No, Congressman Dan Crenshaw of Texas will not bomb Mexico. Nor will his Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF) proposal, alongside Congressman Michael Waltz of Florida, lead to a unilateral invasion of America’s southern neighbor across the Rio Grande, entangling the United States in another “forever war.” Recent media articles discussing a potential US military involvement use inflammatory rhetoric that might make you wonder about the true intentions behind the resolution. After recent changes in US border policy, now is a fair time to question: What’s really going on?
THE BORDER AFTER COVID
After the recent expiration of Title 42 — COVID-era restrictions on asylum cases, which used public health concerns as a justification to limit immigration — Republican lawmakers have called for an extension of these immigration measures as a means to continue to battle the ongoing fentanyl crisis in America.
In January of this year, Crenshaw and Waltz introduced a joint resolution seeking authorization to use the capabilities of the United States military to target drug trafficking organizations responsible for trafficking fentanyl and fentanyl-related substances into the United States. The proposal cites the fact that approximately 80,000 Americans are dying every year due to fentanyl, making it the leading cause of death in men ranging from 18 to 45 years old. In the face of concerns about the use of an AUMF — a joint resolution meant to give a US president the legal authority to use military capabilities in conflict — Crenshaw has been vocal that the resolution is not meant to encourage unilateral action on the part of the United States, but rather seeks cooperation with the Mexican military. Additionally, the resolution would not automatically signal the use of American military personnel on the frontlines, but a potential increase in communication, surveillance, and intelligence operations. Even so, it is worth noting that the proposal, pending a date with the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, would receive pushback from the Biden administration, which has emphasized it has no intention of using military force in Mexico. Nonetheless, the discussion highlights the interweave of domestic and foreign policy amid a period of uncertainty between the North American neighbors.
Meanwhile, south of the border, the idea of increasing cooperation is hitting a wall. Mexican President Andrés Manuel Lopez Obrador has accused the United States government of “abusive interference” after DEA operations in Mexico became public, and has accused the US of “spying” after a leak last month suggested the Mexican Army and Navy were experiencing differences. The populist president ran an anti-establishment campaign, and in power has turned increasingly autocratic.
It is clear that Lopez Obrador’s campaign slogan of “abrazos no balazos” (hugs not bullets) has aged like milk, with a record-breaking murder rate beginning in his first full year in office back in 2019. Unfortunately, this would serve as an early indication of the failed security policies under his administration. During his election campaign, Lopez Obrador claimed he would address the root social and economic causes of inequality in Mexico which were leading disenfranchised citizens to join the ranks of drug trafficking organizations. By August of 2022, these policies had continually fallen short, with the number of murders in the country under Lopez Obrador’s administration already surpassing the rates under the previous president Enrique Peña Nieto, with over two years of Lopez Obrador’s term remaining. Rather than deterring illicit activities, criminal groups are ever more emboldened under the current administration, acting with impunity as they continue to murder, extort, and traffic illegal substances to finance their lifestyle.
At this point, it is becoming harder and harder not to question the true intentions behind Lopez Obrador’s policy. As stated in a commentary piece by Gary J. Hale at the Baker Institute, it is possible Lopez Obrador is seeking to prevent an increase, or even a continuation of bilateral cooperation out of fear that joint investigations or intelligence operations will unmask corruption in the administration. Lopez Obrador has gone so far as to publicly deny fentanyl is produced in Mexico, openly claiming he will seek to interfere in the upcoming 2024 US elections if Republicans don’t change their tone.
A WAVE OF MIGRATION
Last week, the Biden administration opted for a full return to Title 8 restrictions — pre-COVID-era immigration measures which criminalize unlawful immigration — after allowing Title 42 measures to come to an end. Title 8 will increase consequences for migrants illegally crossing the US-Mexico border rather than just turning them away, and includes a five-year ban from applying for asylum. Instead of acting as a deterrent, the shift from Title 42 to Title 8 has influenced a wave of immigration at US borders, resulting in 14,752 apprehensions and an approximated 4,316 “gotaways” in the first 72 hours. Just this month, USBP Chief Raul Ortiz has shared, over the course of several tweets, that a combined 205 pounds of fentanyl had been seized, the largest haul coming in the form of 138 pounds during the first week of May. While it is clear that the trafficking of fentanyl which the AUMF seeks to target precedes the expiration of Title 42, critics of the Biden administration have cited the “symbiotic relationship” between Mexican drug trafficking organizations and the flow of human trafficking and smuggling into the United States — drug traffickers often hire migrants to carry their shipments, so as migration increases, so could the flow of illicit substances. Both are expected to rise together under Title 8.
Mexican authorities, as they stand, do not possess the ability to curb drug trafficking organizations at home. Meanwhile, US border authorities are overwhelmed facing a record-breaking number of encounters. The Mexican military and law enforcement would benefit from additional assistance, especially given the outsized military capacities in the United States. This type of cooperation with the Mexican government would not be entirely new, but rather an expansion of previous successful efforts. In March 2007, former Mexican president Felipe Calderón and President George W. Bush agreed to a “new and intensified level of bilateral cooperation” meant to combat drug trafficking. Additionally, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has a long history of being involved in Mexico for the purpose of infiltrating drug trafficking organizations. This type of cooperation helped bring Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, Rafael Caro Quintero, and other high-level targets to justice.
Perhaps Lopez Obrador is too proud to admit his policies have failed to bring security to the Mexican people. After running on a populist, anti-establishment platform, it would be a reversal of course to seek help from the very type of establishment Lopez Obrador claimed to be so different from.
Nonetheless, the AUMF proposal would only be effective if both governments are willing to work in a bilateral fashion, something which does not seem plausible under the Lopez Obrador administration. So, no… Crenshaw’s AUMF will not result in any bombing inside of Mexico anytime soon. Not only because that was never the proposal’s intention, but because Lopez Obrador is a recalcitrant ally, continually pulling back from cooperation.
Jesse Rodriguez is a graduate student at the George Mason University Schar School of Policy and Government.