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By: Aldo N. Mena

These days, it’s not just Trump who is contemplating some form of direct military action against Mexico. A growing number of political figures on the right are now apparently calling for a more aggressive security posture towards Mexico.

In a recent opinion piece featured in the Washington Post, for example, Fareed Zakaria noted that almost every one of the front-runners for the Republican presidential nomination have endorsed the idea of military action in Mexico in “some form or another.” David Frum, in a piece appearing in The Atlantic, further observed that while some proponents of military action in Mexico sometimes mention “a caveat about cooperating with the Mexican government,” these stipulations are conspicuously absent “when the idea is promoted on television and in social media.”

To be accurate, it isn’t just Republicans who have proposed direct military action in Mexico. Even Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va, an ostensible Democrat, has expressed support for some form of direct U.S. military action in Mexico explaining to Chris Cuomo that the “Mexican government’s gotta know if you’re not gonna do it, we’re gonna do it.”

Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador has denounced these calls as “irresponsible” and “threats” to Mexico’s sovereignty. But he has also done something else that is notable especially from a Mexican American perspective. In response to calls for U.S. military action in Mexico, he has threatened to “begin a public information campaign aimed at Mexicans in the United States.”

He issued a similar appeal in late May when he called upon “Hispanics” in Florida to oppose Republican presidential candidate and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis for pledging to continue building Trump’s border wall and implement other draconian immigration measures. López Obrador would issue yet another call to oppose DeSantis in early July following the enactment of Florida’s Senate Bill 1718.

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Incidentally, López Obrador’s calls to oppose DeSantis are apparently working at least according to the governor himself. When asked recently to comment on his anemic poll numbers, DeSantis blamed the corporate media “and Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador.”

These latest appeals weren’t the only time López Obrador has attempted to politically mobilize Mexican Americans. In July of 2022, López Obrador called upon Mexican Americans to oppose the reelection bid of Texas Governor Greg Abbott who had issued a controversial executive order authorizing the Texas National Guard and other state authorities “to ‘apprehend’ migrants and transport them to ports of entry on the border with Mexico.”

Following López Obrador’s most recent appeals, conservative news sources including the Heritage Foundation and Fox News would in typical hyperbolic fashion accuse the Mexican president of “egregious interference” and “meddling” in U.S. politics. Christian Whiton, a senior advisor in the Trump administration, would, in addition to smearing Lopez Obrador as a socialist, denounce him for employing a “brutal” nationalist message to appeal to Mexican Americans. Rep. Dan Crenshaw, R-Texas, an early proponent of direct military action in Mexico who was recently selected by House Republicans to lead a congressional task force devoted to, in Crenshaw’s words, “neutralizing Mexican drug cartels,” would even introduce a formal resolution condemning the Mexican president for “threatening to meddle in U.S. elections.”

Although López Obrador may perhaps be overestimating the cohesion and efficacy of the Mexican American vote, his appeals are not inherently unreasonable or even unprecedented. Many ethnic and racial groups in the United States promote ongoing political connections to their countries of ancestral origin, and a key component of this work often involves influencing both U.S. foreign policy as well as U.S. public opinion toward their respective countries of interest. There’s the Cuban American National Foundation, for example, whose disproportionate influence on U.S. foreign policy towards the embattled island nation of Cuba is difficult to overstate. Another example worth mentioning, of course, is the powerful American Israel Public Affairs Committee, commonly referred to as AIPAC.

And while I may not agree with every position espoused by these particular organizations, I certainly applaud the rationale behind their formation. In fact, I’d like my fellow Mexican Americans to understand that we, too, are entitled to advocate on behalf of Mexico in a manner that aligns with our own political values.

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But in order for any form of effective advocacy to occur, however, Mexican Americans must definitively reject the simplistic and reductive binary thinking that equates any form of advocacy for Mexico as an act of disloyalty to the United States. The Mexican diaspora, like other diasporas in the United States, is perfectly capable of exploring issues of relevance to Mexico while still being loyal to the United States.

Moreover, advocating on behalf of Mexico on a particular issue should not be construed as a categorical endorsement of a presidential administration, candidate, party, or of every feature of a particular course of action undertaken by the Mexican government.

It is possible to disagree with López Obrador on certain issues and agree with him on others. I personally believe that his “Hugs Not Bullets” strategy is failing Mexico. I am also disappointed by his disingenuous unwillingness to acknowledge not only the role that Mexican criminal organizations play in the production of fentanyl and its analogs but also his unwillingness to recognize the fentanyl epidemic raging within Mexico. And yet, I can completely agree with López Obrador and others that unqualified calls for unilateral U.S. military action in Mexico are dangerous and unlikely to succeed.

This, of course, doesn’t mean that Mexican Americans can’t support reasonable proposals for enhanced cooperation between the U.S. and Mexico in combatting Mexican cartels. The bipartisan legislation recently introduced by U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, for example, certainly seems like a step in the right direction. This legislation, which proposes training elements of the Mexican military in the United States, was the product of a bipartisan congressional delegation to Mexico City led by Senator Cornyn that included U.S. Reps. Veronica Escobar, D-El Paso, and Tony Gonzales, R-San Antonio, among others, and involved consultations with U.S. drug enforcement officials as well as López Obrador.

I do feel compelled, however, at this late stage of my commentary, to admit one other reason for my concern with all of these calls for war with Mexico. I recognize, of course, that, at some level, these calls are performative. It’s the latest iteration of anti-Mexican rhetoric that has proven so effective in rallying the MAGA faithful in the past. But this doesn’t make this rhetoric any less dangerous. As the El Paso Walmart Shooting of 2019 has tragically demonstrated, there are people who are vulnerable to incitement by this type of rhetoric, and these people aren’t exactly the discerning types. When they finally heed the call to either repel “the invasion” or, in this case, go to war with Mexico they aren’t going to trouble themselves with cumbersome distinctions between Mexican cartel members, innocent Mexican civilians, or even Mexican Americans.

About the Author:

Aldo N. Mena is a local educator, podcaster, freelance writer, and native El Pasoan who enjoys exploring issues of relevance to the Mexican American community. He is a graduate of the University of New Mexico where he received a B.A. in English and Political Science, and an M.A. in Latin American Studies with a research concentration in late colonial/early national period Mexican history.

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