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The recent New York Times report that U.S. diplomatic pressure blocked General Moisés García Ochoa from being appointed defense secretaries offers a few intriguing insights, but is perhaps less scandalous than it is curious. First off, the allegations of corruption and links to drug trafficking organizations that reportedly torpedoed García Ochoa’s career were hard to prove and hardly salacious; I suspect similar rumors could be found about many top military officials in Mexico. Why García Ochoa’s potential nomination attracted the U.S.’s attention, when the head of public security under Calderón, Genaro García Luna, was hardly immune from similar suspicion of narco ties, hints at the extent to which the U.S.-Mexico relationship has become militarized. That U.S. diplomacy was able to maneuver García Ochoa out also suggests that there is a good working relationship with the Peña Nieto administration, something that was perhaps less true under Calderón.

The broader and more important story, though, is one of a failing response to drug trafficking. Calderón’s decision to employ the military as a domestic police force, while understandable given the profound structural weaknesses that plagued policing in Mexico, has not been backed by a reform of law enforcement and police and the military’s return to the barracks. Instead, the military has remained the country’s primary anti-drug force, and in turn it has become increasingly corrupted and weakened. Moreover, the deployment of the military resulted in an arms race of sorts, encouraging drug trafficking organizations to upgrade their weaponry and the military to seek U.S. assistance. It increasingly appears to be a failed strategy.

Those doubts have also crept to Capitol Hill. Senator Patrick J. Leahy, a Democrat from Vermont who sits on the Senate Appropriations Committee, said he was withholding nearly $230 million in security assistance to Mexico through the so-called Merida Initiative amid concerns about whether the fight against organized crime is doing more harm than good.

“Congress has been asked for a significant new investment, but it’s not clear what the Mexican government’s plans are,” Mr. Leahy said. “It’s premature to sign off on more of the same.”

As Greg Weeks points out, the expensive militarization of the drug war is basically political snake oil: http://weeksnotice.blogspot.com/2013/02/drug-war-militarization.html

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