In recent weeks, much of America's attention has been directed towards the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS or ISIL) and Ebola. ISIS shocked and enraged the world when it began broadcasting videos of the beheadings of American and British journalists. Likewise, the rapid spread of Ebola across West Africa and its eventual arrival in the US has sent a wave of panic across the nation.
The truth is, however, that both of these are very regional threats. This is not to say that these issues should not be addressed, but that perhaps we aren't keeping them in perspective. ISIS poses a much greater threat to Iraq and Syria than the United States, for example. Respectively, while a deadly Ebola outbreak is currently ravaging West Africa, it's unlikely to spread across America.
At the moment, however, another war is being waged both within the United States and the countries that neighbor it, primarily Mexico. We know this conflict as the War on Drugs, the most expensive failure in US history.
It has been going on for decades, but escalated dramatically when the Mexican government, collaborating with the US, decided to take on Mexico's drug cartels in 2006. This sparked the Mexican Drug War. The consequences of this decision have been devastating and brutally violent.
This conflict has killed thousands of people while placing billions of dollars into the hands of Mexican drug cartels. Furthermore, primarily through bribes, the cartels have gained a great deal of influence over the political system in Mexico. Simply put, this conflict has helped the people it was meant to defeat.
We have been so easily distracted by novel and unfamiliar challenges, such as Ebola and ISIS. Consequently, we have forgotten to address something that's occurring right under our noses. This conflict has been ineffective, drained US tax dollars and claimed American lives.
The Mexican Drug War Is America's Forgotten War
The War on Drugs largely began under President Richard Nixon in 1971, when he declared drug abuse as America's "public enemy No. 1." What began as an effort to see an end to drug abuse escalated into a global operation. The US has combatted drug cartels all over Latin America over the past four decades.
Today, the US is even engaged in counter-narcotics operations in Afghanistan. Thus, the War on Drugs is much more than a domestic effort to quell drug use, it's a global war that has been going on for nearly half a century.
In 2006, this effort expanded into the Mexican Drug War, when former Mexican president Felipe Calderón essentially declared war on his country's drug cartels. The US has assisted in this endeavor, providing billions of dollars, technical assistance and intelligence. Yet, it has done little stop stop the flow of drugs into America.
Mexico is the largest foreign supplier of methamphetamine and marijuana to the United States. Moreover, 90 percent of the cocaine in America travels through Mexico and it's also a major supplier of heroin. Accordingly, if you're doing drugs in America, there's a large chance they came from or through Mexico.
Concurrently, the government has barely addressed this issue in public, perhaps in an effort to avoid acknowledging this enormous failure.
The Mexican Drug War Has Killed 100,000 People, Including Americans
One of the biggest consequences of the Mexican Drug War has been that it's caused drug cartels to splinter. In the process, they have battled for territory and influence, and killed anyone in their way, including civilians.
At the end of 2013, it was estimated that around 60,000 people had died as a consequence of the Mexican Drug War. That number is now closer to 100,000, and there have been recent reports of further atrocities.
Additionally, between 2007-2010, 293 Americans were killed by cartels in Mexico. Moreover, during the same period, violence linked directly to the cartels within the US killed around 5,700 Americans. In once instance, an American was apparently tortured, killed, cooked and possible eaten by Mexican cartels.
Likewise, as Musa al-Gharbi notes for Al Jazeera:
Even as the U.S. media and policymakers radically inflate ISIL’s threat to the Middle East and United States, most Americans appear to be unaware of the scale of the atrocities committed by Mexican drug cartels and the threat they pose to the United States. 2,937 people were killed in the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. Over the last decade, some 2,349 Americans were killed in Afghanistan, and 4,487 Americans died in Iraq. In four years the cartels have managed to cause the deaths of more Americans than during 9/11 or either of those wars.
While ISIS poses no substantial threat to America's borders, the cartels have already proven their capacity for death and destruction, even within the US.
Are we being intentionally distracted from something that the US government helped instigate?
Mexican Drug Cartels Are More Brutal Than ISIS
There is no doubt that ISIS is an hyper-violent organization that must be stopped, but the Mexican cartels are much worse. They behead hundreds of people every year, recruit child soldiers, kidnap and enslave children and women, kill journalist frequently, and use rape as a weapon of war, among other gruesome tactics.
So far, the US has spent around $1 trillion on the War on Drugs. Meanwhile, drug prices are going down, drug traffickers are profiting, and drug use has remained steady and even risen in some instances. What's more, Mexican drug cartels take in between $19 to $29 billion every year.
Hence, this conflict has been ineffectual, and it needs to end. Likewise, there is widespread evidence that decriminalizing drugs and making them a health issue could lead to a huge decrease in drug abuse and trafficking.
Accordingly, it's time for the US government to seriously reassess its stance on this issue. While there has been some progress in regards to marijuana, it's apparent that much more can be done.
Simultaneously, it's up to the public to continue to put pressure on the government to change its stance on this problem.
Photo Courtesy: World Armies