Fretting over a scenario in which armed U.S. soldiers could be called to the border — or even over it — to hold back lawlessness and violence, Undersecretary of the Army Joseph Westphal invoked a contentious word to describe Mexico’s problem with drug cartels:
He called it an “insurgency.”
Speaking at the University of Utah’s Hinckley Institute of Politics on Monday, the second-highest ranking civilian official in the U.S. Army spent most of his lecture explaining the economic and bureaucratic obstacles faced by defense budget makers amid complicated challenges in the Middle East and South Asia.
But in response to a student’s question about strategic blind spots in U.S. foreign policy, Westphal switched hemispheres.
“One of them in particular for me is Latin America and in particular Mexico,” he said. “As all of you know, there is a form of insurgency in Mexico with the drug cartels that’s right on our border.”
“This isn’t just about drugs and about illegal immigrants,” he said. “This is about, potentially, a takeover of a government by individuals who are corrupt.”
Westfall — who said he was expressing a personal opinion, but one he had shared with the White House — said he didn’t want to ever see a situation in which “armed and fighting” American soldiers are sent to combat an insurgency “on our border, in violation of our Constitution, or to have to send them across the border.”
Westphal is the most senior U.S. official to publicly compare Mexico’s drug cartels to an “insurgency” since Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made a similar assessment last September.
“We face an increasing threat from a well-organized network, drug-trafficking threat that is, in some cases, morphing into or making common cause with what we would consider an insurgency, in Mexico and in Central America,” Clinton said at an event hosted by the Council on Foreign Relations. ”It’s looking more and more like Colombia looked 20 years ago.”