Aug 10

Past as Prologue in US-Mexican Relations

Friday, August 10, 2018 12:01 AM

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Gen Scott's grand entry into the city of Mexico, Sept. 14th, 1847

Gen Scott’s grand entry into the city of Mexico, Sept. 14th, 1847

U.S. national security relations with Mexico stretch back to the 1840s and the presidency of James K. Polk, when the United States wanted to expand the country’s size. Polk was explicit about his policy goals, one of which was the annexation of California,[1] and he viewed his election as a mandate to annex that territory, as well as others if the opportunity arose. That opportunity materialized when Mexico tried to retake Texas[2]. Polk, without hesitation, convinced Congress to declare war on Mexico. President Polk accomplished more than what his constituents expected.

Today, the United States shares an open border with Mexico, the violence of the cartels is spreading, and there is an immigration problem; with numerous Mexicans crossing the southern border illegally. With tensions escalating between the two countries, could the chances of a second war be increasing? Should U.S. foreign policy and national security be more reminiscent of Polk’s relationship with Mexico, with a stricter stance toward maintaining territory and enforcing citizenship requirements?

HISTORICAL FLASHPOINTS

During James K. Polk’s presidency he presented four goals: reestablish the Independent Treasury System, reduce tariffs, acquire some or all of the Oregon territory from Great Britain, and acquire California from Mexico. Of the goals related to foreign policy, the most critical dealt with Mexico. Between the confirmation of Polk’s goals by the electorate and the upwelling of support for the expansionist ideology of Manifest Destiny, a confrontation with Mexico was nigh-inevitable.[3]

Territorial Map of Mexico with the addition of California. 1836.

Territorial Map of Mexico with the addition of California. 1836.

The border dispute between Texas and Mexico precipitated the conflict.[4] Mexico drew the border at the Nueces River. Polk, however, wanted the line to be south at the Rio Grande. To secure the border, in 1847, he ordered the Army to occupy the territory as soon as possible. A Mexican force attacked a unit of U.S. troops in the same area, killing a number of soldiers. Polk requested Congress to declare war, which ultimately became known as the Mexican-American War.

Five U.S. Army units invaded Mexico[5], but the yeoman’s share of the work was done by the forces of Winfield Scott and Zachary Taylor. Together, the generals executed a two-pronged pincer attack on Mexico from separate landing points, operating individually until they arrived at Mexico City and took control of the city.[6] The war culminated in the signing of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo in 1848, which gave the United States control of the territories.

Despite the gain of more land, the war was still of great debate and disagreement among the northern states. Polk owned slaves and grew up in a slave-owning family, and some argued that he acquired the territory to spread slavery. The controversy almost ended with the proposed Wilmot Proviso amendment, which mandated that slavery not be allowed in the territories acquired from Mexico. The amendment never passed, but further exposed the division between slave and free states.

The next time the United States and Mexico engaged in conflict was in 1916 when Mexican Revolution leader Pancho Villa raided Columbus, New Mexico, and killed 19 people. President Woodrow Wilson sent U.S. Army General John. J. Pershing to capture Villa.

Political cartoon by Clifford Berryman which reflects American attitudes about the expedition.

Political cartoon by Clifford Berryman which reflects American attitudes about the expedition.

Pershing took a few thousand troops into Mexico and fought Villa’s troops but could not catch Villa. With the U.S. entry into World War I, Pershing was recalled to focus on the war in Europe.

Wilson’s military action in Mexico was different from Polk’s. In this case, Wilson found two factors in conflict. He recognized the right of Mexicans to fight a revolution, but felt he could not remain idle while Villa’s forces destroyed lives and property in the United States[7]. Wilson wanted to push back the attack, and send a message to Mexico and Villa not to attack U.S. territory anymore.

THE SITUATION TODAY

In 2014, there were around 12 million immigrants living in the United States illegally, according to the Department of Homeland Security[8]. That is around 3.8 percent of the U.S. population. Mexicans make up the majority of the undocumented population — 55 percent in 2014, according to DHS — but the number and share of Mexicans among this population has been declining in recent years.[9] After President Barack Obama took office in 2008, there was a 35 percent decline in apprehensions.[10] Currently under the President Donald Trump administration, there has been a 43 percent decrease of apprehensions[11]. Relationships with Mexico, however, have been going downhill.

The Mexican drug cartels are one of the reasons. Not only has their spread of violence been noticeable in California, Texas, and New Mexico, but their drug rings also have been a huge detriment to the country. It almost was inevitable that President Trump would want to build a “wall” and start deporting illegals.

The toxic statements by President Trump regarding Mexico have increased the tension between the United States and Mexico, and raise the question of whether there could be a chance of a future conflict. On 14 July, 2018, Mexican President-elect Andrés Manuel López Obrador sent an 11-page letter to Trump stating that he is seeking a “common path”, referring to trade, economic development, migration, and security. President Trump and U.S. officials plan to meet and to try to agree to a deal by the end of August.[12]

From a national security standpoint, the United States has grew more relaxed toward enforcing the borders with Mexico, and the tension at the southern border increased because of it. The United States should stop tolerating Mexican actions, and decide what the right moves should be given the situation at the southern border. James K. Polk walked heavy with Mexico and made it choose between war or peaceful surrender[13]. President Trump should approach the situation in a similar way. The threats of building a wall and deportation of illegals only helps demonstrate to Mexico that the United States is serious about addressing illegal immigration, drugs, and cartel violence. Now with the letter from Mexico’s president asking for peaceful negotiations, it seems Mexico is seeking a peaceful protocol. Our national leaders need to stay aware of the situation with Mexico and be vigilant with illegal immigrants. The United States needs to set a healthy boundary and relationship with Mexico to ensure a zero tolerance policy with illegal immigration, drug cartels, and violence in our nation.

[1] Tate, Michael L. “Pershing’s Punitive Expedition: Pursuer of Bandits or Presidential Panacea?” The Americas 32, no. 1 (1975): 46-71. doi:10.2307/980402.

[2] Robertson, Lori. “Illegal Immigration Statistics.” Illegal Immigration Statistics, June 28, 2018. Accessed July 31, 2018. Factcheck.org.

[3] Robertson, Lori. “Illegal Immigration Statistics.” Illegal Immigration Statistics, June 28, 2018.

[4] Robertson, Lori. “Illegal Immigration Statistics.” Illegal Immigration Statistics, June 28, 2018.

[5] Robertson, Lori. “Illegal Immigration Statistics.” Illegal Immigration Statistics, June 28, 2018.

[6] Montes, Juan. “In Letter to Trump, Mexico’s President-Elect Seeks ‘Common Path’.” July 22, 2018. Accessed July 31, 2018. The Wall Street Journal.

[7] McAFEE, WARD. “A Reconsideration of the Origins of the Mexican-American War.” Southern California Quarterly 62, no. 1 (1980): 49-65. doi:10.2307/41170855.

[8] GREENSTEIN, FRED I. “The Policy-Driven Leadership of James K. Polk: Making the Most of a Weak Presidency.” Presidential Studies Quarterly, vol. 40, no. 4, 2010, pp. 725–733. JSTOR.

[9] King, Rosemary. “Border Crossings in the Mexican American War.” Bilingual Review / La Revista Bilingüe, vol. 25, no. 1, 2000, pp. 66. JSTOR.

[10] GREENSTEIN, FRED I. “The Policy-Driven Leadership of James K. Polk: Making the Most of a Weak Presidency.” Presidential Studies Quarterly, vol. 40, no. 4, 2010, pp. 729. JSTOR.

[11] GREENSTEIN, FRED I. “The Policy-Driven Leadership of James K. Polk: Making the Most of a Weak Presidency.” Presidential Studies Quarterly, vol. 40, no. 4, 2010, pp. 728. JSTOR.

[12] GREENSTEIN, FRED I. “The Policy-Driven Leadership of James K. Polk: Making the Most of a Weak Presidency.” Presidential Studies Quarterly, vol. 40, no. 4, 2010, pp. 728. JSTOR.

[13] King, Rosemary. “Border Crossings in the Mexican American War.” Bilingual Review / La Revista Bilingüe, vol. 25, no. 1, 2000, pp. 64. JSTOR.