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Order to the U.S.-Mexico border

Obama administration plans are a welcome first step in battling the drug war that threatens both countries.

March 26, 2009

The Obama administration outlined several Southwest border initiatives Tuesday with two clear goals: to prevent the violence of Mexico's drug war from spilling over into the United States, and to help President Felipe Calderon crack down on the drug cartels threatening the stability of his country. The plan boosts the number of agents on the border and in Mexico, increases intelligence and technology capabilities and seeks to improve information sharing among local, state and federal law enforcement agencies. These are significant steps -- and signs of an evolving understanding that this war is of our making as well as Mexico's, and that it cannot be won without considerable attention from Washington.

During the presidential campaign, both candidates routinely referred to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan as the top challenges facing the next administration; rarely was mention made of the drug war raging just over our southern border. But violence in Mexico can no longer be relegated to the back burner of foreign affairs. More than 7,000 people have been killed in the last 16 months, and with a steady flow of trade, tourists and other visitors traversing the border, the potential for an expansion of the violence into U.S. territory is frighteningly real.

In every way, this is a binational problem. Drug users in the United States power the market in which cartels thrive. Traffickers launder money here and exploit our lax gun laws to arm themselves with the latest and best in firepower.

The initiatives announced this week will address some of these issues. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano is set to double assignments to the border enforcement security task force from 95 to 190 and triple the number of intelligence analysts working at the border. More agents also will be sent to particularly troubled areas in Mexico, such as Ciudad Juarez. Additional X-ray units that identify anomalies in passenger vehicles will be deployed at the border, along with more agents to conduct outbound inspections. Separately, but equally important, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives is hiring more agents to target gunrunners.

Napolitano called this the "first wave" of things to come, which is heartening. National security is rightfully the administration's first concern, but it cannot be achieved until a comprehensive plan is conceived and implemented to address the domestic components of this international drug war: the gun laws and money laundering, drug use and drug addiction in the United States.

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