Trump Asks Advisers for ‘Battle Plans’ to ‘Attack Mexico’ if Reelected
Donald Trump is asking for a plan to wage war in Mexico, and the Republican Party is eager to give it to him.
As he campaigns for a second White House term, Trump has been asking policy advisers for a range of military options aimed at taking on Mexican drug cartels, including strikes that are not sanctioned by Mexico’s government, according to two sources familiar with the situation.
“‘Attacking Mexico,’ or whatever you’d like to call it, is something that President Trump has said he wants ‘battle plans’ drawn for,” says one of the sources. “He’s complained about missed opportunities of his first term, and there are a lot of people around him who want fewer missed opportunities in a second Trump presidency.”
Trump lieutenants have briefed him on several options that include unilateral military strikes and troop deployments on a sovereign U.S. partner and neighbor, the sources say. One such proposal that Trump has been briefed on this year is an October white paper from the Center for Renewing America, an increasingly influential think tank staffed largely by Trumpist wonks, MAGA loyalists, and veterans of his administration.
The policy paper — titled “It’s Time to Wage War on Transnational Drug Cartels” — outlines possible justifications and procedures for the next Republican commander-in-chief to “formally” declare “war against the cartels,” in response to “the mounting bodies of dead Americans from fentanyl poisonings.”
In a nod to Mexico’s status as a sovereign nation, the paper calls on the U.S. to “conduct specific military operations to destroy the cartels and enlist the Mexican government in joint operations to target cartel-networked infrastructure, including affiliated factions and enablers with direct action.”
However, that “enlistment” of the Mexican government comes with a massive caveat: “It is vital that Mexico not be led to believe that they have veto power to prevent the US from taking the actions necessary to secure its borders and people,” the paper reads.
The document cautions about the “risks” of ongoing international wars, but it takes very little off the table in terms of military action. “The goal is to crush cartel networks with full military force in as rapid a fashion as possible. This means expanding the role beyond Special Forces, targeted strikes, and intelligence operations to include elements of the Marines, Army, Navy, Air Force and Coast Guard,” it recommends, in a chapter presumptuously labeled, “Tier Four: Victory Phase.”
It’s unclear if Trump would be willing to go as far as the CRA paper advocates, but he has been especially keen on sending Special Forces to Mexico and has been talking up the idea for months.
The fixation with military action on Mexican soil is not limited to Trump, however. The CRA paper is credited to Ken Cuccinelli, a former Trump official who now backs Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis to be the next president of the United States.
And a range of GOP lawmakers and figures are proposing legislation aimed at unleashing the U.S. military on Mexico, suggesting that if a Republican wins in 2024, the new president will have ample support — and even possibly face party pressure — for waging war on North American soil.
Republican congressmen Dan Crenshaw (R-Texas) and Michael Waltz (R-Fla.) announced legislation to authorize the use of military force against fentanyl trafficking cartels in Mexico. The move garnered support from Trump’s former attorney general Bill Barr, who penned an approving op-ed in the Wall Street Journal. Pro-Trump House members like Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) and Rep. Beth Van Duyne (R-Texas) have echoed these ideas, as well.
In the Senate, Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and John Kennedy (R-La.) announced their own legislation, which would “give the military the authority to go after these organizations wherever they exist,” prompting Mexico’s president Lopez Obrador to brand the legislation as “irresponsible” and “an offense to the people of Mexico.” In a brief phone interview on Wednesday, Graham tells Rolling Stone that though he “would like to work with Mexico” and that having the U.S. State Department designate the cartels as Foreign Terrorist Organizations would be his preferred method, he is “put[ting] AUMF on the table as a potential,” violent fallback. Graham adds he doesn’t recall discussing this issue with Trump specifically, though “I understood he wanted to take on the fentanyl labs.”
Former Trump homeland security officials Chad Wolf and Rob Law also supported designating cartels as terrorists and using the military against them in a March piece for the America First Policy Institute. “The pundit class scoffed when President Donald Trump considered these options. Still, his willingness to explore options untapped since the U.S. government took down Pablo Escobar in Colombia was a sign of a strong leader,” they wrote.
The institute’s brief policy pitch is also among the documents recently pushed to Trump, though it is unclear if he’s read it, one of the sources familiar with the situation tells Rolling Stone.
The “scoffing” referenced by Wolf and Law refers to the public shock when former defense secretary Mark Esper revealed that Trump had previously asked if it was possible to carry out unilateral covert airstrikes on Mexican drug labs in 2019.
At the time, Trump had become increasingly frustrated by the incessant opiate trade across the Mexican border and publicly suggested that the U.S. designate cartels as Foreign Terrorist Organizations. In private, Esper wrote, Trump said, “‘If we could just knock them [the drug labs] out,’ he said, this would do the trick.” Told it would be illegal, Trump reportedly claimed “no one would know it was us” although Esper “couldn’t imagine the president would resist taking credit for the attack anyway.”
Earlier this month, House Oversight Chairman Rep. James Comer called Trump’s failure to bomb Mexico, as outlined in Esper’s book, “a mistake.”
Trump’s notional plan to attack Mexico — brushed off by Esper — was itself reminiscent of the former president’s efforts to curb drug production in Afghanistan.
Early in his administration, the Defense Department, armed with new authorities from Trump to target criminal groups, embarked on a campaign of airstrikes and special operations attacks against Taliban drug labs in Afghanistan beginning in late 2017. The effort to curb Afghan drug exports failed and opium production soared until Pentagon officials quietly ended the strikes in 2019.
Experts say that it’s unlikely the Republicans’ similar plan to go after drug labs in Mexico would meet with much success.
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“It is hard to imagine a worse idea than attempting unilateral use of US military force across our southern border without Mexico’s very specific permission and full cooperation, which is highly unlikely for a wide variety of historical, cultural, and political reasons,” says retired Adm. James G. Stavridis, who served as commander of U.S. Southern Command and European Command. “Given US military history over the past couple of centuries — with multiple invasions of nations in Latin America and the Caribbean, from Mexico to Panama to Nicaragua to Haiti — there are old ghosts that will be energized against US policy by unilateral military action, especially in Mexico.”
Strengthening U.S. and Mexican military-to-military cooperation and providing increased law enforcement, economic, and diplomatic aid would be a better course, according to Stavridis.