Republican leaders rally around Donald Trump’s “battle strike” idea as the ideal solution for the drug problem.
A growing number of United States congressmen, mostly Republicans, are rallying around the idea of bombing Mexican drug cartels as a viable solution to the overdose of synthetic opioids.
Nearly 71,000 Americans died in 2021 from synthetic-opioid overdoses, an example of which is fentanyl, and this number exceeds the 58,220 U.S. military personnel killed during the Vietnam War. In December, the Drug Enforcement Agency assessed that “most” of the fentanyl distributed by two cartels “is being mass-produced” at secret factories in Mexico with chemicals mainly sourced from China.
In recent weeks, Donald Trump, former US president, has been championing a more aggressive approach to the issue of fentanyl overdoses. He discussed the possibility of using cyber warfare to target and cripple cartel operations in Mexico. Sending in the American Special Forces is not out of the question, either.
In a video released by his campaign team, Trump said that if re-elected, he would “order the Department of Defense to make appropriate use of special forces, cyber warfare, and other overt and covert actions to inflict maximum damage on cartel leadership, infrastructure, and operations.”
At another recent presidential rally in Waco, Texas, Trump compared the number of deaths from fentanyl overdoses to a kind of military attack.
“People talk about the people that are pouring in,” Trump said. “But the drugs that are pouring into our country, killing everybody, killing so many people — there’s no army that could ever do damage to us like that still.”
This hawkish proposition has strengthened with Republican congress members joining the anti-fentanyl battle ranks.
Reps. Dan Crenshaw and Mike Waltz introduced a bill seeking authorization for using military force to “put us at war with the cartels.” Sen. Tom Cotton said he supports sending U.S. troops into Mexico to target drug lords even without that nation’s permission. Lawmakers in both chambers have filed legislation to label some cartels as foreign terrorist organizations, a move sanctioned by GOP presidential aspirants.
Rep. Mike Waltz, a former Green Beret, believes that the Mexican drug cartels should be elevated to the ranks of terrorist groups like ISIS. In his words,
“We need to start thinking about these groups more like ISIS than we do the mafia,” Waltz said in a short interview.
However, the Democrats do not want the blood and gore advocated by the Republicans. President Joe Biden does not want to launch an invasion and has rejected the terrorist label for cartels. His team argues that two issued executive orders already expanded law-enforcement authorities to target transnational organizations.
The spokesperson of the National Security Council, Adrienne Watson, said,
“The administration is not considering military action in Mexico. Designating these cartels as foreign terrorist organizations would not grant us any additional authorities that we don’t already have.”
Instead, Watson said the administration hopes to work with Congress on modernizing the Customs and Border Protection’s technologies and making fentanyl a Schedule I drug, imposing the strictest regulations on its production and distribution.
Gen. Mark Milley, the Joint Chiefs chairman, also took the dovish stance. He told Defense One in an interview that invading Mexico was a bad idea. He said,
“I wouldn’t recommend anything be done without Mexico’s support,” he said, insisting that tackling the cartel-fueled drug trade is a law enforcement issue, not a military operation.
At the same time, not every Republican agrees with the “Bomb Fentanyl” approach. Trump’s third national security adviser, John Bolton, stated that unilateral military operations would not solve the problem. Also, House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman, Mike McCaul, is still considering the proposal. A Republican staff disclosed that Chairman Mike has concerns about “the immigration implications and the bilateral relationship with Mexico.”
The eagerness of some Republicans to openly legislate or embrace the use of the military in Mexico suggests that the idea is spreading its roots deeper in the party. It also shows how frustration with immigration, drug overdose deaths, and antipathy towards China define the GOP’s larger foreign policy.