In my five pirate predictions yesterday, I wondered if the pirates would become more audacious and brazen, or if they would humble at their recent defeat at the hands of the U.S. Navy. This morning, I seem to have my answer:
Undeterred by U.S. and French hostage rescues that killed five bandits, Somali pirates brazenly hijacked three more ships in the Gulf of Aden, the waterway at the center of the world's fight against piracy.
A greek ship and two Egyptian fishing vessels are now added to the handful of ships and 260 hostages the the Somali pirates claim on the coast. True to form, the hijackers adapted their tactics in defiance of the international naval patrols, this time striking at night.
Also yesterday, I worried about an escalation on the part of the world's navies -- moving from naval patrolling into all out battle. Now it appears that escalation is coming from both sides.
If this attack is indeed in retaliation against the Americans, the world might be entering into a whole new kind of asymmetric warfare. Stay tuned on FP today.
The U.S. military is considering attacks on pirate bases on land and aid for the Somali people to help stem ship hijackings off Africa’s east coast, defense officials said.
Does the United States know what they're getting into? Piracy experts have long suggested that the root of the problem is indeed on land. But air strikes on Somali bases would be dangerously close to a U.S. military operation in Somalia -- the kind that the country has avoided since Blackhawk down in 1994.
Let's think hypothetically about what might happen if strikes go ahead. U.S. onland intervention will surely anger al Shabaab, the Islamist militant wing that controls an alarming percentage of Somali territory and is the biggest single threat to Somali stability. Already, the Somali government is struggling to convince the country that its relatively pro-Western stance is for the greater good. That argument will lose all weight if and when the U.S. starts airstrikes. Forget about the government's effectiveness, and forget about any hopes that al Shabaab will disarm. This would fuel the fire. No, we shouldn't kneel to the demands of al Shabaab, but nor should we ignore that their ire will be taken out on the already dilapidated Somali population.
Talk about an escalation.
To be fair, the rumored U.S. plans includes the creation of a Somali coast guard, and support for the Somali government. U.S. Congressman Donald Payne, long a Somalia pragmatist, made a daring visit to Mogadishu today to talk about how the U.S. can help the Somalis fight piracy. But the fact that his plane was shot at only proves how difficult a situation we are walking into.
If we have learned anything about Somali over the last two decades, surely it is that military escalation (this one included) will inevitably breed more chaos. And if we have learned anything about the pirates, it is that chaos on land breeds impunity at sea.
Photo: MOHAMED DAHIR/AFP/Getty Images
The Hill reports that in 2007 Cuba poisoned the pet animals of U.S. diplomats working in the country:
The 64-page report written in 2007 states that the life of U.S. diplomats serving in the U.S. Interest Section (USINT) - which issues visas and performs other diplomatic services in Havana - was laden with poor morale "in part because USINT life in Havana is life with a government that ‘let's [sic] you know it's hostile'"....
"Retaliations have ranged from the petty to the poisoning of family pets. The regime has recently gone to great lengths to harass some employees by holding up household goods and consumable shipments. The apparent goal has been to instigate dissension within USINT ranks."
The report comes just as the Obama administration is attempting to strengthen relations and ease strictures on the Communist country. Which begs the question: who decided it release it now?
Mike Allen of Politico's Playbook fame seconds our idea of renaming the pirates. "Pirates go from curiosity to crisis for 1600 and the Pentagon," his headline screamed, the suggestion of renaming them "maritime terrorists" within.
Matt Yglesias criticizes the letter of the suggestion, if not the spirit, with the rather unimpeachable logic that pirates are...pirates.
The point I made last week -- that calling pirates "pirates" allows for a certain romanticization and fueled a media frenzy which too often overlooked the realities of the situation and the circumstance of failed-state Somalia -- thankfully seems passe.
This weekend's rescue, which involved U.S. naval warships, millions of dollars, and pirate and civilian deaths, spurred an examination of the why and how behind the pirates. The sheen's worn off. They're criminals and a security concern. They redouble Somalia's problems.
Or, as someone will inevitably put it somewhere on the internet: pirates totally jumped the shark.
The Guardian reports on a skirmish between French troops and a band of Somali pirates with a hijacked yacht -- one of 18 vessels currently seized, along with more than 250 hostages. The French ultimately recaptured the ship; sadly, one hostage died during the rescue.
The article says the yacht's sailors were repeatedly warned not to pass through the area.
French officials have privately expressed exasperation at the determination of the Tanit's crew...to persist with their expedition to east Africa despite the parlous security situation in the region.
The American captain of the Maersk Alabama remains a hostage in another flotilla, though the United States has sent in rapporteurs and helicopters.
It's a sorry, sorry state of affairs. And it suggests two things to me.
First, pirate exhaustion looms. (Though we've tested the limits on this blog, and found them boundlessly wide.) At one point, the pirates seemed a welcome distraction. Not so much any more -- people are dying, Somalia is a failed state. Second, as others have suggested, we should stop calling them pirates and start calling them something like "maritime terrorists," to end any remaining romanticization.
In an interview with the BBC before the G-20 summit last week, Mexican President Felipe Calderon responded to charges that his country is becoming a failed state.
The president cautiously admitted that there is a drug problem, but placed most of the blame on his country's geographic proximity to the world's largest drug market: the United States. More blame falls on the U.S. as well: for allowing weapons to flow across the border. And Calderon theorizes that U.S. corruption is also partly to blame. He theorizes that if corruption allows drugs on the Mexican side of the border, it also must be true that corruption in the U.S. has something to do with the continuing passage of narcotics into that country. Hmm. Does he have a point?
For all those pondering the much-talked-of question of Mexico's stability, it's a must watch.
Der Spiegel is reporting that a raid by U.S. Delta Force commandos in Northern Afghanistan this month was set up by an Afghan drug clan to eliminate a rival:
The Americans stormed a guesthouse belonging to the local mayor, who had previously been friendly towards German forces, killing his driver, cook and bodyguard, as well as two of his guests. The US commandos also seized four people. According to the US military, one of those captured was the "target" of the operation, a "high-ranking" member of the terrorist organization al-Qaida.
However, sources in the intelligence community have told SPIEGEL that the US forces were apparently used by a drug clan to take out one of its rivals, who was reportedly one of the men who was killed or detained. The tip-off regarding the location of the al-Qaida terrorist had come from a source close to a member of the Afghan government in Kabul who is reputed to be deeply involved with the illegal drugs trade in Afghanistan.
The German forces who operate in the area are now furious that they're being blamed for the incident.
With a NATO summit being held later this week, Chancellor Angela Merkel says Germany will step up its training of Afghan police but ruled out committing more troops.
John Moore/Getty Images
Thanks to improvements in law enforcement, Georgia's criminals are all heading north to Russia, according to President Mikheil Saakashvili. And he's just fine with that:
Our main export to Russia is not wine, but 'thieves in law" and other criminal elements," Saakashvili said at the opening ceremony of the new building of the Georgian Interior Ministry in Tbilisi on Tuesday.
Today, Georgia has almost gotten rid of organized crime and criminal ringleaders thanks to the police, who are not corrupt like they used to be, he said.
The New York Times reports, following the Mexican media, that Hillary Clinton's visit to Mexico is in danger of being upstaged by concerns over Obama's reported pick for ambassador to Mexico, Carlos Pascual. Pascual, who is director of foreign policy at the Brookings Institution and former ambassador to Ukraine, has written extensively about failed states and ran the State Department's Office of the Coordinator for Reconstruction and Stabilization under the Bush administration:
That could raise hackles among some Mexicans, who take umbrage at recent assertions by American analysts that drug-related violence has so destabilized Mexico that it is danger of becoming a failed state.
Pascual's views on state failure are state laid out in this 2005 Foreign Affairs piece (subscribers only) co-written with Stephen Krasner:
In today's increasingly interconnected world, weak and failed states pose an acute risk to U.S. and global security. Indeed, they present one of the most important foreign policy challenges of the contemporary era. States are most vulnerable to collapse in the time immediately before, during, and after conflict. When chaos prevails, terrorism, narcotics trade, weapons proliferation, and other forms of organized crime can flourish. Left in dire straits, subject to depredation, and denied access to basic services, people become susceptible to the exhortations of demagogues and hatemongers.
Most of Pascual's work concerns post-conflict scenarios like Iraq and Afghanistan and doesn't quite apply to Mexico's current situation. I haven't been able to find anything he's written specifically on Mexico and he didn't mention drugs or Mexico as major concerns in his Brookings "memo to the President.
It'll be interesting to see if he shares the view, put forth by Niall Ferguson and Sam Quinones in the most recent issue of FP, that the Mexican state is in danger of being overwhelmed by a "criminal-capitalist insurgency." His appointment does seem to indicate that the Obama adminsitration is taking that possibility seriously.
Photo: Brookings Institution
Good for Hillary Clinton for stating the blatantly obvious fact that Americans' "insatiable demand for illegal drugs fuels the drug trade" and is exacerbating the violence in Mexico. But if the Obama administration is acknowledging that the drug trade is largely a demand-side issue, why is it still pursuing a supply-side solution?
Washington on Tuesday said it plans to ramp up border security with a $184 million program to add 360 security agents to border posts and step up searches for smuggled drugs, guns and cash.
The Obama administration plans to provide more than $80 million to buy Black Hawk helicopters to go after drug traffickers, Clinton said.
What was that about "insatiable demand"?
The new spending shows that the administration is taking the problem seriously, but I'll take the power of supply-and-demand over security agents and helicopters any day. (See Blake's take-down of William Saletan's "high-tech" solution for smuggling in Gaza.) The U.S. has spent over $6 billion on a military solution to Colombia's drug production and all we have to show for it is a 15 percent increase in cocaine cultivation.
Maybe it's time for some more out-of-the-box ideas.
John Moore/Getty Images
Unsettling violence in Mexico over the past year and a half has understandably provoked the question: is Mexico becoming a failed state? In our current edition of Foreign Policy, Sam Quinones argues that -- with more deaths due to drug violence than all U.S. deaths in Iraq since 2003 -- Mexico's chaos is spiraling out of control.
While we bear responsibility for our problems, the caricature of Mexico being propagated in the United States only increases the despair on both sides of the Rio Grande. It is also profoundly hypocritical. America is the world's largest market for illegal narcotics. The United States is the source for the majority of the guns used in Mexico's drug cartel war, according to law enforcement officials on both sides of the border.
Back in October, Krauze told Foreign Policy much the same thing. While he worried about Mexico becoming a narco-state, he maintained that the government was in control:
There are many municipalities that are clearly under the rule of the drug traffickers, and that’s frightening because of course they kill the journalists and they corrupt everything. There is a danger [of Mexico becoming a narco state], but it’s still an embryo.
Read FP's the full interview with Krauze, as well as the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency Special Agent Michael Sanders, here.
The magazine does give you some back-of-the-envelope calculations. According to Forbes' Guzman blurb, "Mexican and Colombian drug traffickers brought in $18 billion to $39 billion in wholesale cocaine shipments to the United States last year. Guzman's organization took in, by Forbes' estimate, 20 percent of that—which makes for $3.6 billion to $7.8 billion in revenues. That's a good start. But then Forbes punts, saying simply that that's "enough for him to have pocketed $1 billion over the course of his career and earn a spot on the billionaire's list for the first time."
Well, maybe. With assassinations going at several thousand dollars a pop, and the costs of security and the like, you'd think that Guzman's expenses are substantial—even considering that his earnings are tax-free. And however much money Guzman has managed to pocket, we can assume that a fair amount has been spent. Knowing you might die any day of the week doesn't exactly encourage thrifty habits. Our first thought was to turn to Forbes for a little bit more explanation. We weren't expecting a dollar-by-dollar accounting. But it seemed like if you're going to put a number out there, you might be able to divulge at least a general sense of how to value an international drug-trafficking business. No such luck. In fact, the response we got to our query from Forbes spokeswoman Monie Begley is short enough that we can reprint it in full:
"Thanks for your inquiry. The Forbes methodology is proprietary." That's it. Not much to go on, is it?
Gimein comes with a few estimates for Guzman's wealth using different models but even the most generous calculations don't give him much more than $200 million. Still not too shabby.
Last week, my colleague Greg and I prepared a photo essay, "Spring Break Gone Wrong?" about how a recent U.S. State Department travel alert about drug-related violence in Mexico might have some college students rethinking their spring break plans.
But, really, how worried should Americans and other tourists be? The violence is limited to specific areas of Mexico, and the victims have primarily been people involved in the drug trade (which, by the way, exists to feed Americans' demand for drugs). In fact, it appears that in Mexico, the biggest danger young American college students face is themselves -- and their poor judgment. The State Department's travel information about Mexico states:
Alcohol is implicated in the majority of arrests, violent crimes, accidents and deaths suffered by U.S. citizen tourists.
(It also states that motor vehicle accidents are the leading cause of death, but doesn't say what fraction involve alcohol.)
The video above, Spring Break 2009: Have Fun/Stay Safe, made by the U.S. Consulate in Mérida, Mexico, has an employee saying, "Ninety-five percent of the injuries that we see involve impaired judgment, reduced ability to respond to a situation because of drugs or alcohol."
So really, people, behave yourself around alcohol, and follow these seven pointers from the video:
A report released on Tuesday by the European Commission "found no evidence that the global drug problem was reduced...from 1998 to 2007."
The UN, now meeting in Vienna for the first time in 10 years to reassess global drug policy, is reaching even more dramatic conclusions: It's worse than mere inertia.... drug policy is making matters worse, not better. UN Office of Drug and Crime's head, Antonio Maria Costa, "acknowledged that drug control policies had, as an unintended consequence, led the growth of organized crime," as the BBC put it.
The good news is, as former Brazilian President Cardoso told FP in a recent Seven Questions, there's a credible way forward. And with the calamitous results of past policy now so publicly exposed, it just might be politically palpable. Cardoso suggests focusing more on public health -- moving towards the "tobacco" model to educate and treat users, decreasing demand. Law enforcement is best used only to stop trafficking, not pick up petty users. Of course, we could always just legalize it.
Sky Gilbar/AFP/Getty Images
Forbes released its annual billionaires list today and not surprisingly there are a lot fewer of them. One interesting new name did manage to sneak onto the list this year. Joaquin Guzman Loera of Sinaloa, Mexico, is tied for #171 on the list with an estimated fortune of $1 billion.
Guzman's industry is euphamistically described as "shipping," but "El Chapo" is actually Mexico's most infamous drug lord and has a $5 million bounty on his head. Guzman is the first trafficker to make the list since Pablo Escobar in 1993.
FP's new photo essay has more on Mexico's ongoing drug violence.
Last night, MSNBC's Rachel Maddow interviewed the secretary of homeland security, Janet Napolitano. Her first question: Should her job even exist, or should the 22 federal agencies and 200,000 employees under the D.H.S. banner disaggregate?
Napolitano, the former governor of border-state Arizona, didn't get defensive at Maddow's question, she just calmly explained her plans for the agency. Surprisingly her top priority seems to be Mexico.
Sounding sensibly hawkish, Napolitano stressed the importance of federal agencies working together to systematically to stop the flow of guns and money south and give Mexican authorities the shot in the arm they desperately need.
What's so weird about this? Two things.
First, Janet Napolitano is the secretary of homeland security, not defense or state. But rather than ineptly responding to natural disasters and taking a lot of flak for airport lines, Napolitano has taken leadership over the U.S. response to the burgenoning crisis, which may include sending troops across the border. She's acted as point-person for local politicians and leadership from the White House, State, Defense, and the Attorney General's office. Texas Governor Rick Perry turned to her to ask for a thousand more troops.
Photo by Scott J. Ferrell/Congressional Quarterly/Getty Images
As news trickles in from the small West African country of Guinea Bissau this morning, it looks more and more like a spat between President Joao Bernardo Vieira (right) and a faction of his army led to unfortunate deaths on both sides. The armed forces chief was killed last night in a bomb attack. Today, the president himself was assasinated by a small contingent of soldiers in apparent retribution.
News like this is bad most anywhere. It's particularly bad in Guinea Bissau, a country that has recently joined the ranks of the world's narco-states. Cocaine has recently started making its way to Europe from Latin America via West Africa and Guinea Bissau is a favorite of trafficking gangs.
The army -- at least part of which was involved in the President's death -- is one of the reasons why drug-runners love the place. "We cannot talk about the army [in Guinea] as an institution that we are used to talking about," Antonio Mazzitelli of the UN Office of Drugs and Crime in West Africa told me. Officers lack training and equipment; most are relics of the independence fight over three decades ago. "When drugs arrive, [there is a] lot of money. The traffickers find it easy to secure the services of army people; in order to provide services or in order not to interfere with [the trafficking.]"
Now, Bissau looks more vulnerable than ever. Though the army claims that it has no interest in a coup d'etat, it's unclear who is in charge in the at the moment. (Coups are a historical staple in Bissau.) Regardless of whether civilians or officers take over, drug money has permeated the country's political system and daily life. "Drugs generate enormous amounts of money that unfortunately can easily infiltrate West African institutions," says Mazzitelli, describing the case of Guinea Bissau and its neighbors. Mazzitelli worries that elections would be a time when drug money could be particulary influential.
The only good news might be that drug gangs tend to shy away from international attention -- and Guinea Bissau is suddenly getting lots of that. With any luck, it will be the window of calm before a new leader has to weather the drug-trafficking storm.
GEORGES GOBET/AFP/Getty Images
You know where the Obama administration shouldn't send any Gitmo detainees? Greece.
That's the only conclusion one can draw from the above video of two convicts escaping from a maximum security prison in Athens by rope ladder and helicopter. What makes it worse is that the same two guys -- armed robber and kidnapper Vassilis Paleokostas and his Albanian sidekick Alket Rizai -- escaped from prison in the exact same Jerry Bruckheimerish fashion in 2006.
All in all, it's not a great showing for the Greek justice system. This may even top the great jihadist toilet paper jailbreak that shocked Singapore last year.
A group calling itself the Armed Movement of the North has apparently begun issuing communiqués threatening subversive action against the Mexican government and foreign-owned companies in drug violence-wracked northern Mexico:
In the communiqués, issued Jan. 1 and 24, the group claims to have members in five northern states: Durango, Sonora, Baja California, Chihuahua and Coahuila. The latter two border Texas....
The communiqué added that the group is made up of students, professionals and workers, mostly from urban areas, with the goal of "defending the sovereignty of the Mexican people over the aggressions of foreign capital, imperialism and the abuse and injustices of the current government."
The communiqué said that the group will not launch an armed uprising against the government but instead will focus on forming small independent "cell groups" that would be "infiltrated into the institutions of the state."
Mexican authorities are downplaying the risk saying that the groups claims about itself are unverifiable. Given what Mexico has on its plate right now, let's hope it stays that way.
The chairman of a Japanese bedding company has been arrested for running a massive investment scam that may have netted over $1 billion. Kazutsugi Nami is believed to have defrauded over 37,000 people, who he promised over 36 percent interest on their investment.
This being Japan, the case has a high-tech twist. In addition to crappy linens, Nami's company was well-known for establishing a virtual currency called Enten, or "divine yen," that customers could store on their mobile phones and use to buy their products. Enten proved to be Nami's undoing:
From about 2004, people who deposited 100,000 yen or more received the same amount in "Enten" through their mobile phones, and a system was introduced to enable the currency to be used to buy products on an Internet site, speeding up the company's collection of investments.
However, in February 2007, L&G informed all members that it was converting investment dividends from cash to Enten. The one-sided announcement resulted in a flood of requests from investors to cancel contracts, and sparked lawsuits demanding the return of principal investments. In October that year, police searched the Tokyo-based company's head office on suspicion of violating the law concerning regulation of investments.
Whether you're on Wall Steet or Tokyo, it's generally best to be wary of anyone promising "yen from heaven."
Photo: STR/AFP/Getty Images
European companies like ING, Philips, and Corus may be cutting staff as the financial crisis ravages the global economy, but things seem to be looking up for one of Europe's oldest companies: the Italian mafia.
The mob's revenues surged 40 percent to about $167 billion in 2008, according to a new study. Veteran mafia watchers are not surprised:
“During a crisis, people lower their guard,” Roberto Saviano, who wrote the bestseller “Gomorrah” about the Camorra crime bosses, said in an interview. “Studies show the criminal market never suffers during a crisis. I’m convinced that this crisis is bringing huge advantages to criminal syndicates.”
Guess things are already changing. Yazeed Essa, an Ohio doctor who stands accused of murdering his wife four years ago and fleeing to Cyprus, has decided to return to the United States to stand trial. And it's all thanks to Barack Obama. The Cleveland Plain Dealer reports:
Essa left the country because he feared his Arab-American heritage would preclude him from getting a fair trial, his lawyer said. Essa chose to return to fight the charges after Barack Obama was elected president because he sensed a shift in the political climate, Bradley said. If a man named Obama could be elected president, Essa reasoned, perhaps he could be judged fairly.
I certainly hope that's true. Though if I were Dr. Essa, I'd be a bit more worried that police found cyanide in the "calcium" pills that he had been insisting his wife take.
(Hat tip: TD)
Unfortunately, Saletan's piece should have been called "How not to close the Gaza tunnels." It's really terrible advice -- almost a parody of the worst sort of technocentric thinking that military reformers like H.R. McMaster have been fighting against for decades.
Saletan examines the following nine options:
Seriously, I was waiting for the twist at the end where Saletan says, "See, none of this BS will work, which is why..." But instead, he concludes:
If Israel can't get a deal to block the tunnels with sensors or a barrier, it might have to resort to "statistical" bombing again. That could mean a bombing campaign along the border every three to six months—the length of time it takes diggers to complete new tunnels. An ugly prospect, to be sure. But not as ugly as what's going on right now in Gaza.
What ever happened to basic economics? If people want stuff, and people are willing to supply it at the demanded price -- whether it's illegal drugs, weapons, or televisions -- they will find a way to supply it, and they will take extreme risks if the expected payoff exceeds their expected costs. Full stop. (There's even a book about this phenomenon.)
The super-smart Michael Slackman looked into the smuggling issue in 2007, and he concluded (after actual reporting!) that "to stanch the flow of weapons, Egypt will ultimately have to address the economic and social concerns of the region, and not rely solely on its security forces":
In more than a dozen interviews shortly after Hamas solidified its grip on Gaza, locals said the Palestinian territory was a primary market for goods in a region short of jobs and other economic opportunities. They said, almost without exception, that the business of ferrying weapons was more about profit than ideology. [...]
In the last two years, since Israel withdrew its forces and settlers from Gaza, Egyptian officials said they had increased their policing of the border area, blowing up tunnels and arresting people connected with smuggling.
Israeli officials say that when they still had a presence in Gaza, they tried to foil the tunneling by installing a concrete or iron wall along the border that extended 3 meters, or 10 feet, underground. But the tunnels are typically 6 to 20 meters below ground.
Israel also used sonar and other sensors to hunt for the tunnels, occasionally setting off charges to cause undiscovered tunnels to collapse. They also urged the Egyptians to do more - which they did.
But no matter how much the authorities here tried to crack down on smuggling, people here said, the outlaw culture could never be overcome without economic development. Unemployment in the region is among the highest in Egypt.
While a percentage of the weapons smuggling is a function of solidarity with the Palestinians, people here said, weapons were also just one product that brought income. Many of the Bedouins said they also worked to smuggle people into Israel, often women from Eastern Europe looking to work in the sex industry. They talked of smuggling marijuana and cigarettes, too.
There's a sad history of people who don't understand -- or, for political reasons, pretend not to understand -- why technology won't solve their political, economic, and social problems. Take Robert McNamara, who in 1967 announced plans for a massive, ill-conceived "electronic anti-infiltration barrier" to stop inflitration of men and materiel from North Vietnam. Or take the moronic "virtual fence" that some in the U.S. government concoted to address illegal immigration because they didn't grasp what BusinessWeek's Keith Epstein, with more patience than I can muster, explains here:
The allure of a technology fix is understandable, given what federal agents are up against. Along nearly 2,000 miles of scorching desert, steep canyons, winding rivers, and urban mazes, they routinely strive for the unattainable—to stop the flow of people so desperate for better lives that they will climb, run, swim, tunnel, bribe, and even hide in car undercarriages to get into the U.S. The number of Border Patrol agents has almost doubled since 2000, to 14,900, supplemented now by up to 3,000 National Guard troops. Still, migrants continue to cross. And they'll continue to come, as long as Mexico's per capita income remains one-fifth that of the U.S. and employers in El Norte continue to welcome them.
So, wise guy, you ask, how do you shut down the Gaza tunnels?
My answer: You don't. Or, at least, not until you permit free trade in and out of Gaza, end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, raise income levels in northern Sinai, and pay Egyptian officials high enough wages such that they don't feel the need to take bribes.
There is no technological solution, so best of luck with the rest of it.
Photo: Abid Katib/Getty Images
When President-elect Barack Obama and Mexico's President Felipe Calderon met today in Washington, the subject matter was as hot as the tortilla-soup they ate for lunch. Mexico is in the midst of a heated drug war that threatens to rip the country apart. The United States sends extensive aid to its southern neighbor to help out. But as the Council on Foreign Relations' Shannon O'Neil points out for FP's The Argument, the United States also supplies the demand for drugs, the money to pay from them, and the weapons that ratchets up the violence.
Then, there is immigration, where more than one politician has gotten burned. President Bush was among them, and even mentioned immigration in his nostalgic press conference today. Bush's proposal was beaten down brutally in Congress, before it died a quiet and unlamented death. NAFTA was also rumored to be on the table, too, with Calderon pressing Obama not to review the trade agreement, as the president-elect had promised on the campaign trail.
Both men left praising the others' efforts, and vowing closer cooperation. Both countries are economy focused, and now is no time for spats on trade. Mexico's economic growth is forecast to shrink from 2 percent to 1.8 percent, driven largely be the shrinking demand for Mexican products on Obama's side of the border.
Next up for Calderon: meeting with U.S. Congressional leaders and with World Bank President Robert Zoellick. Next up for Obama: proving his partnership with Mexico will last past lunch.
Photo: Martin H. Simon-Pool/Getty Images
Is there no problem a surge can't fix? Michael Chertoff tells the New York Times that the Department of Homeland Security's efforts to build a fence and boost security on the Mexican border aren't just about immigration, they're also to keep Mexico's drug violence on the other side of the border. If it does spill over, they have a plan:
"We completed a contingency plan for border violence, so if we did get a significant spillover, we have a surge — if I may use that word — capability to bring in not only our own assets but even to work with" the Defense Department, Chertoff said in a telephone interview.
Officials of the Homeland Security Department said the plan called for aircraft, armored vehicles and special teams to converge on border trouble spots, with the size of the force depending on the scale of the problem. Military forces would be called upon if civilian agencies like the Border Patrol and local law enforcement were overwhelmed, but the officials said military involvement was considered unlikely.
I'm glad that DHS is paying attention to the unfairly overlooked drug violence in Mexico, but I doubt that U.S. military personnel operating in the southern United States would be any more effective at combating drug traffickers than the 45,000 troops that Mexico has deployed in its own territory. Or, for that matter, the Colombian military's U.S.-funded efforts.
Let's hope it doesn't come to that.
Photo: Mike Lutz/DHS via Getty Images
In recent days, the number of pirate attacks off the coast of Somalia has started to fall. French troops arrested eight pirates on January 1st, turning them over to the Somali government. The EU mission also saved a Greek tanker from kidnapping on January 2nd. A Danish warship sunk yet another pirate vessel after warning flares set that ship on fire (the pirates were rescued from the wreck, and remain onboard the Danish vessel). And a Chinese cargo ship flat out-maneuvered the pirates on January 2nd.
A round of applause might be in order. After a slew of hijackings last fall, the world's navies finally seemed to get serious about fighting the pirates. Previously, many countries feared that arresting pirates could lead to awkward legal proceedings and even amnesty suits by suspects claiming they could be put to death at home if extradited. All good points. But then, so are the tens of thousands of ships that pass through the Gulf of Aden each year. From the looks of it, squeamish fighters once reluctant to pick up pirates are increasingly keen to do just that. Whatever they're doing, it seems to be working.
Photo: AFP/Getty Images
It isn't every day that Somalia beats China in a battle of military technology... and still loses.
On Tuesday, it was the well-armed, satellite-phone-wielding Somali pirates who held up a Chinese cargo ship. The crew members' defense? Petrol bombs! The makeshift Molotov cocktails worked well enough to hold off the pirates until an international patrol helicopter intervened.
No wonder China is dispatching ships to join the international contingent of navies patrolling against piracy in the gulf of Aden. 1,265 Chinese ships have passed through that same corridor this year and 20 percent of those came under attack. Not good odds.
Alas, should we just start shipping our Suez-bound goods over land? I'll let you see a lay of the land and decide for yourself: the president has fired the prime minister. Parliament is impeaching the president. The U.S. wants to send peacekeepers, but U.N. diplomats fear that's suicide. The entire country is food insecure, and about half is a humanitarian emergency.No wonder the pirates prefer the seas.
According to Jeffrey Gettleman of the New York Times, the recent surge of U.N.-inspired naval patrols sent to thwart out of control piracy aren't having much of an effect on the Somali pirates.
More than a dozen warships from Italy, Greece, Turkey, India, Denmark, Saudi Arabia, France, Russia, Britain, Malaysia and the United States have joined the hunt.
And yet, in the past two months alone, the pirates have attacked more than 30 vessels, eluding the naval patrols, going farther out to sea and seeking bigger, more lucrative game, including an American cruise ship and a 1,000-foot Saudi oil tanker.The pirates are recalibrating their tactics, attacking ships in beelike swarms of 20 to 30 skiffs, and threatening to choke off one of the busiest shipping arteries in the world, at the mouth of the Red Sea."
Outgunned and outnumbered, the pirates "seem to be getting only wilier."
While some ships have taken to alternative, and largely unsuccessful tactics -- the crew of a Filipino boat hurled tomatoes at assailants -- merchant vessels are now hiring private security guards, who offer more hands-on suggestions: "We should make 'em walk the plank," says one.
That's how bad it's gotten in Mexico. A U.S. security consultant who claims to have helped resolve over 100 kidnapping cases was himself kidnapped in northern Mexico last week.
Coahuila state law enforcement officials who were not authorized to be quoted by name said Batista had been giving talks to local police officials and businessmen on how to prevent or avoid kidnappings.
They said he apparently was snatched from a street outside a restaurant.
The Web profile of Batista _ later removed from ASI's site _ described him as "the primary case officer for all cases throughout the Latin American region."
If an anti-kidnapping expert isn't safe, who is?
Reading the latest headlines from the Rod Blagojevich scandal, David Carr sees the danger a downsized Chicago Tribune poses to American politics:
In a city and state where corruption is knit into the political fabric, a solvent daily paper would seem to be a civic necessity. But if another governor goes bad in Illinois — a likely circumstance given the current investigation and the fact that the last governor, George Ryan, is serving six and a half years on corruption charges — what if the local paper were too diminished to do the job?
Good question. Here's another one: What if thousands were being killed in an armed conflict that directly impacted U.S. security, and no U.S. reporters were there to cover it?
While much of the U.S. media and political establishment has been ignoring the ongoing drug violence in Mexico that has claimed almost 7,000 lives, severely weakend the Mexican state, and involved 50,000 troops, reporters from the Tribune-owned Los Angeles Times have largely been driving the story.
The turmoil in Mexico is already not getting the coverage it deserves. Without steady paychecks for Times reporters like Tracy Wilkinson and Ken Ellingwood, the full-scale war being waged just across the border might not be noticed at all.
Photo: ALFREDO ESTRELLA/AFP/Getty Images
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