U.S. President Barack Obama arrives today in Air Force One at Benito Juarez International Airport in Mexico City for his first-ever visit to the United States's southern neighbor. The rest of his locations and routes are pretty much mapped out by El Universal at the video embedded here: Campo Marte, Los Pinos, the hotel in Polanco, the anthropology museum. Then it's off to Trinidad by Friday.
And what's Obama here to do exactly? To meet and greet, more or less. And to say, 'Hey, we care.' Relations with Mexico are so sensitive and complex right now, by just showing up for a day, the president figures he'll start mending the bruises and strains.
But pats on the back and more money for helicopters will no longer do at this point. Merely massaging the psychic hurt of Mexico's nationalistic and hyper-touchy political elites would also be pure disappointment. We're entitled to expect more.
While in town, Obama's administration has another chance to directly address the glaring failures in Mexican President Felipe Calderón's strategy against the narco cartels. As Jorge Castañeda points out -- as we've tried to emphasize before -- the problem is primarily about local power and local errors, not U.S. guns or U.S. consumer demands:
The parallels to the Iraq war are striking. For starters, the rationale behind Calderón's decision to take on the cartels shifts constantly—as did the Bush administration's reasoning for taking on Saddam Hussein—depending on the narrative being spun at any given moment and the speed with which past justifications started to ring hollow.
First, the cancer of the drug trade was eating away at the civic fabric of Mexico's democracy and its institutions. Then it became a matter of saving our children, because Mexico's consumption rates were rising (a claim the government has yet to back up with persuasive evidence). While in London for the G20 summit, President Calderón gave the impression that his decision to unleash the military on the cartels was made necessary by the United States lifting the 1994-2004 ban on assault rifle sales.
When governments keep changing the reasons that justify their actions, it probably means they were unhappy with their initial justifications or cannot divulge the real reason behind their actions. But Calderón can hardly come out and say, "We're in this mess because I won a very close election that a lot of people were questioning, so I needed to get people to rally behind me and the flag by taking on these bad guys."
Read the whole essay at Slate. What Castañeda and other voices out there are calling for essentially is real leadership, and in the face of such a deadly, entrenched, and transnational threat, it doesn't matter where on Earth that leadership comes from.
* More later.
** Previously on Intersections: "Mexico's drug violence as a creeping contagion," "The drug tienditas of Monterrey," "Spring Break and the drug war," "The Queen: 'Wipe out the government to wipe out the narcos'," "Mexico's drug war: How weird will it get?"