Summary: I have written for ten years about the deterioration of the Mexican state and its terrible implications for America. I stopped because too few cared. This year Mexico’s decline accelerated. Its people are staring into a bloody future. Whatever happens, the effects on us will be immense. We should pay attention.
By William S. Lind at Traditional Right, 8 November 2019.
Posted with his generous permission.
A recent event in Culiacan, Mexico should have drawn a lot of attention but didn’t: a Fourth Generation entity, the Sinaloa Cartel, took on the Mexican state and beat it, not just strategically but tactically. It did so by demonstrating a remarkably rapid OODA Loop, far faster than the state’s. This is a sign of things to come, not just in Mexico but in many places.
The most perceptive piece I have seen on these events was in the October 20 Cleveland Plain Dealer, “Gun battle involving El Chapo’s son highlights challenges to government” by Mary Beth Sheridan of the Washington Post. It states …
“What happened this past week was unprecedented. When Mexican authorities tried to detain one of El Chapo’s sons, hundreds of gunmen with automatic weapons swept through the city, sealing off its exits, taking security officials hostage and battling authorities. After several hours, the besieged government forces released Ovidio Guzman, who was wanted on U.S. federal drug-trafficking charges. …
“The offensive in Culiacan. …exposed one of the country’s foremost problems: the government’s slipping control over parts of the territory. There are an increasing number of areas “where you effectively have a state presence, but under negotiated terms with whoever runs the show locally,” said Falko Ernst, the senior Mexico analyst for the International Crisis Group. …
“Thursday afternoon’s attack came on the heels of several incidents highlighting the ability of organized crime groups to challenge the government. On Monday, gunmen ambushed a convoy of state police in the western state of Michoacan, killing 14. Last month, the Northeast Cartel ordered gas stations in the border city of Nuevo Laredo to deny service to police or military vehicles, leaving them desperate for fuel.”
All this is happening not in the Hindu Kush but on our immediate southern border. That alone should have drawn greater attention from a defense establishment fixated on non-threats from Russia and China. But there is more here than meets the eye.
Normally, when states fight non-state forces in Fourth Generation war, the state loses strategically but wins tactically. Here, non-state forces won tactically as well, and won big. They were at least as well equipped as the Mexican state forces. But what was really impressive was their speed in the OODA Loop. Apparently caught by surprise by the state’s seizure of one of their leaders, they were able to respond massively within a few hours. They took complete control of a city of about a million people, isolating and surrounding the unit that had captured Ovidio Guzman. The President of Mexico was forced to order his release.
The cartel’s ability to observe, orient, decide, and act much faster than the state is not a surprise. Years ago, when John Boyd was still alive, a friend of mine who was a Marine officer was in Bolivia on a counter-drug mission. I asked him how the Bolivian state’s OODA Loop compared with the traffickers. He said, “They go through it six times in the time it takes for us to go through it once.” When I told Boyd that, he said, “Then you’re not even in the game.”
4GW forces’ superior speed through the OODA Loop, in turn, has several causes. They are fighting Second Generation militaries, where decision-making is centralized and therefore slow. States are bureaucratic entities, and bureaucrats avoid making decisions and acting because it can endanger their careers. The motivation of state forces is often poor because they have little loyalty to the corrupt and incompetent states they serve; mostly, to them its a job that offers a paycheck. In contrast, most 4GW forces have no bureaucracy, decentralize decision-making because they have to, and have fighters with genuine loyalty to what they represent. Why? Money, plus what local women cited in the PD article explained …
“She acknowledged that the cartel members were part of the social fabric, sometimes more effective at resolving problems than authorities. For example, if your car is stolen, it is more likely you would get it back by contacting cartel members through an acquaintance than by waiting for the police to crack the case, she said.”
The drug cartels represent the future in many respects. They do not seek to replace the state or openly capture it, which would make them vulnerable to other states; rather, they hide within its hollowed-out structures and are protected by its formal sovereignty. They make lots of money while states go begging. They provide social services the state is supposed to offer but does not. Their highly-motivated forces with flat command structures have a faster OODA Loop than the state’s. And locally, they often appear more legitimate than the state.
Again, all this is happening right next door. Why can our national security establishment not read the words already written on the border wall we so desperately need? Those words are, “Fourth Generation war.”
I agree with all of this except for one aspect of Lind’s conclusion. The goals of individuals and organizations matter little. Events push us into unexpected futures. Nature abhors vacuums of all kinds, including vacuums of political power. The cartels might be happy as successful criminals, but the State’s weakness might force them to expand their power. That will inevitably force a cage match with the Mexican government. If so, then only one can survive. The leaders of the cartels know that It’s Good To Be King.
Whatever happens, the effects on the United States will be immense. Our influence on these events in Mexico will be slight.
Question:..“What nation poses the greatest threat to the sovereignty of the US?”
— Briefing circa 1994 by a geopolitical expert to the CIA. They were incredulous then; today they probably understand.
About the author
William S. Lind is director of the American Conservative Center for Public Transportation. He has a Master’s Degree in History from Princeton University in 1971. He worked as a legislative aide for armed services for Senator Robert Taft, Jr., of Ohio from 1973 to 1976 and held a similar position with Senator Gary Hart of Colorado from 1977 to 1986. See his bio at Wikipedia.
Mr. Lind is author of the Maneuver Warfare Handbook (1985), co-author with Gary Hart of America Can Win: The Case for Military Reform (1986), and co-author with William H. Marshner of Cultural Conservatism: Toward a New National Agenda (1987). Most importantly, he is one of the co-authors of “Into the Fourth Generation“, the October 1989 article in the Marine Corps Gazette describing fourth-generation warfare.
He’s perhaps best known for his articles about the long war, now published as On War: The Collected Columns of William S. Lind 2003-2009. See his other articles about a broad range of subjects…
- His posts at TraditionalRight.
- His articles about geopolitics at The American Conservative.
- His articles about transportation at The American Conservative.
For More Information
- STRATFOR gives A New Way to Think About Mexican Organized Crime.
- Stratfor looks at the drug cartel’s insurgency against Mexico.
- Stratfor: Mexico’s entrepreneurs provide the fentanyl that America wants!
- Trump wants to defend our borders. Democrats protest.
Two books about Mexico’s cartels
Books by Ioan Grillo, a journalist based in Mexico City. He has covered Latin America since 2001 for major news media. He was fascinated by these figures who made $30 billion a year, were idolized in popular songs, and eluded the Mexican army and DEA. He has visited endless murder scenes on bullet-ridden streets, mountains where drugs are born as pretty flowers, and scarred criminals in prison cells and luxury condos. See his website. See his columns in the New York Times.