war, what is it good for?

A lot of people outside Mexico ask me why there is a drug war raging. To this I usually reply: Because Chapo launched one in the early part of the last decade, and because Calderon launched his own in 2006. (The DEA, too, must have played a part with some pressure, because its overseas budget was boosted after Sept. 11, when everyone and their grandmother wanted to link drug trafficking with terrorism.)

But the reality is that nobody wants war. Not the government, not the narcos. Not the DEA, who would really prefer to drive around in their diplo-plated cars and enjoy Mexico rather than trying to rattle cages and get themselves kidnapped or killed.

War hurts business, attracts unwarranted attention, Edgardo Buscaglia, a law professor at Mexico City’s ITAM who covers the drug trade, told me yesterday. “They all lose money during war,” he says.

Very true. The narcos, let’s remember, are not hellbent on death. They are businessmen, first and foremost. (One reason the narcos are more scary than Al Qaeda and radical islamic terrorists, says a journalist friend who covers terrorism, is that they are only interested in money, and have no ideology).

“Legalizing assets is the goal,” says Buscaglia, “not decapitating people.”

So again, why war?

From my reporting, my analysis is that Chapo has become like the Arellano Felix brothers were in the 1990s. He was always ambitious, always greedy, always seeking control. He spotted an opportunity in 2004, killed Rodolfo Carillo Fuentes in Ciudad Juarez, and tried to take over. He also tried to take over the Gulf cartel’s “plaza.”

He hasn’t managed to win, and he is unrelenting. His appetite is insatiable.

Calderon, at the same time, is just as unrelenting as Chapo. He hasn’t managed to win either. And he won’t give up, former DEA agents tell me. He is hellbent on winning, even though he has no concrete goal.

Buscaglia, by the way, disagrees. He effectively believes Calderon and Chapo are fighting toward the same goal: “With the help of the government, the Sinaloa cartel is trying to consolidate its assets, so that they have a common goal. They want returns coming in.”

I would hate to be Calderon right now, accused of fighting a war with or on behalf of Chapo. I personally continue to believe the president, who maintains he is fighting for the good of the country and its people. Unfortunately, I also believed President George W. Bush about Iraq. I don’t believe Iraq was solely about oil, I think it truly was about Bush’s ridiculous ideals of inflicting democracy on the Middle East. And that is what made the whole war in Iraq such a goddamn disaster. If it had been only about oil (money) there would have been more planning, because that’s what people in charge of money-things do; they strategize in order to minimize potential losses. Idealists and wacko faith-based politicians simply dive in HOPING for the best. In love, that’s a fine thing to do, but in war, it’s just stupid.

PS – Given that Buscaglia is clearly the man of the moment, being quoted everywhere, where is Jorge Chabat these days? Haven’t heard from him in eons. Wonder if there’s some cat-fighting going on in the Mexican narco-academic world.