The 5 Dumbest Things the Obama Administration Has Said About Mexico's Drug War

How the Obama administration talks to its neighbors about drugs.


At last week's Summit of the Americas, President Barack Obama reiterated his belief that the war on drugs is winnable, and that the alternative—legalization or decriminalization—isn't one the U.S. is willing to consider. This despite the fact that an increasing number of Central and South American governments are considering those very alternatives.

Despite campaign promises to scale back the war on drugs, Obama has been a hardliner since the first day of his administration. Nowhere is this more obvious than in the talking points the Obama administration has used to justify its proxy war with Mexico's drug traffickers, which has wreaked havoc on our southern neighbor. Unlike in the U.S., where Obama is careful to sound open-minded and compassionate about the effects of the drug war, when it comes to Mexico, the American position is defined by vulgarity, condescension, dishonesty, and nonchalance. 

Read five of the worst, if not the five worst statements made by the Obama administration about Mexico's drug war below. 

5.) "Our insatiable demand for illegal drugs fuels the drug trade. Our inability to prevent weapons from being illegally smuggled across the border to arm these criminals causes the deaths of police officers, soldiers and civilians."

Who said it: Hillary Clinton, Secretary of State

Why she's wrong: Dozens of news organizations cited Clinton's (and Obama's) claim that American guns are the weapons of choice in Mexico's drug war, but that's simply not true. "Many of the weapons are stolen from the Mexican military and police, often by deserters," Jacob Sullum wrote in 2009. "Some are smuggled over the border from Guatemala; others come from China by way of Africa or Latin America. Russian gun traffickers do a booming business in Mexico." Additionally, "the futile effort to stop Americans from consuming politically incorrect intoxicants is the real source of the violence in Mexico, since prohibition creates a market with artificially high prices and hands it over to criminals."

4.) "The danger here is on several fronts. Number one is the tremendous violence. I think the numbers that Mexican officials have mentioned are 150,000 who have died by violence, mainly between cartels in Mexico."

Who said it: Leon Panetta, director of the CIA

Why he's wrong: While the drug war in Mexico has been outrageously deadly, the highest publicly available estimate of drug war casualties during the presidency of Felipe Calderon, tallied by NGOs and journalists, is roughly 50,000. The Mexican government says even that number is too high. Either Panetta knows something the Mexican government doesn't know, or the director of America's biggest intelligence agency mistated the number of people killed in a U.S.-backed war by a factor of three.  

3.) "It's worth debating [legalization] in order to lay to rest some of the myths that are associated with the notion of legalization. The debate always occurs, understandably, in the context of serious violence that occurs with the society, particularly in societies that don't have the institutional framework and the structure to deal with organized, illicit operations."

Who said it: Joe Biden, vice president of the United States

Why he's wrong: A couple of reasons. The first is that the real "myths" associated with legalization, as demonstrated by Portugal, are the ones being spread by the White House and its agencies. Second, while the legalization debate may "always" occur in countries destabilized by drug war violence, it doesn't occur only in those countries. The debate over prohibition is alive and well, for instance, in the United States, where violence is historically low. The president's drug control strategy, heinous as it is, even admits that violence isn't the only negative externality of the war on drugs. There's also the effect on employment, education, and family stability.

2.) "Ladies and gentlemen, I believe that this process of collaboration under the Merida Initiative will eventually succeed because of a very simple reason for Mexico as well as for the United States: We cannot lose, because if we lose we will say to the generations that come after us 'you are condemned to live in a disgusting and repulsive world,' and that's a conversation I do not want to have with my children or grandchildren in years to come."

Who said it: William Brownfield, assistant secretary, Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, U.S. State Department

Why he's wrong: A world in which human beings can freely recreate in ways that do not harm their neighbors is not objectively disgusting or repulsive. Drug use dates back to antiquity and will likely accompany us to the end of time. It's arguably not worth shedding blood over. 

1.) "It may seem contradictory, but the unfortunate level of violence is a sign of success in the fight against drugs….[cartels] are like caged animals, attacking one another."

Who said it: Michele Leonhart, director of the Drug Enforcement Administration

Why she's wrong: In 2011, the Child Rights Network in Mexico estimated that nearly 1,000 children had been killed in drug-related violence between 2006, when Felipe Calderon ramped up the Mexican drug war, and 2010. In 2011, a drug-related casino bombing in Mexico killed 52 people, most of them elderly. So it's not just cartel fighters killing each other. But even if it were—calling them "animals" doesn't reflect well on Obama's "compassionate" drug policy. 

Mike Riggs is an associate editor at Reason magazine.