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Keep Your Eye on the Ball

There is a real crisis close to home.

Credit: David Peinado Romero

What a week. As of writing this, the Israel–Palestine conflict is an almost incomprehensible mess, not only as a policy challenge, but even as a mere matter of fact. The Israelis blew up an Episcopalian hospital in Gaza, or a stray Hamas rocket blew up the hospital, or it was an Islamic Jihad rocket, or the hospital wasn’t blown up at all and only the parking lot was damaged. The United States, with the implacable “do something” instincts of people who drive Jeeps with winches, has moved a couple aircraft carriers and some vague but significant number of military personnel into the Eastern Mediterranean. (What are they for? As with the winches, nobody knows.) 

President Biden is in the Holy Land, where he was to powwow with Israeli and Arab leaders to get to the bottom of things. The Arab leaders decided that they did not need to get to the bottom of things and announced, with a shake of Abdullah II’s formidable dewlap, that they would not be attending. That leaves Biden and Benjamin Netanyahu to chat about weather and the Phillies. (This time, at least, you have to feel for Bibi.)


As all that happens, in our imperial capital, the Republicans are beset by their characteristic disarray as they squabble in the House over which of them gets to be the face of the legislation that will inevitably fail in the Senate. No, that’s not quite fair—the new Speaker will also get to be the face of a presidential impeachment that will inevitably fail. The executive branch is using its broad discretionary powers to send ever bigger and badder weapons to Ukraine until such time as the First Branch can get back to its modern raison d’etre, cutting checks for foreign governments.

Meanwhile, somewhere out there—nobody is sure where—Iowa maybe, but it’s impossible to say—Ron DeSantis is still running for president.

All that to say: There’s a lot demanding your attention. There’s a lot demanding my attention, too. When you work in politics and journalism, you find yourself subscribed to all kinds of email lists—sometimes voluntarily, sometimes not. The messages you get are usually destined for an immediate one-way trip to the digital circular file: PR flacks offering interviews with non-entities in entertainment and civil society; news aggregation startups that bought your address from the sadists behind GOP fundraising emails; near-daily advertisements from Adobe for online training sessions on how to read PDFs.

Once in a while, you get something good, something that reminds you to keep your eye on the ball. Saturday morning, I got a press release through the State Department’s Latin America listserv. (Do people still call them listservs?) The “Joint Statement: U.S.-Mexico High Level Security Dialogue 2023” and accompanying meeting fact sheet are illuminating pieces of work, if not exactly encouraging.

It may surprise you to learn that the federal government is spending rather a lot of time and money on “security” with Mexico. There are many large numbers in the fact sheet, referring to the tangible results of American and Mexican law enforcement efforts. Pounds of drugs and precursor chemicals and massive pallets of cash seized at the border, dozens of criminals captured, and so on. These are all to the good. Yet some of the numbers raise eyebrows. A whopping $26 billion, we are informed, go to “public health interventions” for “drug demand reduction and addiction treatment.” What does that entail, we wonder


Further, we are told that USAID is “helping more than 8,000 youth-in-conflict-with-law to develop skills to move away from a life of violence.” The cumbersome formation “youth-in-conflict-with-law” really means “young criminals.” The State Department does not make clear what sort of help they’re giving the young criminals—the federal government has, at best, a spotty record when it comes to “helping” Mexican crooks. While we must hope for the best, here at the office we doubt they mean “putting them in prison.” Yet “putting crooks in prison” is a great Anglosphere-developed technology that has been found to be generally applicable.

“This includes enhancing our efforts to address irregular migration in our hemisphere,” the top matter of the joint statement helpfully indicates. (“Irregular” means “without reference to the rules”; the rules in this case are laws, so one might be tempted to call the phenomenon “illegal migration.”) Yet there are very few numbers in the “Migration” section of the fact sheet, perhaps because the numbers are actually not good. There is one number, in the second to last bullet point of the entire sheet:

Mexico and the United States have implemented the joint initiative that President López Obrador and President Biden announced in January 2023, under which the United States has granted parole to individuals from Cuba, Haiti, Nicaragua, and Venezuela. This approach has expanded legal pathways while imposing consequences for irregular migration. The United States has also repatriated over 17,000 non-Mexicans to Mexico, in cooperation with the Mexican government.

Seventeen thousand. “Expanded legal pathways.”

The mess in the Middle East and the circus in Washington and the 2024 horserace make for flashy headlines. A lot can happen in all the space that isn’t covered by the papers.

Keep your eye on the ball.


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