The Middle East and Asia occupy most of our foreign-policy interest these days, but relatively little attention is paid to our most important dangerous foreign contact: Mexico.
That isn’t to say that Mexico doesn’t call forth a lot of comment—usually about illegal immigrants, anchor babies, smuggling, and drug cartel killings. But all those things obscure a central fact—Mexico is a real country with problems all its own. Although it is dirt poor and does not restrict Americans’ entrance into the country when they come to shop, drink, or whore in border towns, it is a different country with its own history, politics, and outlook.
America is willing to invest time, blood, and treasure in countries half a globe away with whom we have little or nothing in common. But geography, history, economics, and demographics dictate that we shall have an increasingly symbiotic relationship with Mexico whether we like it or not.
We need to keep several cogent facts in mind about our southern neighbors if we are to deal with them effectively. The first is that they are close. Poor border control has made parts of Big Bend National Park and southern Arizona virtual no man’s lands. This power vacuum poses an enormous terrorist threat. At least the same amount of energy that goes into scoping out Iran’s or North Korea’s nuclear arsenal needs to go into securing our southern border.
Sealing off Mexico and bringing illegal immigration to a standstill will not, however, solve anything beyond immediate security concerns. The loss of those immigrants’ cheap labor would have an enormously negative effect on California’s economy, depriving countless politicians of nannies to underpay. It would also exacerbate the demographic implosion the immigrants have partially offset. But the elephant in the room—the replacement of Anglos by Hispanics—would be delayed rather than stopped.
There is, especially here in the Southwest in areas first settled by Spain and then ruled by Mexico, a fear that one day they’ll get their land back. This is exacerbated by the Indigenista mutterings of Aztlan proponents such as the Chicano activists I met while attending CSUN.
Our policy makers need to study Mexican culture and history, then try to understand the often nefarious role the United States has played down there. They need to know the Royalists as well as the Revolutionaries in the Wars of Independence; the damage that Joel Poinsett did and the greatness of Lucas Alamán; that backing Juarez first against Miramón and then Maximilian was a very poor plan; and that supporting the PRI against the Cristeros was criminal. They need to understand the Sinarquistas and the founders of the PAN.
Understanding our own contributions to making her the basket case of a nation that she is and the unique pride that Mexicans have in their country will help our leaders understand whom they can work with to help Mexico live up to her potential after her own manner.
It is essential that the cartels be destroyed, the country’s economy be allowed to pick up (and perhaps thereby slow the northward population stream), and the church/state and Indian/Hispanic rifts at the heart of her soul be somewhat healed.
The United States needs a strong and stable partner in Mexico, not a mere source of cheap labor and raw materials. If the Mexicans coming northward leave a strong civil society behind, they will be far more of an asset to this country and less a source of fear for the dwindling numbers of native-born.
Or our rulers may continue as they have done, with one ill-conceived opportunistic scheme for amnesty or repression after another, while ignoring the problem to our south. In that case, Mexico’s fraying social web will tear completely, and sooner or later ours will follow. Even if we one day build a wall along the border, it will be no more effective than Hadrian’s if the situation to the south is not under control. The Mexicans are indeed at our gates; whether they will be barbarians or not depends a great deal on us.
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