by Charles Pierson, published on CounterPunch, August 29, 2023
There’s a new sheriff in town and he’s going into Mexico with both six-guns blazin’. Asked during the first Republican presidential primary debate on August 23 whether he would send US Special Forces across the US-Mexican border to interdict fentanyl smuggling, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis barked: “YES, and I will do it on ‘Day One.’” DeSantis could not have sounded more annoyed had he suspected Fox News moderator Martha MacCallum of personally smuggling fentanyl into the US in the trunk of her car.
This was not the first time lawman Ron expressed his willingness—even eagerness—to use force against Mexican fentanyl labs and drug cartels. In June, DeSantis said he was open to using “deadly force” against migrants merely suspected of bringing drugs into the US (otherwise known as the DeSantis “Shoot first, ask questions afterwards” policy). On August 18, Sheriff Ron vowed:
“If you have somebody coming in with the fentanyl in the backpack—they even break through the border wall, where there is wall—if they’re doing that, that’s the last thing they’re going to be able to do because we’re going to leave them stone cold dead at the border.” (The scene plays even better if there’s a coyote in the distance howling beneath a blood-red moon.)
DeSantis also wants to hit the cartels with drone strikes and impose a naval blockade of Mexico-bound ships to halt the import of fentanyl precursor chemicals from China—acts of war against a friendly country.
“No One Would Know It Was Us”
Several Republicans besides Governor DeSantis are openly—even boastfully—talking about using armed force against Mexico. These include several of DeSantis’ rivals for the 2024 Republican nomination, starting with former President Donald Trump. Trump has had drones on the brain for years. Late in his administration, Trump had toyed with the idea of conducting drone strikes on Mexico. Trump told then Secretary of Defense Mark Esper that “No one would know it was us.”
Trump has returned to the idea of unleashing the US military against Mexican drug cartels. Politico notes: “In recent weeks, Donald Trump has discussed sending ‘special forces’ and using ‘cyber warfare’ to target cartel leaders if he’s reelected president and, per Rolling Stone, asked for “battle plans” to strike Mexico.”
Action in Congress
On January 12, 2023, Representative Dan Crenshaw (R-TX-2) introduced H.J. Res. 18. The bill is titled the “Authorization for the Use of Military Force to Combat, Attack, Resist, Target, Eliminate, and Limit Influence Resolution,” or, “AUMF CARTEL Influence Resolution.” H.R. 18 “authorize[s] the use of United States Armed Forces against those responsible for trafficking fentanyl or a fentanyl-related substance into the United States or carrying out other related activities that cause regional destabilization in the Western Hemisphere” (emphasis added). The bill has 21 cosponsors.
In Crenshaw’s mind, the cartels are already at war with the US. Fentanyl has killed thousands of Americans. Responsible Statecraft says that in 2022, “107,375 Americans died from drug overdoses, and fentanyl was responsible for nearly 70 percent of those deaths.” Crenshaw sees an armed US response to the cartels as self-defense, not aggression.
The best thing about H.J. Res. 18 is that it has a 5-year sunset clause. The worst thing is the three words I italicized above: “other related activities.” The three words are virtually an invitation for Biden and his successors to exercise authority beyond what Congress intended, and not just in Mexico. The ultimate nightmare scenario would be if the AUMF CARTEL Influence Resolution were used to justify war on China. As a producer of fentanyl precursor chemicals, China falls under section 2(a)(3) which gives the president authority to use “all necessary and appropriate force” to interdict fentanyl precursors.
How serious MAGA Republicans are about attacking Mexico is anybody’s guess. If they are, they might change their minds once they become aware of the difficulties involved. Trump was talked out of bombing Mexico because it might trigger a flood of migrants seeking asylum in the US. That possibility hasn’t gone away, and it’s not a prospect any MAGA Republican would welcome.
DeSantis needs Mexican cooperation in order to reinstate Trump’s “Remain in Mexico” policy where migrants wait in Mexico while their asylum applications are considered in the US. DeSantis can forget about Mexican cooperation if US drones are striking Mexico.
The Miami Herald observes that
“Mexico would most likely respond to a U.S. military strike by expelling the DEA and other U.S. law enforcement and intelligence agencies operating in the country. That would result in an increase in fentanyl smuggling across the border.”
The American Prospect points out that “Even a single drone attack would seem highly likely to end up in a direct confrontation with the Mexican military.” Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador said during a press conference that Mexico was “not going to permit any foreign government to intervene in our territory, much less that a government’s armed forces intervene.”
Mexicans remember past US military incursions. The US invaded Mexico in 1846, in what Mexicans call la intervención norteamericana, known in the US as the Mexican War. Mexicans suffered the humiliation of having their capital, Mexico City, occupied by US troops. When the war was over, the US walked off with half of Mexico’s territory. If you live in California, the American West or Southwest, chances are good that you are living in what used to be Mexico. The humiliation of that time will come flooding back into Mexican hearts the moment a US soldier steps across the border. Mexicans know US imperialism when they see it.
 Section 2(a)(3) reads:
SEC. 2. AUTHORIZATION FOR USE OF UNITED STATES ARMED FORCES.
(a) In General.—The President is authorized to use all necessary and appropriate force against those foreign nations, foreign organizations, or foreign persons affiliated with foreign organizations that the President determines—
* * *
(3) have produced or trafficked a substance that is a precursor to fentanyl or a fentanyl-related substance with the intention of such precursor, fentanyl, or fentanyl-related substance being trafficked into the United States in violation of section 401(a)(1) or 406 of the Controlled Substances Act (21 U.S.C. 841(a)(1), 846) as described in paragraph (1) [emphasis added];