Mexico's current government took office on Dec. 1, 2006, but really only assumed power 10 days later, when Felipe Calderón, winner of a close presidential election that his leftist opponent petulantly refused to concede, donned a military jacket, declared an all-out war on organized crime and drug trafficking, and ordered the Mexican army out of its barracks and into the country's streets, highways, and towns. The bold move against odious adversaries (and change of topic) garnered Calderón broad support from the public and the international community, along with raised eyebrows among Mexico's political, business, and intellectual elites.
Three years and 15,000 deaths later, Calderón's war still commands support at home and backing from abroad, mainly from Barack Obama's administration, though skepticism about the Mexican president's strategy is spreading, as Rubén Aguilar and I discovered when we published El Narco: La Guerra Fallida last fall and found ourselves in the middle of a vigorous debate about where our country is headed. It is long overdue.
The Mexican drug war is costly, unwinnable, and predicated on dangerous myths. Calderón has deployed everything from distorted statistics to bad history as weapons to convince the country, and the world, that the war must be joined.
As Americans are painfully aware, wars predicated on false pretenses that pursue ill-defined aims usually turn into regrettable quagmires. Mexico is still far from being a failed state, but it is already entangled in a failed war. Until and unless it abandons the false narrative of the war as the necessary defense of a desperate land besieged by bad guys, it will be in serious danger of becoming one.