Monday, January 19, 2009


"I Thought that in visiting that part of the world in 1950, that I could detect a certain tragic quality in its civilization: the product of a combination of factors, including the less than happy accidents of geography, the enduring trauma of the cultural shock once administered to the Indian populations by the Spanish conquest, the rigidities of the Spanish cultural and political tradition, and so on....

There is no reason to exert ourselves beyond a point in the development of our relations with the countries of that region, particularly those of South America.
The cultural differences are great....Americans are not very popular, by and large, in those parts; and I can see no very good reason why they need be. The less we fuss
over these countries, the less we burden them with our presence, the less we interest ourselves in their affairs, the better we will be regarded and the less strained will be the relationship generally".

George F. Kennan, The Cloud of Danger: Current Realities of American Foreign Policy, 1976.

"Mexico is now in the midst of a vicious drug war. Police officers are being bribed and, especially near the United States border, gunned down. Kidnappings and extortion are common place. And, most alarming of all, a new Pentagon study concludes that Mexico is at risk of becoming a failed state. Defense planners liken the situation to that of Pakistan, where wholesale collapse of civil government is possible.

One center of the violence is Tijuana, where last year more than 600 people were killed in drug violence. Many were shot with assault rifles in the streets and left there to die. Some were killed in dance clubs in front of witnesses too scared to talk.

It may only be a matter of time before the drug war spills across the border and into the U.S. To meet that threat, Michael Chertoff, the outgoing secretary for Homeland Security, recently announced that the U.S. has a plan to "surge" civilian and possibly military law-enforcement personnel to the border should that be necessary.

The problem is that in Mexico's latest eruption of violence, it's difficult to tell the good guys from the bad. Mexico's antidrug czar, Noe Ramirez Mandujano was recently charged with accepting $450,000 from drug lords he was supposed to be hunting down. This was the second time in recent years that one of Mexico's antidrug chiefs was arrested for taking possible payoffs from drug kingpins. Suspicions that police chiefs, mayors and members of the military are also on the take are rampant.

In the past, the way Mexico dealt with corruption was with eyes wide shut. Everyone knew a large number of government officials were taking bribes, but no one did anything about it. Transparency commissioners were set up, but given no teeth.....

In 2008, Mexico ranked 31st out of 60 countries studied in the Milken Institute/Kurtzman Group Opacity Index. The cost to ordinary Mexicans from poorly functioning institutions has been huge. My colleague, Glenn Yago, and I calculate that if Mexico were to reduce corruption and bring its legal, economic, accounting and regulatory standards up to U.S. levels (the U.S. ranks 13th and Finland ranks first), Mexico's nominal per capital GDP would increase by about $18,000 to roughly $28,000 a year. And it would also receive a lot more direct foreign investment that would create jobs....

And, this impacts the U.S. Thanks to Mexico's retarded economic growth, millions of Mexicans have illegally moved to the U.S. to find work. Unless the violence can be reversed, the U.S. can anticipate that the flow across the border will continue.

For more than a century, Mexico and the U.S. have enjoyed friendly relations and some degree of economic integration. But if Mexico's epidemic of violence continues, that relationship could end if the U.S. is forced to surge personnel to the border".

Joel Kurtzman, "Mexico's Instability is a Real Problem," 16 January 2009 in

As readers of this journal know, I am not an expert or in fact much interested in the countries and nations south of the USA. At a certain point, they all seem to have for a variety of historical and other reasons, branched off on their own for the most part, and, distanced themselves from world-historical developments elsewhere. Currently, the only items of occasional interest seem to be (in no particular order): when the corpse which died twenty years ago named 'Fidel Castro', will finally be buried; when the upstart and mountebank called 'Hugo Chavez' will be ousted (for that watch the price of oil), and, how many more times will Brazil's hopes to obtain a seat on the UN Security Council be dashed. In a good many ways, the ultimate American Wise Man, diplomat and God-Father of American diplomatic studies as a genre, George Frost Kennan had it right: these countries are in a certain sense, 'cursed' by history and geography. They are in essence places to escape from, and, not to.

The article by Kurtzman, points up to the dangers which seem to be growing day by day in our neighbor to the south. It appears that in a lot of ways, the government in Mexico City, has lost control of a good many of its regions to a variety of bandits, gangsters and drug dealers. And, while the current government in power in Mexico appears to take the problem very seriously indeed, the upshot is that there has been a spiralling of violence upwards rather than the reverse. Particularly in areas immediately adjacent to the American border. One can only come to the chilling conclusion that it is merely a matter of time, before the endemic violence in Mexico proper, commences to make its way north of the border. Which in turn raises the question: what is to be done?

Ideally, Kennan's policy suggestion of 1993, that the USA institute a sort of ring fencing of itself off from Mexico and the countries to its south, makes even more sense today, than it did then. Whether it involves a wall for the entire border from the Gulf of Mexico to the Pacific, or some other means of a strict and immune border control is up for debate. What is not is the need for some means of ultra-restrictive and air-tight, sealing off of our borders to the south. Before it is too late. As Kennan noted back in 1993, the ultimate results of a quieta non movere policy are rather frightening to behold:

"Just as water seeks its own level, so relative prosperity, anywhere in the world, tends to suck in poverty from adjacent regions to the lowest levels of employment. But, since poverty is sometimes a habit, sometimes even an established way of life, the more prosperous society, by indulging this tendency, absorbs not only poverty into itself but other cultures in the bargain, and is sometimes quite overcome, in the long run, by what is has tried to absorb. The inhabitants of the onetime Italian cities along the eastern shore of the Adriatic Sea made it a habit over several centuries, to take their menial servants and their ditchdiggers from the Slavs of the poorer villages in the adjacent mountains. Today, finally, the last of the Italians have left; and the beautiful cities in questions are inhabited entirely by Slavs, who have little relationship to the sort of city and the cultural monuments they have inherited. They have simply displaced the original inhabitants....The acceptance of this sort of dependence on labor imported from outside is, for the respective society, the evidence of a lack of will--in a sense, a lack of confidence in itself. And this acceptance, like the weakness of the Romans in allowing themselves to become dependent on the barbarians to fill the ranks of their own armies, can become, if not checked betimes, the beginning of the end".

George F. Kennan, Around the Cragged Hill: A Personal and Political Philosophy, 1993


At 10:45 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

quite interesting post. I would love to follow you on twitter. By the way, did anyone learn that some chinese hacker had busted twitter yesterday again.


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