By publicly insisting that we’ll build a border wall and make Mexico pay for it, President Trump has guaranteed that Mexico won’t pony up a single peso. No Mexican president or political party could do so and survive.
At a time when US citizens don’t know our own history, it may seem absurd to ask them to understand how past relations shape Mexico’s identity. But resolving international problems demands that we view the world from the other side: History is fate.
How would we feel if, a few decades after our War of Independence, a neighboring power had seized over half of our territory?
The Mexican-American War of 1846-48 did just that to Mexico, adding not only the Southwest and California to the United States, but today’s Nevada, Utah and even a bite of Wyoming. As a junior officer in that war, Ulysses S. Grant — who would become our greatest general and then president — believed the conflict was shamefully unjust.
Trump’s apparent “joke,” made over the phone Wednesday to Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto about sending troops over the border to fight Mexican gangs, was not well-received, for this and other reasons.
But weren’t we avenging the Alamo and defending Texan freedom? Well . . .
Mexico initially welcomed “Texican” settlers from US territory, but after winning its freedom from Spain, Mexico had outlawed slavery. US arrivals in Texas brought along their slaves and meant to keep them. Davy Crockett, Jim Bowie and the Alamo’s other martyrs weren’t defending universal freedom.
Because of our burgeoning wealth and power, we remained a factor with which Mexico had to reckon. At times, we were just a bully. The last Mexican president before the grim Revolution of 1910 famously said, “Poor Mexico, so far from God and so close to the United States.”
In 1914, President Woodrow Wilson seized the port of Veracruz to protect American interests. We held it for almost a year. In 1916, the US Army mounted a “punitive expedition” into northern Mexico, an invasion in pursuit of Pancho Villa (we didn’t catch him).
History doesn’t matter to us. It’s over, dead — except when activists can distort it to serve their own agendas. But to the rest of the world, from Mexico to China, Iran and Russia, history, to borrow from William Faulkner, “isn’t even past.”
If you were Mexican, how eager would you be to pay for that wall?
The point here isn’t to side with Mexico. Mexico remains a woefully corrupt state with gross internal abuses. Officials — as I learned first-hand — betray their own government and people. But Mexico has made progress. President Peña Nieto took on the mafia-like teachers’ unions, despite violent resistance (something our own pols lack the guts to do). He moved to break the corrupting state monopoly on energy.
And the government’s gotten much tougher on the drug cartels. Over the past quarter-century, Mexico became a true multi-party democracy.
As for NAFTA, it has benefited both sides. Border trade has boomed in both directions. Mexico’s our third-largest trading partner. And our southern neighbor’s developed a vibrant middle class, the social tier that presses for better government.
Our problems with illegals and gang violence now are largely with Central Americans, not Mexicans. Could Mexico do more to help stop the flow?
Absolutely. But cooperation had improved until the wall squabble erupted. And by the way: A tariff on Mexican products to pay for the wall means that US consumers foot the bill, not Mexico.
As for that wall, there are long stretches of the border where more fencing and surveillance are required. But the barrier we really need is a wall of sound laws that are firmly enforced. It’s unfair to blame Mexico when our domestic non-enforcement encourages illegal entry.
“Sanctuary cities” do graver damage than shrugged shoulders in Mexico.
We’d do better bargaining hard for NAFTA improvements than by scapegoating Mexico for our feckless immigration policies. And our corporate-tax codes drive out more jobs than free trade.
Mexico may always frustrate us, but we’re at least equally frustrating to Mexico. And nobody’s going to tow us away from each other.
So we have a choice: We can grow stronger, safer and richer together, or we can squabble and undercut each other, hurting both economies and wasting energies we should reserve for mortal threats and outright enemies.
The other guy’s story matters.
Ralph Peters is a retired United States Army lieutenant colonel, author, and media commentator.