The first time Donald Trump talked privately about shooting missiles into Mexico to take out drug labs, as far as his former aides can recall, was in early 2020.
And the first time those comments became public was when his second defense secretary, Mark T. Esper, wrote in his memoir that Mr. Trump had raised it with him and asked if the United States could make it look as if some other country was responsible. Mr. Esper portrayed the idea as ludicrous.
Yet instead of condemning the idea, some Republicans publicly welcomed word that Mr. Trump had wanted to use military force against the drug cartels on Mexican soil — and without the consent of Mexico’s government. Mr. Trump’s notion of a military intervention south of the border has swiftly evolved from an Oval Office fantasy to something approaching Republican Party doctrine.
On the presidential campaign trail and on the G.O.P. debate stage in California last week, nearly every Republican candidate has been advocating versions of a plan to send U.S. Special Operations troops into Mexican territory to kill or capture drug cartel members and destroy their labs and distribution centers.
On Capitol Hill, Republican lawmakers have drafted a broad authorization for the use of military force against cartels — echoing the war powers Congress gave former President George W. Bush before the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. They have also pushed for designating Mexican cartels as foreign terrorist organizations — a related idea Mr. Trump flirted with as president but backed off after Mexico hotly objected. Now, if Mr. Trump returns to the White House in 2025, he has vowed to push for the designations and to deploy Special Operations troops and naval forces to, as he put it, declare war on the cartels.
The Republican Party’s attraction to seeking a military solution to the drug problem is a reminder that the G.O.P. — despite its populist shift toward anti-interventionism in the Trump years and the growth of a faction that opposes arming Ukraine against Russia’s invasion — still reaches for armed force to address some complex and intractable problems. Mr. Trump himself has been something of a walking contradiction when it comes to the use of force abroad, alternately wanting to pull back U.S. involvement overseas and threatening to drop bombs on enemies such as Iran.
The plans have angered officials in Mexico. Its president, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, has denounced the proposals as outrageous and unacceptable. It has been more than a century since the United States sent military personnel into Mexico without the Mexican government’s assent. [Continue reading…]