More than a trade war: Trump is targeting Mexico

This is what the MAGA "peace movement" is really all about: Might makes right

By Heather Digby Parton


Published May 8, 2024 10:03AM (EDT)

Donald Trump | US-Mexico border fence (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)
Donald Trump | US-Mexico border fence (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)

One of the most inane of all MAGA Republican claims is the insistence by militant right wingers and insurrectionists that they are pacifists. Take, for instance, Marjorie Taylor Greene's claim that Republicans "are the party of peace":

Or Trump who often brags that he had no wars while he was president (unless you count Afghanistan and Syria and large numbers of drone strikes in various places.) 

They aren't the only ones. And I think we can all agree that these are not people anyone would normally describe as flower children even though a New York Times columnist once fatuously described the bellicose Trump as "Donald the Dove." These are the most contentious people in politics and they only get away with proclaiming such nonsense because they have mastered the tactic of getting people to believe up is down and black is white. 

They may be peaceniks but they are champing at the bit for a war of their own and it looks like Mexico will be their enemy of choice.

In recent days we've seen this ridiculous argument deployed by members of Congress to justify their refusal to provide military aid to Ukraine as it fights off Russia's invasion. Some Republicans, like Ohio Sen. J.D. Vance, have asserted that Ukraine can't possibly win so any support is a waste of time. Others blame Joe Biden for Russia's invasion, claiming that it wouldn't have happened if he hadn't "stolen" the election. (Trump is the one who trots that out most often.) And then there's just the general Russophilia in the congressional MAGA crowd. But the most common argument is usually that it's none of our business if Russia and Ukraine are fighting over their borders, especially since we have our own border problems to deal with. 

In other words, Republicans equate the movement of migrant refugees to the U.S. with the Russian military moving into Ukraine and killing vast numbers of people to take over the country. You see, asylum seekers, many of them women and children arriving with nothing more than the clothes on their backs, are little different than soldiers armed with tanks and bombs. So as much as the Republicans want nothing more than peace in our time, they reluctantly admit that America has to defend itself against this marauding horde. 

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One of the main "weapons" these invaders are allegedly using is their culture. This would be the Great Replacement Theory, originally promulgated by a French intellectual to gin up European resistance to Middle Eastern refugees. Here in America, the story goes that they are coming to ruin our great culture (taco trucks on every corner!) and vote for Democrats (even though they can't and don't even try.) 

According to many of those same hysterical Republicans, many of these migrants are terrorists. Trump himself has said that he is "100% certain" that we will have a terrorist attack because "you cannot forget that the same people that attacked Israel are right now pouring at levels that nobody can believe into our beautiful U.S.A. through our totally open border." 

But that's not all.

The MAGA right believes that the fentanyl crisis is a war being waged by the cartels and fought by migrants bringing it over the border. Despite the arguments by the experts at the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) that 95% of the drugs smuggled in from Mexico are in vehicles at legitimate border crossings, these armchair generals are sure that many more drugs are brought into the country between the ports of entry by shadowy armed figures dressed in camouflage who are evading the border patrol. (As you know, the Senate passed a bill to hire more people to work the border but Donald Trump ordered the House of Representatives not to vote for it because it would give Joe Biden a "win," so that was that.) 

The fentanyl crisis is real, no one denies that. But the U.S. has been waging a "war on drugs" for decades. (Talk about a "forever war.") Some of it was just political sloganeering, along the lines of "Just Say No," Nancy Reagan's 1980s anti-drug bumper sticker. But a lot of money has been spent over the years and some very dubious policies that often did more harm than good. One such policy was Plan Colombia, a military initiative adopted in the last years of the Clinton administration to combat cocaine trafficking and the Colombian cartels. It didn't work — but then using the American military or the CIA to fight a "war on drugs" never does. 

But that won't stop the hawks like "Donald the Dove" from doing it anyway. They may be peaceniks but they are champing at the bit for a war of their own and it looks like Mexico will be their enemy of choice. Naturally, they won't actually declare war. America doesn't really do that anymore. No, the plan is to send in Special Forces to "take out" the cartels. 

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This has been on the back burner for a while but as Rolling Stone reported this week, Donald Trump is talking about it quite seriously as something he plans to do very early in his administration should he win in November:

The former president has not presented specific details in public about these plans — for example, how many U.S. troops he’d be willing to send into sovereign Mexican territory. But, the three sources tell Rolling Stone, in conversations with close MAGA allies, including at least one Republican lawmaker, Trump has privately endorsed the idea of covertly deploying — with or without the Mexican government’s consent — special-ops units that would be tasked with, among other missions, assassinating the leaders and top enforcers of Mexico’s powerful and most notorious drug cartels. 

You may recall that former Secretary of Defense Mark Esper wrote that he thought Trump was joking when he told him that he wanted to use patriot missiles to destroy the fentanyl labs in his first administration. (This was in 2020 and he still didn't know that patriot missiles are surface-to-air missiles but whatever.) So I suppose we should be glad that he's dropped that idea as far as we know. Still, this idea of sending in the special forces has since caught on like wildfire in the GOP. 

There are several bills to declare the cartels terrorists, which Trump wanted to do during his first term and authorize the use of force to take military action. Former DHS official Ken Cuccinelli wrote a policy paper that calls for a "defensive war" against Mexico justified on the grounds of drug trafficking and, significantly, migration which is cited often. It says that if these special forces deployments aren't entirely successful the president should send in “elements of the Marines, Army, Navy, Air Force and Coast Guard.” 

All the senators and congressmen agitating for these actions insist that this isn't an invasion but their proposed legislation sure sounds like it's authorizing one. It says the president can use “all necessary and appropriate force” against "foreign nations" if they've "trafficked fentanyl" into the US. What could go wrong? 

Needless to say, Mexican leadership doesn't see it that way, and one must assume the Mexican people wouldn't either. The MAGA leaders, on the other hand, see it as an American prerogative, similar to Russia invading Ukraine for its own purposes. Mexico is the weaker country and so must capitulate and do whatever the stronger U.S. demands or suffer the consequences. The fact that Mexico is our biggest and most important trading partner is irrelevant since the movement doesn't believe in foreign trade anyway. The fact that they are an ally and neighbor just makes it all the more enticing. 

This is what the MAGA "peace movement" is really all about: Might makes right. And they're itching to put it into action.


By Heather Digby Parton

Heather Digby Parton, also known as "Digby," is a contributing writer to Salon. She was the winner of the 2014 Hillman Prize for Opinion and Analysis Journalism.

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Border Commentary Fentanyl Gop Maga Mexico Mtg Peace Republicans Trump War War On Drugs