The botched gun-walking operation "Fast and Furious" has shown us that there are plenty of political and law enforcement idiots on both sides of the Rio Grande. Whether it's the U.S. Justice Department's Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) or successive Mexican governments with their ineffective anti-crime strategies, the ineptness of bureaucratic officials knows no nationality.
Throughout the long reign of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), Mexico existed in a state of democratic mockery. From 1928 until 2000, the PRI governed in abject contradiction between the lofty principles of the 1911 revolution and the country's constitution and its practice of alternately perverting and ignoring public welfare and the rule of law. Having been elected and re-elected every six years in votes that were never wholly free, clean and sincere, the PRI gradually evolved into a corrupt force. The most catastrophic product of this farcical and fraudulent regime was the unwritten agreement between the state and the drug cartels of the Gulf, Guadalajara, Juarez and Tijuana that provided official protection to the cartels as long as they refrained from creating troubles inside Mexico.
When the political monopoly of the PRI ended in 2000 with the election of Vicente Fox of the National Action Party (PAN), this cozy arrangement was endangered by the wholesale replacement of governors, mayors, local prosecutors and police chiefs who, in order to cement their rule, wanted to extend their powers as quickly as was politically possible. Yet the terrible fate of every new regime is that it lacks experience and tends to become more and more the victim of its incompetence. Thus, ironically, the result of the democratic opening was twofold. On one hand, the cartels were moved to explore new ways of transporting their drugs abroad, mainly through the U.S.-Mexican border. Those efforts, in turn, forced the cartels to secure new strategic centers of operations. On the other hand, the Fox administration as well as the Calderon government concentrated their drug-fighting strategies on spectacular captures of cartel leaders while neglecting to eliminate the root cause of the problem, namely drug production. Absorbed by their obsession with self-promotion and their neglect of preventing the same kind of corruption that led to the downfall of the PRI, the almost exclusive concentration on individual criminals led to a counterfeit war on organized crime that combined all the evils of bureaucratic incompetence, leadership failure and official anarchy.
Meanwhile, the situation in the United States was not much better. The fundamental shortcoming of successive administrations was that none seriously tackled domestic consumption. While various agencies achieved temporary successes in eradicating production abroad, many federal and state authorities were hampered by domestic politics that alternated between false concerns about human rights and real public demand for strict enforcement. The fight against money laundering was not successful, either. The failure of securing the borders only added to the attraction of the United States as a haven for drug export as well as a secure investment for dirty money.
The idiotic concept of Fast and Furious, devised either in the White House, the Justice Department or the ATF, only added insult to injury in an already messy state of affairs. The ATF's mania for self-promotion, best illustrated by the fiascos of Ruby Ridge, Idaho, and Waco, Texas, was a fitting match to the Calderon administration's desire to be seen as effective and incorruptible. The result is a situation bearing the stamp of those incredible faults. Organized crime has gained control of large swaths of Mexico and has become more than a match for the Mexican military and the U.S. Border Patrol. La Familia in the Tierra Caliente region of Michoacan state, the Zetas in northeastern Tamaulipas and the Sinaloa cartel throughout the north and Mexico City are all founded on terror and sustained by their domination of the population and local authorities. The official statistics, albeit mostly manipulated downward, tell the story. Among the many thousands murdered during the Calderon presidency have been mayors, governors, attorneys general, soldiers, sailors, policemen, security service agents and civilians. On the American side, agents of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), a Border Patrol agent and several innocent American civilians became victims of the incompetence and lack of political will in Washington.
Fast and Furious was a concept worthy of a banana republic but not the most powerful country in the world. Because this ill-fated program started and played out under the presidency of Barack Obama, he clearly owns it. The unprofessional and inept handling of the political scandal is unequivocally the fault of Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. The shameful filibuster of the issue by House Democrats has tarnished the already poor reputation of Congress, too. Ultimately, the lies, obfuscations and invocation of executive privilege will increase suspicion, disenchantment and public cynicism of the constitutional bodies, including the judiciary. As Vicente Fox and Felipe Calderon failed to defeat the drug cartels, the incompetence and lawlessness of the Obama administration also backfired against the United States and the citizens it so haughtily declared to protect. Last week, Mexicans voted for change. The election of Enrique Pena Nieto of the PRI could signal a new beginning. The upcoming U.S. election on Nov. 6 will decide whether a new sanity or the continuing idiocy will prevail in the greatest democracy on earth.
Miklos K. Radvanyi is vice president for international policy at Frontiers of Freedom.