Thursday, March 19, 2009

The Southern Approaches

Great GWOT article at NR by Mario Loyola: All Along the Watchtower.
At home, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan seem far away and, now that the sine wave of the ardor of our political season is at its nadir, are really only followed by those with a direct interest in what's happening in our theaters of war (i.e., family members and friends). But if you really want to keep yourself up at night, look to our southern border (to include our southern littoral approaches).
Loyola does a great thumbnail sketch of the metastasizing threat to the south.
Couple of points on the article and situation:

-Building partner nation capability is, as the author notes, our most viable chance for success in the region. Latin America is pretty sensitive about its sovereignty when it comes to the US--with good reason. I've had a couple of Colombians point out to me that they're still kind of sore about the fact that Panama used to be a part of Colombia, until the US split it off in order to enhance Yankee influence over the isthmus. My scholarly gringo response: Huh? Once, in a pretty intensive seminar with officers from 14 Latin American countries, I was let in on a joke that was new to me but an old saw to them:
Know why there's never been a coup in the US?
'Cause there isn't a US Embassy there.
So, no matter how dire the threat, we can go unilaterally kinetic maybe once in Latin America before all kinds of welcome mats are rolled up and we suffer huge political consequences (and, as is the nature in COIN & the GWOT, our perceived over-reaction to a provocation prevents access to all kinds of hearts and minds). Not to put too fine a point on it, we need Colombian forces killing FARCsters, Guatemalan Kaibil killing Guatemalan drug runners, and the Compañía de Comandos 601 needs to kill the next Hezbullah operative that decides to plant a bomb in Argentina.

-The commercial plane route from Tehran to Caracas actually flies Tehran-Damascus-Caracas and back. What could possibly go wrong there? I'm sure Hugo Chavez will cooperate fully with the US in stopping anyone landing in Caracas with evil designs on the States. Shyuh.

-How many tons of contraband narcotics enter through our southern border every year? How many illegal aliens? The south-to-north running smuggling routes through the Americas are the most sophisticated in the world (the Afghan opium runners our press is always lamenting about are pikers in comparison). How hard would it be to coopt a pre-existing route to transport a WMD/E? Not too hard, I'm thinking.

-While Loyola does a great job laying down the threat, he leaves out one significant component of that threat: the matas, or gangs. Of these, MS 13, or Mara Salvatrucha, is the most well-known in the States, but South and especially Central America are rife with matas. Want to know who would supply the mules for the nightmare scenario in the paragraph above? There you go. Also, by definition these gangs consist of violent, uneducated young men with no real moral compass. Recruiting potential for Hezbullah, whom the author says has deeply penetrated Central America?

-Mexico is on the verge of becoming either a failed or narco state. I've talked to some DEA agents who have worked the Mexican problem set, and the average American cannot comprehend the levels of brutality and viciousness Mexican narcos are ready, willing, and unfortunately able to employ. Even battle hardened US Soldiers who've dealt with AQI et al in Iraq would be shocked and sickened by these guys tactics, techniques and procedures. And because of their limitless funding stream, these guys are exceedingly well equipped and well trained.

-Once again, kudos to Colombia's Alvero Uribe.

-The author mentions that Hezbullah, not so much AQ, is the primary Islamist threat emanating from Latin America. Hezbullah, as an unacknowledged organ the Iranian state, is probably much more dangerous than AQ, especially as they'll work hard to establish enough deniability to try to prevent us from going all "Afghanistan" on Iran. Whether we would or not doesn't matter, if they assess that they can mitigate our response, we are that much more vulnerable.

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