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Did Trump really want to bomb the drug cartels in Mexico?

Did Trump really want to bomb the drug cartels in Mexico?

Democrats and the media spend a lot of time attacking Trump for things he never did.  The two-year false narrative about colluding with Russia’s interference in the 2016 election is a prime example. There was more than a year of false stories about Trump planning to fire Special Counsel Robert Mueller.  And so forth.

Now we have another.  This time it comes from yet another book from the political establishment.  

(Passing no judgment on the quality of any of the political books flooding the market, I am just weary of every politician, bureaucrat, and reporter becoming authors.  These tell-all books by those involved have to be sensationalized or they do not get published.  But I digress.)  

The latest political tome is from former Secretary of Defense Mark Esper.  In it, he alleges that Trump floated the idea of using Patriot missiles to take out the headquarters and drug labs run by the cartellians south of the border – at least as it was reported in the New York Times.

According to the book, “A Sacred Oath”, (or the Times) Trump said, “We could just shoot some Patriot missiles and take out the labs, quietly.”  The reason for the attack, according to Esper, was Trump’s concern that the Mexican government was not in control of the regions along the border – that the cartels had replaced the local elected leadership as the governing authority. 

The Times further reported that Trump believed it would be done surreptitiously.  “No one would know it was us,” the President is alleged to have told Esper.  The Times reported that Trump reasoned that Mexico didn’t “have control” over its own country.   In the spirit of self-praise, Esper claimed that he objected – intimating that he saved the country from a war with Mexico.

We must admit that Trump is very capable of saying some outrageous things.  I am reminded of his conjecture about the use of bleach in the battle against Covid-19.  It would not surprise me that Trump would propose something patently ridiculous on the surface. He is the poster child for hyperbolic and provocative statements.

However, buried in that crazy sounding language is a seed of rationality.  No! Not some surprise attack.  And any suggestion that no one would know who it did, is crazy. 

Esper’s dismissal of the idea belies the fact that serious analysts have pondered using U.S. military power to wipe out the cartels.  Everyone should agree that eliminating them would be a very good thing.  Even the national Mexican government should be interested in restoring democratic order to its northern border.

Rather than a surprise attack, however, we should be negotiating with the Mexican government to undertake a coordinated two-nation attack on the cartels.

If you think that is an outrageous idea, then you are not aware that Colombia relied on American support in its own war against the drug cartels – and that turned out quite well.  Colombia – which was once the illegal drug producing capital of South America — has crushed the power and the production of illicit drugs in that nation.

When the late Panamanian strongman Manuel Noriega became the drug king of Central America, the American military went to depose and arrest him in 1983.  It was the largest U.S. military action since the Vietnam War.   He wound up serving time in U.S., French, and Panamanian prisons.

The American military was used against the poppy-based drug industry in Afghanistan – although that one was far from successful.  And that industry is again flourishing after President Biden surrendered to the Taliban. The Afghan production of poppy products has been necessitated by the Taliban’s desperate need for money.

The real question is why there is not such a cooperative arrangement between Mexico and the United States.  One can only assume that either one of the countries – or both – is not serious about wiping out the cartels.

Maybe, the drug lords already have too much power in Mexico – going all the way up to the national level.  Maybe Democrats – who see the benefit in maintaining open borders – do not wish to take serious action that would address the problem of the caravans of migrants arriving at the border.  Remember, they are being organized and even transported by … the cartels.  And that means BIG money for the bad hombres.

We should not dismiss Trump’s flippant suggestion without considering that attacking the cartels as a military enemy could be a very good idea – as long as the Mexican government approved and supported the effort.

So, there ‘tis.

Editor’s Note: I would like to add some technical detail here, since I was actively engaged in counter narcotics in the early 1990’s with the CIA. Mexico is essentially captive to the narcotraffickers, as Colombia was then.

We tried a great many things in Colombia, missiles would not have been out of the question, if it had been practical.

President Trump’s comments (if indeed they were made) were gratuitous and clearly a bit naive, since the Patriot missile is designed to shoot down other missiles, plus good forensics could tell what kind of missile was fired and where it was fired from. But that is why a President has a cabinet. I’m willing to bet that all of the subtleties, nuances, collateral considerations, power factions and so forth were beyond Esper’s knowledge, and would require input from many different agencies outside of the SecDef’s purview, including CIA, DEA, State Department and many more.

But the suggestion that we up the ante in engaging the narcotraffickers is on point. Escalations were done cautiously in Colombia and other parts of Latin America, some of it worked and some didn’t. In Colombia, we took special measures with a special elite core of Colombian military to keep intelligence efforts secret, since prior to that, every effort we made was leaked to the cartels. We had to think about who would take power next, about innocents who might be close by, and the reactions of the locals and the newspapers.

For a great number of reasons, boldly sending a missile is a bad idea. But would I be opposed to using U.S. high tech weapons against this target? Not at all.

Trump is a leader who surrounds himself with good people. By suggesting this, he let his people know the extent he was willing to go, he was depending on his people to find a way to make it work or to somehow generate an equivalent effort. I’m betting everyone in the room (except perhaps Esper) knew this.

Esper is just trying sell books.

About The Author

Larry Horist

So,there‘tis… The opinions, perspectives and analyses of Larry Horist Larry Horist is a businessman, conservative writer and political strategist with an extensive background in economics and public policy. Clients of his consulting firm have included such conservative icons as Steve Forbes and Milton Friedman. He has served as a consultant to the Nixon White House and travelled the country as a spokesman for President Reagan’s economic reforms. He has testified as an expert witness before numerous legislative bodies, including the U. S. Congress. Horist has lectured and taught courses at numerous colleges and universities, including Harvard, Northwestern, DePaul universities, Hope College and his alma mater, Knox College. He has been a guest on hundreds of public affairs talk shows, and hosted his own program, “Chicago In Sight,” on WIND radio. Horist was a one-time candidate for mayor of Chicago and served as Executive Director of the City Club of Chicago, where he led a successful two-year campaign to save the historic Chicago Theatre from the wrecking ball. An award-winning debater, his insightful and sometimes controversial commentaries appear frequently on the editorial pages of newspapers across the nation. He is praised by readers for his style, substance and sense of humor. According to one reader, Horist is the “new Charles Krauthammer.” He is actively semi-retired in Boca Raton, Florida where he devotes his time to writing. So, there ‘tis is Horist’s signature sign off.


  1. Barry

    A great idea. They have destroyed thousands of American lives

  2. MikefromTexas

    I don’t know if he did or didn’t but I sure wish he had.

  3. JJ