One of Congress’ leading proponents for using military force against Mexican drug cartels said he’d consider restricting armed action until Mexico approves of it — all to get Democrats more comfortable with the aggressive messaging.
In January, Rep. Dan Crenshaw (R-Texas), chair of the Republican-led Task Force to Combat Mexican Drug Cartels, alongside Rep. Mike Waltz (R-Fla.) introduced a bill seeking authorization for the use of military force to “put us at war with the cartels.”
But Crenshaw said in an interview that the idea has been “misconstrued” and that the task force will likely outline a different approach before year’s end. He wants Democrats to sign on to whatever is proposed, meaning he’ll have to slightly climb down from threatening unilateral bombing campaigns on America’s neighbor. That could include a clause in proposed legislation that only greenlights any military operations against cartels when the Mexican government says it’s okay.
The former U.S. Navy SEAL thinks a tough bipartisan message from Washington might spur Mexico to tackle the cartel problem head on, cooperating with the U.S. like it used to during the George W. Bush and Barack Obama years.
“The entire point is psychological warfare against the cartels … to make them think they made a bad business decision,” Crenshaw said.
Crenshaw’s extended hand to Democrats comes as Republicans escalate their rhetoric about combating Mexican drug lords. Republican Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, running second in his party’s presidential primary, said he’d be open to using drone strikes against Mexican drug cartels. In an interview set to air Wednesday on CBS, DeSantis suggested he’d authorize shooting at people coming over the southern border.
“If somebody has a backpack on and they’re breaking through the wall, you know they have hostile intent and you have every right to take action under those circumstances,” he said.
Meanwhile, Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) has proposed sending in Special Operations forces and said if Mexico doesn’t want to help, “so be it.” Another presidential hopeful, Vivek Ramaswamy, envisions launching a “shock-and-awe” military campaign against drug cartels.
Those proposals have turned off Democrats who excoriate Republicans as too extreme.
“The rhetoric that they’re using is dangerous,” Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said of Republicans. “While I’m for doing everything to fight the cartels — and sponsored significant pieces of legislation and got several elements of it done, including on fentanyl — at the end of the day, you can’t be sending U.S. troops into a sovereign country in order to do it.”
The House Foreign Affairs Committee’s top Democrat, Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-N.Y.), suggested Republicans would have an uphill battle for bipartisan support. For Democrats, humanitarian aid for Mexico and the region to go after the root causes of migration and drug trafficking would have to be part of the conversation.
Crenshaw argues Democrats don’t fully understand the crisis at the border and what, precisely, he wants to do about it.
“The immediate reaction from Democrats has been, ‘you can’t just go invading Mexico,’ and it’s like, stop being an ignoramus. That’s not what anybody’s talking about,” he said. “I envision the same kind of military intervention we use all over the world, where it’s entirely led by the host nation.”
Crenshaw, like his colleague Waltz, wants a Plan Colombia-like playbook for Mexico — as does presidential candidate and former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson — and hopes to hear directly from Colombians how the 20-year-old model works. “Do they feel like their country was invaded by gringos? No, of course not,” Crenshaw said.
Ideally, U.S. security cooperation with Mexico would be somewhere on the spectrum between Colombia and Iraq, where U.S. forces go on missions with their hosts, he said. He argues Mexican forces need U.S. close-air support to protect them during operations in isolated areas. But absent Mexican consent, he wouldn’t take “unilateral” U.S. military action off the table.
The Texan also highlights that he’s long thought about the complexities with Democrats. The task force he leads includes Reps. Chrissy Houlahan (D-Pa.) and Vincente Gonzalez (D-Texas). It’s not clear whether they have heard from any Biden or Obama administration appointees, but they have met with the Trump administration’s former acting Homeland Security chief Chad Wolf and former Attorney General Bill Barr.
There are plans to meet officials with U.S. Northern Command as well as visit Mexico and Colombia later in the year.
The biggest issue remains Mexico itself, as its security cooperation with the U.S. hit “a new low” under President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, Crenshaw argues. He hopes Mexico’s upcoming elections could serve as a fresh start, though one of the leading two candidates is close to AMLO.
Asked if U.S. elections might also be an opportunity for a refresh, Crenshaw voiced apathy at Republicans’ campaign trail policy positions on the matter, claiming the issue came to the fore because of his activism.
“I don’t pay much attention to what people say on the debate stage. They’re only saying it because I said it,” he said. “They’ve all thought about this for approximately five seconds.”
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