Label Mexican cartels as terrorists, says former Gov. Hutchinson
With help from Daniel Lippman
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The U.S. should label Mexican drug cartels as foreign terrorist organizations, said former Arkansas Gov. ASA HUTCHINSON, a likely candidate for the 2024 presidential nomination.
The idea has resurfaced in Republican circles due to the cartels trafficking fentanyl — a synthetic opioid responsible for tens of thousands of overdose deaths — into the United States. And it’s become a leading policy proposal by the GOP following the killing of two Americans and the kidnapping of two others by such groups last week. Rep. CHIP ROY (R-Texas) on Friday introduced a bill that would slap the designation on the drug lords — and some Democrats agree with the label.
Hutchinson, a former administrator of the Drug Enforcement Agency and longshot for the presidency, thinks there’s merit to applying the terrorist designation. “They meet the definition,” he told NatSec Daily in an interview. Putting cartels on the State Department’s list would give any administration more economic tools and marshal government resources to combat the groups. “The cartels have to be addressed if we’re going to control our border,” he said.
According to a DEA release from last December, “most of the fentanyl trafficked by the Sinaloa and CJNG Cartels is being mass-produced at secret factories in Mexico with chemicals sourced largely from China.”
Hutchinson doesn’t go as far as other conservatives, like declared 2024 candidate VIVEK RAMASWAMY, who have called for the U.S. military force to root out the cartels. The former governor instead suggests exploring a Plan Colombia-like playbook for Mexico, even though he acknowledges President ANDRÉS MANUEL LÓPEZ OBRADOR would not be a willing partner in the fight against the groups. “He has made an accommodation with the cartels versus confronting them,” Hutchinson claims. The U.S. would need to impose “economic pressure” on Mexico for AMLO to change course, he said.
Hutchinson’s proposal has its detractors. The foreign terrorist organization designation “gives you few –– if any –– tools the government doesn’t already have to go after cartels, and has repeatedly, over different Mexican administrations, offended Mexican governments,” said ROBERTA JACOBSON, a former U.S. ambassador to the country. She also argued “it’s wrongheaded to think we should invade another country to take care of a problem at least largely caused by our own drug demand.” Both these ideas ensure “less cooperation with Mexican authorities to go after those cartels.”
Sen. BOB MENENDEZ (D-N.J.), chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said Sunday on NBC News’ “Meet the Press” that a FTO label “isn’t in and of itself going to change anything.”
More broadly, Hutchinson wants to revive an idea of his former boss GEORGE W. BUSH: that the future of U.S. foreign policy lies in Latin America, even if a new administration must also prioritize the war in Ukraine and a geopolitical bout with China. “The national security interest points south,” he said, and “we ought to be encouraged that we can make a difference.”
The 72 year old also said the U.S. is locked in a struggle against “a Quad power structure” comprising China, Russia, Iran and North Korea — an “expansion” of Bush’s “axis of evil.” The U.S. should deter the “alignment of those true enemies and we don’t want others to join that power structure that opposes freedom and opposes the United States,” he said.
It’s unclear if Hutchinson will get a chance to put his worldview into action. He wasn’t even featured in an 11-candidate Morning Consult poll last week, meaning his chances of the nomination are currently nonexistent. But the governor’s hope is that he will entice voters to his brand of conservatism, which he aims to directly contrast with former President DONALD TRUMP.
“I don’t see Donald Trump as a philosophical conservative. I see him as a Trump populist,” Hutchinson said, contending that the race needs more people who “are conservative, that are able to attract independents and suburban voters and win in a November election.”
PLEASE SUB-SCRIBE: We know you’ve been waiting for 18 months to learn what the nuclear submarine deal known as AUKUS is going to look like. Well, wait no longer. Today’s the day, and Alex and our own PAUL McLEARY have you covered.
The pact between the U.S., U.K. and Australia will come in three phases. Phase 1 involves American and British submarines visiting ports in Australia and embedding those sailors into U.S. and U.K. forces and nuclear power schools. Both the U.S. and U.K. already use nuclear propulsion in their submarines, but Australia does not. Starting as early as 2027, the three countries will participate in a rotational submarine force aptly named Submarine Rotational Forces West.
Once enough Australians have been trained and the country has enough infrastructure to house many subs, then it’s on to Phase 2, where Canberra will buy three Virginia-class nuclear-powered submarines from the U.S. with the option to buy two more if needed. That’ll take place in the 2030s if both U.S. and Australian funding and infrastructure improvements for American shipyards come through.
Phase 3, beginning late in the next decade, is the heart of the agreement. Britain will design and deliver to its own forces a new nuclear-powered submarine named SSN AUKUS, which will feature Virginia-class technologies from the U.S. Australia will do the same for its navy in the early 2040s based on the same new design.
The question, though, is if the U.S. can overcome the many political, economic and technological hurdles to continue this process over decades. That’s the case President JOE BIDEN alongside his counterparts — British Prime Minister RISHI SUNAK and Australian Prime Minister ANTHONY ALBANESE — in about an hour in San Diego.
STRUGGLE OVER BAKHMUT: Russian forces have faced a “very difficult” situation as they’ve approached Bakhmut’s center, coming under heavy artillery and tank fire over the weekend, Wagner Group chief YEVGENIY PRIGOZHIN said.
Ukrainian President VOLODYMYR ZELENSKYY backed up the paramilitary group leader’s analysis, claiming Ukrainian forces have killed more than 1,100 Russian troops in the past week, The Washington Post’s RACHEL PANNETT and JENNIFER HASSAN report.
During a trip to Russia, Chinese leader XI JINPING is expected to speak with President VLADIMIR PUTIN (in person) and Zelenskyy (virtually), seemingly demonstrating Beijing’s interest in facilitating peace between the two, The Wall Street Journal’s KEITH ZHAI reports. It’s unclear when the trip will happen, though it could be as soon as next week.
PENTAGON BUDGET DETAILS: While the Pentagon’s $842 billion budget request keeps the focus on countering China, officials say, it also reflects a new realization: DoD needs to start doing business differently, our own LARA SELIGMAN and LEE HUDSON report.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine revealed production issues in America’s military-industrial base, as arms makers struggled to keep up with the massive new demand for missiles and ammunition. So, for the first time, the Pentagon is asking Congress to fund multi-year purchases of these weapons, instead of placing orders annually. The move, officials hope, will help kick production into higher gear for a future fight.
DoD already uses multiyear contracts for aircraft and ship programs, saying they save money and ensure a steady flow of production. Using those same types of contracts for munitions would give industry a better sense as to how many DoD intends to buy, allowing large defense companies to negotiate bulk orders with their suppliers.
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BOLTON KEPT RUSSIA THEORY FROM TRUMP: Trump’s third national security adviser JOHN BOLTON opted not to brief his boss on the theory that Russia was responsible for so-called “Havana Syndrome” attacks on U.S. officials.
“Since our concern was that one of the perpetrators — maybe the perpetrator — was Russia,” Bolton said, “we didn’t feel we would get support from President Trump if we said, ‘We think the Russians are coming after American personnel,’” he said on an episode of the podcast “The Sound: Mystery of Havana Syndrome.”
The U.S. intelligence community assessed two weeks ago that a foreign adversary was not behind the anomalous health incidents. The Pentagon, however, is funding experiments on animals to recreate the symptoms suffered by multiple American officials, which has sparked outrage from PETA.
Bolton is weighing a 2024 presidential run in part to serve as a counter to Trump on national security. Trump, who has already declared his candidacy, was in Davenport, Iowa today.
DESTROY TSMC?: The U.S. would rather destroy Taiwan’s semiconductor giant TSMC than let it fall into China’s hands, Trump’s fourth national security adviser ROBERT O’BRIEN tells Semafor’s STEVE CLEMONS.
China would be “the new OPEC of silicon chips and would control the world economy” if it seized TSMC, O’Brien said. “The United States and its allies are never going to let those factories fall into Chinese hands, even if there is a successful invasion of Taiwan.
O’Brien didn’t confirm a plan on the books for such an operation, but he did say of TSMC: “I can’t imagine that’d be intact.”
NatSec Daily asked the National Security Council this morning if O’Brien accurately reflected U.S. policy and planning, but did not receive a response by publication time.
Last year, TSMC Chair MARK LIU argued that taking control of the company didn’t automatically mean full stewardship of the global chips market.
MADE IN EUROPE: The European Parliament is divided on whether access to half a billion euros for arms production should be limited to companies inside the European Union, our own SUZANNE LYNCH, EDDY WAX and JACOPO BARIGAZZI report.
Currently, a compromise text leaves the door open to spending at companies outside the E.U as long as that doesn’t conflict with “the security and defense interests of the union and its member states.” But a French-led group in the Parliament is vying to keep the joint defense purchase pot within the borders of the European Union — which opponents are deriding as a power grab for France.
However, “France is not the only country producing weapons in Europe,” said NATHALIE LOISEAU, chair of the parliamentary defense subcommittee, pointing also to Germany, Italy and Poland. While she is open to non-European companies producing the weapons, “they must be produced in Europe,” she added.
On the Hill
DIGGING FOR DIRT: A Democratic-aligned firm made a failed attempt to obtain personal information from the Army National Guard on at least one House Republican candidate, our own OLIVIA BEAVERS reports.
A member of the research firm Due Diligence Group attempted in August to obtain the personnel records of COLIN SCHMITT — a GOP member of the New York state assembly — from the Army National Guard, according to a copy of the request form. Schmitt lost by less than 1.5 percentage points.
The firm’s attempt comes as House Republicans dig into a broader investigation of military records handling after Reps. DON BACON (R-Neb.) and ZACH NUNN (R-Iowa) revealed the “unauthorized release” of their Air Force records to Due Diligence last year. Now, it appears the firm had cast a wider net than previously known.
AUMF VOTE: The Senate is likely to take up votes on the 1991 and 2002 Authorization for the Use of Military Force repeals this Thursday, Punchbowl’s ANDREW DESIDERIO reports.
The bill could pass early next week, right on time for the 20th anniversary of the Iraq War. And here’s an interesting tidbit: “It’s been more than a half-century since both chambers of Congress voted to repeal an authorization for the use of military force,” Desiderio writes.
PUT A PIN IN THE PROGRAM: House Republicans are launching an investigation into an under-the-radar domestic intelligence-gathering program within the Department of Homeland Security, our own JORDAIN CARNEY reports.
The program “raises serious concerns” about the department’s “overreach of its statutory mandate and potential violations of Americans’ fundamental civil liberties,” House Homeland Security Committee Chair MARK GREEN (R-Tenn.), as well as Reps. DAN BISHOP (R-N.C.) and AUGUST PFLUGER (R-Texas) warned in a letter to DHS Secretary ALEJANDRO MAYORKAS on Monday.
Under the program, officials collect information by questioning people within the U.S., leading to employees in DHS’ intelligence office raising concerns that their work could be illegal. Such operations come “at the expense of Americans more than foreign actors who threaten the homeland,” the lawmakers wrote.
COUNCIL, COMMISSION, CHINA: Splits between the European Commission and European Council over how closely to align with the Biden administration’s aggressive stance toward China is starting to show. Some Council officials don’t want to be as hawkish and deride URSULA VON DER LEYEN, the Commission chief, as hewing too closely to the American policy.
“There is a huge risk of conflict here between the United States and China,” one senior Council official told Suzanne and BARBARA MOENS, referring to growing fears that Beijing could attack Taiwan. “Yes, we are a partner of the United States, but we are not a vassal state. We believe that we must not completely decouple from China.”
The Commission is the EU’s executive arm, so has power over trade. But when it comes to geo-political strategy on China — and for the all important issue of sanctions on Beijing — it would ultimately need the approval of the EU’s 27 member states.
— China tapped Gen. LI SHANGFU, who was sanctioned by the Trump administration for purchasing Russian weapons, to be the country’s new defense minister on Sunday.
— JANICE DEGARMO, a State Department veteran who most recently served as director of the Office of Management Strategy and Solutions, is joining the Krach Institute for Tech Diplomacy at Purdue University as its first chief operating officer.
— RAJ IYER is joining ServiceNow as global head of public sector. He most recently was the first civilian CIO at the U.S. Army.
— NAREE KETUDAT is joining DHS as assistant press secretary. She previously was comms director for Rep. TOM MALINOWSKI (D-N.J.).
— JOSEPH WASSEL has been named executive director of the FirstNet Authority. He previously held senior executive positions at the Department of Defense, where he oversaw global technology and communications systems.
— BAE Systems has named LISA MALLOY as its senior vice president for communications. She joins from Intel Corporation, where she most recently served as the head of global government and manufacturing communications.
What to Read
— KAREN KORNBLUH and JULIA TREHU, German Marshall Fund: The New American Foreign Policy of Technology
— JERRY HENDRIX, The Atlantic: The Age of American Naval Dominance is Over
— SERGE SCHMEMANN, The New York Times: Something Is Missing From Americans’ Greatest Fears. It’s the Bomb.
— The Center for Strategic and International Studies, 8 a.m.: Operationalizing Data Free Flow with Trust
— The Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation and Institute, 8:45 a.m.: National Security Innovation Summit
— The Intelligence and National Security Alliance, 9 a.m.: Coffee and Conversation with DOUG WADE
— The National Council on U.S.-Arab Relations, 10 a.m.: The Impact of Growing Military and Civil Instability in the Middle East and North Africa Region
— The German Marshall Fund of the United States, 10 a.m.: A Marshall Plan Blueprint for Ukraine
— The Henry L. Stimson Center, 11 a.m.: Nuclear Proliferation in the Middle East Beyond Iran
— The Multicultural Media, Telecom and Internet Council, ALLvanza and Asian Pacific American Advocates, 12 p.m.: Understanding Artificial Intelligence and Its Impact on Our Communities
— The Johns Hopkins University Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies, 12:45 p.m.: The U.S. and Russia: Why Did Things Go Wrong and Where Do We Go From Here?
— The Henry L. Stimson Center, 1:30 p.m.: Due Diligence in Cyberspace?
— The Center for Strategic and International Studies, 3 p.m.: The IAEA Mission in Ukraine
— The Senate Armed Services Strategic Forces Subcommittee, 3:45 p.m.: U.S. Space Force Programs in Review of the Defense Authorization Request for FY2024 and the Future Years Defense Program
— Georgetown University’s Center for Contemporary Arab Studies, 6:30 p.m.: Black Markets and Militants: Informal Networks in the Middle East and Africa
Thanks to our editor, Heidi Vogt, who is placing “economic pressure” on us to give up this newsletter.
We also thank our producer, Jeffrey Horst, who should get all the money.
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