Secretary of State Hillary Clinton stumbled into a diplomatic minefield recently, when she compared Mexico's current security situation with Colombia's past condition.
“We face an increasing threat from a well-organized network, [a] drug-trafficking threat that is in some cases morphing into or making common cause with what we would consider an insurgency, in Mexico and in Central America,” Secretary Clinton told the Council on Foreign Relations. “It's looking more and more like Colombia looked 20 years ago.”
There are parallels. Increasingly large portions of Mexico are falling beyond the control of government, devoid of law and order. Thousands of people have been killed, including law-enforcement and other government officials, sometimes brutally.
The United States has vital interests in Mexico. It is our third-largest trading partner. Mexico got nearly half its imports from us in 2009. Our country buys 82 percent of Mexico's exports.
Whether some Americans like it or not, the 1993 North American Free Trade Agreement has inextricably bound the U.S. and Mexican economies. Apart from the millions of Americans who visit Mexico each year, an estimated half-million live there, many of them retirees.
Secretary Clinton missed the mark in comparing Mexico's situation to that of Colombia at its worst. In Colombia, the government faced not just drug gangs, but also a life-and-death struggle with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, which has an organizational structure, leaders, a 46-year history, and a clear, hostile political agenda.
But the secretary is right that the United States must support Mexican President Felipe Calderon in his effort to assert government control over the country's regionally based drug gangs. They export narcotics to the United States while importing arms from American suppliers.
Unchecked, the disorder will spread more widely across Mexico and, inevitably, into the United States. America and Mexico are in this fight together.