A few weeks ago, right before the Foreign Policy Presidential Debate, I made the case that the most pressing foreign policy issue to be ignored in the debate would be our declining relationship with Afganistan, a nuclear nation. It turns out that the candidates did touch on Afganistan during the debate, although the discussion was hardly illuminating. While it is still true that our next president will need to firmly and ardently pursue better diplomatic relations with Afganistan to avoid potential nuclear conflict (worst case) or general regional hostilities (more likely), there is another foreign policy issue much closer to home: one that is more than a hypothetical conflict, one that we are much more responsible for, that will affect us more, and one that was actually all-but ignored in the foreign policy debate and by both campaigns in general: Mexico and its US-funded war on drugs.
Unfortunately, our public foreign policy discussions regarding Mexico have largely turned into domestic policy debates over what to do about illegal immigration. While illegal immigration is a serious problem and one that the next president must address, the Mexican war on drugs is a far, far more serious problem in terms of causalities, human rights violations, suffering, disruption of communities, and economic costs.
Consider some basic facts:
- The Mexican war on drugs has resulted in somewhere between 54,000-99,000 deaths in the last six years.
- An estimated 230,000–1.6 million people have been displaced.
- Given rampant government corruption, violent suppression of the press and bloggers by the cartels, and the fear of retaliation, many drug-related crimes probably go unreported.
- “Swathes of the country [are] virtually ungovernable.”
- The US has sent more than $1.6 billion to Mexico and other Central American countries to combat the drug cartels.
- By far, the largest source funding the Mexican cartels is US illegal drug consumption.
- Many weapons used by the cartels come from the US — some from a botched sting operation called Fast and Furious. (All conspiracy theories aside, this was a disaster.)
Just south of us, a civil war is raging that is largely funded by US citizens, either through their illegal drug consumption or through our tax dollars which go to aiding the Mexican government. Meanwhile, we’re worried about undocumented workers, some of whom, undoubtedly, fled Mexico because of the violence — the violence we’re funding.
As Christians there are a number of concerns we should have about this war and the lack of discussion about it in the US Presidential campaigns.
How has this affected evangelical mission work? I would love to see some statistics on the number of missionary events in Mexico over the last six years. I suspect there has been a notable drop.
As our (literal) neighbors, we ought to be deeply concerned with their suffering, especially since it has been largely caused by illegal activities in our own country. I’m not advocating a Ron Paulian legalization of all drugs, but between our absurd prison rates and the war in Mexico, the war on drugs must become a much higher priority for Americans, and particularly Christians who have a biblical calling to care for the interests of their neighbors.
The ultimate solution to the war on drugs is to stop illegal consumption of drugs, but outside of incarceration (which isn’t working), we haven’t done enough to curb consumption. Here’s where I can see the church having a much greater impact. US citizens are not going to stop using illegal drugs out of fear of incarceration, or because it is bad for their health. They are going to stop through a combination of economic, educational, spiritual, and personal interventions — interventions which are best (most effectively and humanely) done at the local level. A practical step churches can take to help our neighbors in Mexico is to actively support and run programs that address the various causes of illegal drug consumption.
Finally, we should be concerned that illegal immigration — which has, in many cases, allowed Mexicans to flee violence, get an education, and rise out of poverty so as to avoid the temptation to resort to crime — has almost entirely defined our discussion of foreign policy and Mexico. While I believe we must urge our next president to pass sweeping immigration reform that will be humane, merciful, and wise, I also believe that it is foolish, unloving, and dangerous for us to ignore the serious consequences of the war on drugs.
For more on illegal immigration, see Brad William’s feature, “Illegal Immigrants: People, Not Political Capital” and my column, “Citizenship Confusion: Illegal Immigration and the SBC”.