurgency “on our border, in violation of our Constitution, or to have to send them across the border.”
Of course, using the Army to combat insurgency on our border is not “in violation of our Constitution”; he presumably means it would be in violation of the Posse Comitatus Act of 1878, and it’s kind of scary that the Undersecretary of the Army doesn’t know that. (The audio of Westphal’s talk is available here.) What’s more, the Posse Comitatus Act has been circumscribed by Congress and the president many times over the years, and the idea that we are somehow precluded from using our nation’s defense forces to, you know, defend the nation is laughable.
The news report continued:
Westphal is the most senior U.S. official to publicly compare Mexico’s drug cartels to an “insurgency” since Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made a similar assessment last September. …
But a Mexican government official familiar with Westphal’s words said the Army leader “went way beyond what the Secretary of State said.” …
Claudio Holzner, an assistant professor in the University of Utah’s departments of political science and Latin American studies, said Westphal’s words were “incendiary.”
As violent and desperate as the situation has become in some parts of Mexico, Holzner said, “it’s an overstatement to call the drug war an insurgency, primarily because the drug cartels are not seeking control of the government — they are seeking safe passage for their merchandise.”
Holzner said it would be foolhardy for U.S. officials to consider sending troops into Mexico. “I think the solution is not a military one. The best thing the United States can do is to enforce its own laws and change the laws that are not working,” to stem the demand for drugs in the U.S. and to stop the flow of U.S. weapons across the border, he said.
It’s obviously premature to be talking about use of U.S. troops in Mexico, and we should all hope it never comes to that. But to shut down any discussion of our options is ridiculous. Unfortunately, that’s just what we’re doing, as evidenced by Westphal’s groveling apology issued yesterday: “I regret that my inaccurate statements may have caused concerns for our partners and friends in the region, especially Mexico”, and so on. Let’s hope someone at the Pentagon is quietly thinking through our options if things really fall apart south of the border.
In the meantime, we need real immigration enforcement — both at the border and in the interior — to make sure Mexico’s anarchy doesn’t spill over even more than it already has. Faster, please.