Mexico has also quietly begun shifting strategies, from an emphasis on interdicting drugs and dismantling networks to a focus on citizens' safety. "Our obligation is to our people, not to interdicting drugs for the U.S. market," a senior official told me. It's a reprioritization similar to predecessor Mexican administrations.
Both Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have declared "our shared responsibility for the drug violence." But co-responsibility, as they called it, has to mean more than Mérida and intelligence cooperation. We have to get serious about reducing consumption. Forty years after Richard Nixon declared the "War on Drugs," U.S. government drug experts report that 8.9 percent of Americans aged 12 or older -- an astounding 22.6 million people -- are current users of illegal drugs.
Biden repeated the theme of "shared responsibility" in Central America this month -- in addition to wagging his finger at the region's presidents for launching discussions among themselves on decriminalization options, which they call "market alternatives," as they search for ways to take the edge off the narco-violence.
Regional leaders hit the vice president hard for his failure to offer new solutions. "We demand the United States assume responsibility, said Costa Rican President Laura Chinchilla. "Central America is sacrificing the lives, making its enormous sacrifice, and continues to demand that the international community take greater corresponsibility in this struggle."
It's time for Washington to abandon the fiction that the cartels don't operate in the United States. The U.S. government's narcotics-flow maps show the drug trade as fat arrows coursing their way from Colombia through Central America and Mexico -- but they all stop at the U.S. border. The National Drug Intelligence Center has published a list of 235 American cities reporting a Mexican cartel "presence," and that just skims the surface. Ignoring the cartels' vast networks won't make them go away. Co-responsibility also means addressing "southbound" flows -- the U.S. arms and cash that are the raison d'etre of the cartels -- to Mexico, Central America and beyond.
Or if we're unwilling the match the courage that the Mexicans have shown -- and if we just want the Central Americans to follow the same failed strategy -- we must launch a serious dialogue here on legalizing, or at least decriminalizing, the drugs. It's not a perfect solution, but it's better than no solution at all.
It's not in the U.S. national interest to be supplying cash and weapons to both sides of the drug war in Mexico. The United States needs a strategy to win the war or to settle it -- not just arm it and watch from the sidelines, as Mexicans die. Mexico will elect a new government this summer. Regardless which party wins, everyone will lose if we don't get a smart policy in place now.