There is nothing on the planet scarier than a bored US military industrial complex. As much fun as I have in today’s video dunking on Russia and China, I think they’re probably not quite as far down as the recent headlines indicate. But there’s a lot going on, from Ukraine to Iran, that makes one wonder if the US is going to be running out of enemies shortly. What happens then, is that the US will go looking for new enemies. One of my greatest fears, is that Washington, DC is dumb enough to go looking for those enemies in Mexico, a place we’ve had the good sense to more or less keep our nose out of for the past century. In today’s video I lay out the history behind the past century’s more hands-off policy.
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Video Transcript after the jump…
You guys know that Mexico is potentially much more dangerous to the United States than Russia or China right? This is one of the most important lessons of the early 20th century, and from the New York Times to Senate Republicans, I fear that US elites may be forgetting it.
Over the past couple years, as Russia and China have been (beclowning themselves) Thelma and Louise-ing it off the stage of meaningful geopolitical action, I have become more and more convinced that we are at the start of the second American century. The main risk for the United States, as it has been since the 1950s, is that the Military Industrial Complex will drag us into another pointless war, on somebody else’s turf, where all of our massive advantages will be meaningless.
With a column last week, it became clear that that military industrial complex, personified by Bret Stephens, the war-happiest columnist at the New York Times, is turning its eye towards Mexico. That’s insane.
The US’s greatest defense from Washington DC’s stupidity has always been the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. When we kept France’s war in Vietnam going from the 1950s to the 1970s, it was Laos and Cambodia that suffered, not us. When we destroyed Iraq, Libya and Syria, it was Europe that had to deal with the refugee and Brexit consequences, not us. If we destabilize Mexico, a country that shares a nearly 2,000 mile border with the United States, the story will be very different.
Now in the 19th century, we didn’t have this danger. Before cars, and before transcontinental railways, when Mexico was significantly more remote from the United States than Afghanistan is today, we were able to screw with Mexico quite successfully. In the US’s aggressive war against Mexico between 1846 and 1848 US President James K. Polk stole away much of today’s Western United States.
There wasn’t really much blowback from this, because back then, like the US, Mexico was still kind of an embryonic state, with a history shorter than a human lifetime. The Mexican territory the US stole was not as empty as we like to pretend, there were serious populations, and even cities, but their loyalties to Mexico City were tenuous, and Mexico simply didn’t have the money necessary to tie these remote locations in more closely.
So in the 1840s, the US didn’t just survive messing with Mexico, we profited massively. That was not the case 70 years later, when the United States intervened to make the Mexican Revolution worse, and got burned, badly.
Porfirio Diaz, the Mexican President who ran the country almost uninterruptedly from 1876 to 1911 deserves his bad reputation. He was a Dictator, and his holding on to power set the stage for the bloody revolution that killed over a million Mexicans between 1911 and 1920. But Diaz also did a pretty good job at raising the stakes for any US invasion. Diaz built railroads that knit the country together, bringing the country from a few hundred miles of track in the 1870s to over 15,000 in 1911. The rapacious capitalism Diaz encouraged built revolutionary pressures, but it also made the country a lot more powerful, building a much more consolidated and nationally conscious country on the other side of the US border.
When Diaz’s dictatorship dissolved into revolution, the United States thought we could push the country around just as easily as we did in the 1840s. We were very wrong. The first stage of the Mexican Revolution was similar in many ways to the US revolution. Except it was much calmer and quicker.
After just a year of chaos and some fighting, Mexico found itself with a democratically elected President in November 1911. Francisco Madero was a lot like the men who founded the United States. He was a massively wealthy beneficiary of the previous system, who wanted rule of law, less corruption and maybe a slightly better deal for the Mexican people if it didn’t cost the wealthy too much, and a little more independence from the United States and other foreign powers. He was no fire breathing revolutionary. But we killed him anyway.
At this point I would like to introduce the worst diplomat in US history. Henry Lane Wilson wasn’t just a criminal. He wasn’t just in bed with corrupt Mexican elites who wanted bad things for their country. Those are disturbingly common traits for American officials abroad. What makes Wilson the worst ever is the fact that he is probably the only diplomat you can point to who is directly responsible for an invasion of the United States.
Madero had many problems beyond the US Ambassador. He was a boring centrist trapped between socialists who wanted more revolution, and the old elite that was constantly trying to murder him. But Ambassador Wilson was probably Madero’s single most powerful enemy. Wilson organized the international media and diplomatic world against the new Mexican government. After Madero survived at least two right wing uprisings against his rule, Wilson decided to actively assist a third. The Power sharing agreement for the new government was hammered out at the US embassy. Wilson knew about the timing of the coup before it happened. And most historians agree that Wilson gave tacit US approval to the murder of Mexico’s democratically elected President and Vice President after they were already in custody.
With this coup in early 1913, Ambassador Wilson turned a fledgling democracy into a military dictatorship under Victoriano Huerta, who became one of the most reviled figures in Mexican history. And by signing off on President Madero’s murder, Wilson turned the Mexican Revolution from a two year thing into a ten year thing.
Ambassador Wilson created the radical revolutionary mess that he had accused President Madero of overseeing. When the new US president, confusingly also named Wilson realized what the Ambassador had done, he quickly removed him. President Wilson was a famous racist and imperialist, but what Ambassador Wilson had done was too much even by his standards. Unfortunately the damage had already been done. Mexico’s chance at steady moderate reform had been killed by US meddling. The seven years of chaos that ensued were horrible for Mexico, and humiliating for the United States. On March 3, 1916 an invading army attacked the United States for the first time since 1812. Pancho Villa’s rebels were quickly turned back, but a Texas town was destroyed. The year long punitive expedition that followed failed to find Pancho Villa, and made the US look ridiculous as World War One was raging in Europe.
The military consequences were dire, but the US government probably cared more about the economic and domestic consequences. The war stopped most business between the countries and required expensive and corrupting security measures across all the US border states. In response to all this disaster, the United States government did something it almost never does. It learned a lesson.
Ten years of chaos showed that Mexico was just too close to screw with the way we do everybody else. No matter how much more powerful we are, a nearly 2,000 mile border means Mexico can hurt us in ways that nobody else can. So for 100 years we have arguably respected Mexican freedom more than anybody else’s.
In 1938, the Mexican government nationalized its oil industry, expropriating the assets of a bunch of powerful US companies… and the United States did nothing.
In most of the world, the CIA is a pretty useless organization. But in Latin America it’s different. Most American countries have racial hierarchies that are similar to our own, and white elites who are eager to use US resources to hold onto power. So throughout the cold war, the CIA was able to install anti-communist military dictatorships almost everywhere south of the border. Any Latin American politician that dared to talk about land reform or even taxes on US companies was risking his life. But not in Mexico. From 1929 to 2000, Mexico was a one party state. Incredibly, throughout the cold war, Mexico was governed by the Partido Revolucionario Institucional, the Institutional Revolutionary Party. The United States government that spent 50 years murdering milquetoast Central American centrists and catholic priests for saying anything mildly left leaning, somehow overlooked the institutional revolution directly over the border. Because Mexican stability really matters to the United States. It was too important to let our idiot Cold Warriors anywhere near it.
To be clear, the US was definitely involved behind the scenes. By the 1970s, and certainly the 1980s, any revolution had been comprehensively bribed out of Mexican elites. But we were always careful, because we remembered how dangerous Mexico can be when we stick our noses in too far. And of course there’s the whole matter of US drug laws. Without the lunacy of US drug enforcement policy, Mexico would probably be as developed as Poland, or at least Turkey is today. But that’s a very complicated subject we don’t have the time to get to in this video.
For nearly a century, the United States has been smart enough to treat Mexico differently. Because we learned the lesson of the Mexican Revolution. But I fear we may be forgetting that lesson.
A century after the Mexican Revolution we are beginning to get US political figures who seem to want to follow in Ambassador Henry Lane Wilson’s footsteps. Tom Cotton, one of the US Senate’s most abject lackeys of the defense industry, has been suggesting a US invasion of Mexico for years. Thankfully, nobody takes Tom Cotton seriously. What’s more worrying is the fact that Bret Stephens of the New York Times opinion page, a military industrial complex mouthpiece that a disturbing amount of people do take seriously, now seems to be on the destabilize Mexico bandwagon as well..
The November 22nd article, Will Mexico Be the Next Venezuela? May seem reasonable to US readers. I have some complaints about Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador as well. The Mexican President, commonly known as AMLO, seems to be pretty bad at his job. But countries sometimes have bad presidents. That’s how democracy works. What Stephens does in this article is further the process of demonizing AMLO, and making him personally responsible for Mexico’s many problems. This is most obvious on the topic of militarization. The Economist has also been talking a lot about AMLO’s militarization of Mexico as well.
If you have seen any other video on this channel, you know that I am a huge opponent of the militarization of any country and Mexico’s current president is making it worse. But is this really just about AMLO? Do you think Mexico’s militarization has something to do with the massive acceleration of Mexico’s war on drugs over the past decade, which was heavily encouraged by the United States?
Hilariously in this article Stephens condemns AMLO both for the militarization and for not drug warring hard enough. He doesn’t seem to see the contradiction. What this article is trying to do to AMLO, is exactly what Ambassador Wilson did to Mexican President Madero over a century ago. By making a country’s problems all about one man, you create the fiction that if you remove him, that country’s problems will disappear. That’s never been true, not in Iraq, not in Libya, not in Venezuela or anywhere else, but it’s a central Washington DC fantasy.
Nobody other than Tom Cotton would seriously suggest an invasion of Mexico today, but if the demonization of AMLO continues, it’s not hard to imagine a trajectory that would lead to an Iraq or Vietnam scale war in this hemisphere.
Whether it’s the CIA, JSOC, the DEA or some other acronym, the US government could easily destabilize the Mexican political system, by forcing the assassination or removal of AMLO. If that happens, the already appalling level of narcotics related violence might be supercharged by political violence. That violence could then easily spill over the US-Mexico border. Pancho Villa’s 1916 raid killed 18 US citizens. It’s easy to imagine a scenario where spill over from a destabilized 21st century Mexico kills 18 US citizens a day. If that happened, the pressure for a US invasion of Mexico would become irresistible. That’s a vastly more dangerous scenario for US empire than the loss of Taiwan, Ukraine and Israel combined. And people like Tom Cotton and Bret Stephens are already creating the ideological infrastructure necessary to bring it about.
Now, I am not saying that this is going to happen, or even that it is likely. But in 2022 the US looks like it might be running out of enemies. From Iran to China and Russia, the clownish despots that people like Stephens have been tarting up for decades all look vulnerable. We might need a new enemy to keep our defense budgets inflated. And the Military Industrial Complex is already looking South.