The day before she arrived in Mexico City, on her first visit as secretary of State, the Obama administration promised to address the problem of southbound weapons trafficking and money laundering. Clinton also sought to quell fury over recent U.S. intelligence assessments that Mexico risks becoming a "failed state" along with other countries riven by violence, such as Pakistan. President Felipe Calderon had grown accustomed to unqualified praise from the Bush administration, which sought to bolster the remaining right-of-center governments in Latin America, and was blindsided by the sudden talk of no-go areasin Mexico coming from U.S. military and law enforcement quarters. In a joint meeting with Clinton, Mexican Foreign Secretary Patricia Espinosa pointedly noted that there are many places in both countries where the two women wouldn't venture.
In her role as diplomat in chief, Clinton clarified that the Obama administration does not hold the position that our next-door neighbor is about to collapse into chaos. Clinton is right that the Mexican state and civil society remain strong, and certainly Mexico is able to send the army into any municipalityto calm the drug violence, as it has done recently in Ciudad Juarez. But in scores of towns, the civil government and local police are not able to confront the traffickers without the help of the army. The drug cartels have killed thousands and control many more through threats, bribes and taxes. No matter what you call it, that's a problem that both countries must resolve together, as the violence is seeping across the border.
Some Mexicans bristle at taking Black Hawk helicopters and other military aid from the behemoth to the north. Critics say "help" and "cooperation" usually come with strings that suggest U.S. meddling. The United States must remain cognizant of those sensitivities, while staying engaged and supplying aid. Because left unchecked, the drug traffickers will pose a threat to Mexico's stability and, therefore, to our own.