Two recent news stories added important evidence to issues raised in my columns. The first concerns a Fourth Generation war taking place on America’s doorstep, that between the Mexican state and drug gangs. The July 14 Financial Times, one of the world’s best newspapers, reported that the head of Mexico’s intelligence agency
Told a small group of foreign media recently: "Drug traffickers have become the principal threat because they are trying to take over the power of the state."
Mr. Valdes said the gangs…had co-opted many members of local police forces, the judiciary, and government entities….
Those efforts, he said, could now also be targeting federal institutions such as Congress itself. "Congress is not exempt…we do not rule out the possibility that drug money is involved in the campaigns of some legislators," Mr. Valdes said.
The news here is not the "possibility" that some Mexican legislators are on drug traffickers’ payrolls. The news is that a prominent Mexican official, one whose position gives him a good look at what is going on, was willing to go public about the threat to the state itself. The fact that he took that risk suggests the cancer is far advanced. For intelligence officers, going public is usually an act of desperation.
From the perspective of 4GW theory, it is beginning to look as if the drug traffickers/Hezbollah model may be more sophisticated and more successful than the al Qaeda model. Al Qaeda seemingly is on the ropes in Iraq, not because of the "surge" but because of its own blunders. To at least some extent those blunders proceed from its strategy, which faces the state with a life-or-death struggle. In contrast, all Hezbollah and the Mexican drug gangs demand is a deal with the state: we’ll leave you alone if you leave us alone. The state’s real sovereignty bleeds away, but the structures remain, allowing the politicians to do what they want, i.e. continue to line their own pockets.
The Lebanese state recently cut a deal with Hamas along exactly these lines, and the Mexican state will have to do the same at some point. The Financial Times reports that under the Merida Initiative, the U.S. will give Mexico $400 million this year for counter-narcotics operations, but the Mexican state is already too deeply suborned to use such aid effectively. Mexican politicians, cops, and military officers will happily accept the U.S. money with their right hands while their left hands take the drug gangs’ payoffs. If the Mexican state wants to restore order, it will have to offer the gangs a "live and let live" deal.
The other story moves from tragedy to farce. It seems Iraq’s pretend Prime Minister, Mr. al-Maliki, gave an interview to Der Spiegel in which he said Obama’s timetable for pulling U.S. troops out of Iraq is about the right one. Not surprisingly, the Bush White House went ballistic. I suspect Iraqi officials had not heard the f-word used so many times in one sentence since they last had to pass a roadblock manned by Marine lance corporals.
Here the Bush administration is hoist on its own petard. On the one hand, it wants "democracy" in Iraq. On the other hand, it wants to keep U.S. troops there indefinitely, using Iraq as a base from which the U.S. can dominate the region. But the Iraqi people want the American troops to go home, so "democracy" leads to an American withdrawal at Iraq’s demand. Squaring that circle would take a Bismarck, and Miss Rice isn’t even a Holstein.
Poor Mr. al-Maliki, whose only goal is survival, is left twisting in the wind, an awkward position for a marionette. He remains dependent upon American support, without which he would be either an exile or dead in 48 hours. But he must also grasp at such shreds of legitimacy as he can, which requires setting a date by which the Americans will leave. The two requirements contradict each other fatally. Meanwhile, Muqtada al-Sadr, whose demand for an American withdrawal is unambiguous, follows Iraq’s "government" like Captain Hook’s crocodile. I suspect that if he survives, he will in time enjoy his dinner.
One man could cut the knot and free both Iraq and America from its entanglements. Were Ayatollah Sistani to say what Mr. Maliki said, that Obama’s timetable for withdrawal is about right, no one could gainsay him. The Shiite Iraqi government dare not contradict him, nor could George W. Bush (or John McCain) without risking all-out war between American troops in Iraq and the Shiites. For the sake of both countries, let’s hope he is listening.
William Lind is an analyst based in Washington, DC.