A reader writes:
The issue with Kleiman's take, as I see it, goes back to the classic argument with organized crime – is it less of a blight on society when power is centralized or when it is de-centralized? If the scenario he proposes plays out, it will not lead to more restraint among rival cartels, I fear, but less restraint; you’ll have smaller, ambitious groups willing to escalate violence in order to fill the power vacuum and establish their reputations. In fact, some sources allege this has already happened in the wake of Mexico’s successful attacks on some of the major cartel players. Here's what STRATFOR writer Scott Stewart said in regards to Mexican President Felipe Calderón's attempt to break up the cartels:
This weakening of the traditional cartels was part of the Calderon administration’s publicized plan to reduce the power of the drug traffickers and to deny any one organization or cartel the ability to become more powerful than the state. The plan appears to have worked to some extent, and the powerful Gulf and Sinaloa cartels have splintered, as has the AFO. The fruit of this policy, however, has been incredible spikes in violence and the proliferation of aggressive new drug-trafficking organizations that have made it very difficult for any type of equilibrium to be reached. So the Mexican government’s policies have also been a factor in destabilizing the balance.
And don’t underestimate the importance of reputation and violence in the narcotrafficante underworld. The celebrated HBO series The Wire did a masterful job of illustrating the pushback that reformers in the drug world, who want the money but not the violence, get from their peers. Or you can take any number of anti-gang activists who are murdered by their old colleagues for trying to reform the “system” of the criminal underworld. As fascinating as a “race to the bottom” sounds as a strategy for violence – and I'd support the attempt – it probably will only increase the violence.
While I can appreciate the need for new ideas in the drug war, Kleiman's isn’t one. There are four main difficulties with this plan. First, and most obvious, would be the rise “false flag” missions. Violence wouldn’t stop – it would just be done in such a way to put blame on rival cartels.
Second, Mexican cartels control and battle over geographic areas. So if Mexico and the US were to put all their resources towards the dismantling the Zetas, for example, that would leave the Gulf cartel free to continue to import through Texas and into the Central and Eastern US. And even worse, the flow of narcotics into the Western US by the Sinaloa and Tijuana cartels would be left unaddressed and unabated.
Third, dismantling a cartel takes time. Mr. Kleiman writes off this difficulty as saying dismantling a cartel is “not hard, in a competitive market” without explaining what he means, or why he believes this will be easy to accomplish. While it is true that cartels are often run like business organizations, a cartel under attack would quickly fracture. It might re-organize. It might join forces with other cartels. It’s members might defect. How would we define whether a cartel has been “dismantled?” When its known leader is arrested? By that time, the problem would just shift to a new name or location. Regardless, even with the whole of our efforts, it would likely take years, not months, to fully dismantle just one cartel by any definition.
Fourth, and most important, this plan depends on the efforts of the Mexican government more so than the US. It is no secret that the Mexican government and police forces are highly corrupt at all levels. So unless and until Mexico is willing (and able) to fully devote its resources to defeating the cartels, any of these high-minded, idealistic plans are doomed to failure.
But I do give Mr. Kleiman credit for proposing an idea that doesn’t fall back on the tired mantra of “legalize it.”