No, America Isn’t Invading Mexico — Well, Probably Not
But these leaks are a rapidly-unfolding disaster
by ROBERT BECKHUSEN
Amid a frantic Feb. 1, 2017 news day was a report from the Associated Press citing a leaked transcript between U.S. president Donald Trump and Mexican president Enrique Pena Nieto in which Trump allegedly threatened to invade Mexico.
“You have a bunch of bad hombres down there,” Trump said according to the AP. “You aren’t doing enough to stop them. I think your military is scared. Our military isn’t, so I just might send them down to take care of it.”
But there are contradictory reports about what Trump actually said. A few hours later, CNN reported that Trump offered not to invade Mexico but to help Mexico, and said he is “willing to help with that big-league, but they [the drug cartels] have [to] be knocked out and you have not done a good job knocking them out.”
CNN’s Jake Tapper noted in a tweet that the AP may have quoted from an internal White House readout, or summary, and that Trump’s actual words were “not as antagonistic.” Further bolstering CNN’s interpretation is that the Mexican president’s office and the Mexican foreign ministry denied that Trump made any threats.
“It is absolutely false that the president of the United States threatened to send troops to Mexico,” presidential spokesman Eduardo Sanchez told the AP. The foreign ministry added — “On the contrary, the tone was constructive.”
So you probably don’t have to worry about Trump invading Mexico just before the 100th anniversary of the end of the Punitive Expedition. But it’s a bewildering and disturbing fact of our time that opponents and supporters of Trump both widely shared and believed the story that he would threaten to invade and occupy Mexico.
Pro-White House outlet Breitbart took a skeptical view of the AP’s story, but the consensus among the site’s commenters was — and to paraphrase — “we don’t believe the AP, it’s fake news, but we’d support an invasion of Mexico because it’d be, y’know, awesome. Also we should bomb their cities.”
So that’s where we are, apparently.
Trump has issued an executive order to build a wall along the Mexican border and threatened to halt cash transfers from the United States, deport millions of immigrants and impose a 20 percent tax on Mexican goods. This volatile combination has caused U.S.-Mexican relations to deteriorate to their lowest point in decades.
It’s in this context that Trump’s offer to send troops to help … might not help. We know this because Hillary Clinton raised the possibility of greater U.S. military involvement in the Mexican drug war in 2010 — and it resulted in a backlash that left the Obama administration scrambling.
Clinton, then the U.S. secretary of state, was speaking to the Council on Foreign Relations when she suggested that the United States could provide more direct assistance to the Mexican military as it was waging as a criminal “insurgency.”
As a precedent she cited Plan Colombia, a U.S. program that sent hundreds of military advisers to aid the Colombian army in its war on drug cartels and the FARC, a Marxist rebel group.
Mexico, a country with historic and nationalistic suspicions of U.S. meddling, experienced a brief uproar at Clinton’s comments. But the United States went on to renew and expand a similar program dubbed the Merida Initiative that supplies weapons, vehicles, surveillance technology and training to the Mexican army and federal police.
To be sure, that wasn’t all the United States was doing. The CIA, FBI, DEA and other agencies covertly shared intelligence with their Mexican counterparts and helped plan — and direct — raids targeting cartel bosses.
American surveillance drones had begun prowling Mexican territory a year before Clinton openly suggested a greater U.S. role. But her comments were still enough to set off a minor firestorm.
That’s a big problem for the United States — and it gets weirder. As the readout and transcript of Trump’s phone call to Pena Nieto leaked to the press, so did news that the U.S. president’s call to Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull deteriorated into Trump shouting at him before hanging up the phone.
And on the same day, U.S. military officials — speaking anonymously — alleged to Reuters that Trump approved a Jan. 29 raid on an Al Qaeda base in Yemen “without sufficient intelligence, ground support or adequate backup preparations.”
A Navy SEAL died in the raid, as did 14 Al Qaeda fighters and the eight-year-old daughter of slain terrorist leader Anwar Al Awlaki. A MV-22 Osprey also crashed and was then deliberately blown up on the ground by U.S. forces.
That is extraordinary. Officials in the Pentagon are effectively accusing the Trump administration of being at fault after a botched raid. Phone calls with foreign leaders are leaking through the walls of the White House. Now imagine this happening during a major national security crisis.