Tom Cotton Files Bill to "Eliminate the Jalisco Cartel Leadership" [FEATURE]

Submitted by David Borden on (Issue #1205)
Drug War Issues
Politics & Advocacy

In a fine bit of political performance art, Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) last week rolled out the Jalisco Cartel Neutralization Act, which would require the Department of Defense (DoD) to give Congress a briefing every 90 days on its efforts to eliminate the leadership of the Jalisco New Generation Cartel (NJGC). Rep. Morgan Luttrell (R-TX) filed companion legislation in the House.

[image:1 align:right caption:true]It is not clear just exactly what US military involvement in efforts to "capture or kill" members of a Mexican drug trafficking organization consists of, but Cotton and company want to be briefed on it.

Cotton's press release announcing the legislation was even more dramatic -- "Cotton to Pentagon: Eliminate the Jalisco Cartel Leadership," it screamed, seeming to demand action by the military rather than, as the text of the bill indicates, demanding briefings. Cotton claimed that "the bill renews pressure on the administration to capture or kill the leaders of the Jalisco New Generation Cartel, the most brutal and dangerous cartel operating in Mexico," although, again, it only demands briefings.

"Mexican drug cartels continue to kill Americans at a rate higher than any terrorist group in history," Cotton said in his press release. "Even by the standards of drug cartels, the Jalisco New Generation Cartel is especially violent and poses a direct threat to the security of Americans in border states and beyond. It's past time that the Biden administration develops a strategy to hold these murderers accountable."

Rep. Lutrell weighed in, too, warning that "the Jalisco cartel cannot remain emboldened at our border and that the United States military must be ready to engage and eliminate the Jalisco cartel, should it be determined the best course of action is to use the Armed Forces of our great country."

Notably, Cotton and Lutrell fail to mention the root cause of both massive American drug overdose deaths in an unregulated market and the rise of bloody, ruthless drug traffickers: drug prohibition.

Cotton's bill is unlikely to go anywhere in the Democratic-controlled Senate, but that's not the point. The point is to do the hard right version of virtue-signaling (macho-signaling?) and score political points with the MAGA base by trumpeting how tough he can be on those villainous drug traffickers. He is by no means alone in the Republican ranks.

In the past year, Republican politicians and presidential candidates were in a heated competition this year to see who could be the most bellicose when it comes to confronting the Mexican drug trafficking organizations that supply our insatiable demand for cocaine, fentanyl, heroin, and meth.

Whether in the halls of Congress or on the campaign trail, attacking the cartels has proven much more appealing to those beating the war drums than coming up with policies that would actually ameliorate some of the harms of the illicit drug marketplace -- up to and including turning it into a licit, regulated drug marketplace.

They got off to an early start. Last March, Reps. Dan Crenshaw (R-TX) and Tim Walz (R-FL) filed a resolution, HJ Res. 18 "to authorize the use of United States Armed Forces against those responsible for trafficking fentanyl or a fentanyl-related substance into the United States or carrying out other related activities that cause regional destabilization in the Western Hemisphere."

That same month, House rightists led by Rep. Chip Roy (R-TX) filed a bill designating the cartels as foreign terrorist organizations. Sens. John Kennedy (R-LA) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC) filed companion legislation, the cutely named Ending the Notorious, Aggressive and Remorseless Criminal Organizations and Syndicates (NARCOS) Act of 2023 in April.

Also in March, Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-SC) added some unintentional levity to the mix when she told her two million Twitter followers that the cartels had planted bombs on US soil at the border to terrorize Americans and kill or injure Border Patrol agents and posted a photo of what she claimed was a "bomb." "This changes everything!" she hyperventilated as she called on the US military to "take action" and "end this Cartel led war against America!" But her bomb was only a bag of sand.

In April came reports that Donald Trump was seeking a plan to wage war on the cartels and had been briefed on options that include US troop deployments on Mexican territory and unilateral military strikes.

Trump's would-be challengers for the GOP presidential nomination were ready to one-up him, though, with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis especially eager to get to shooting people. In June, he called for executing drug smugglers at the border.

Being tough on the border is a theme DeSantis has returned to repeatedly. In August, he doubled down on his vow of deadly force against the cartels. "Day one, we're declaring it to be a national emergency," DeSantis said. "I'm going to do what no president has been willing to do. We are going to lean in against the cartels directly, and we are going to use deadly force against them." And then he >tripled down: "We're authorizing deadly force. They try to break into our country? They will end up stone-cold dead," he said.Not to be outdone, former South Carolina governor Nikki Haley called for siccing US special forces on the cartels. "When it comes to the cartels, we should treat them like the terrorists that they are," Haley said. "I would send special operations in there and eliminate them just like we eliminated ISIS and make sure that they know there's no place for them. If Mexico won't deal with it, I'll make sure I deal with it," she added.

As for the Republican frontrunner, former president and current defendant in numerous criminal and civil cases Donald Trump has his own plans to deploy the US military against the cartels. As part of a broader strategy to crack down on immigration and the border that includes vetting migrants to ensure that no "Marxists" are let in, Trump plans at least two policies that take direct military aim at Mexican drug cartels. The first policy would deploy Coast Guard and US Navy ships to stop drug smuggling boats and the second would designate drug cartels as "unlawful enemy combatants," which would allow the US military to target them in Mexico. That is the same designation used to detain 9/11 suspects for decades at Guantanamo.

Tom Cotton's bill is only the latest iteration of Republican posturing about taking action against the cartels. As with the border security bill they insisted on for months until they got it and then rejected it, the Cotton bill is more theater than serious policy. And in this case, that's probably a good thing.

Permission to Reprint: This content is licensed under a modified Creative Commons Attribution license. Content of a purely educational nature in Drug War Chronicle appear courtesy of DRCNet Foundation, unless otherwise noted.

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