If utilizing the Mexican military was problematic, depicting U.S. troops on Mexican soil was toxic. Mexican feelings are still raw from two centuries of border conflict with the U.S., and even with violence spinning out of control, the idea of deploying U.S. combat troops is severely unpopular with the Mexican public. However, the U.S. is assisting the Mexican government in other ways, like providing training and technological upgrades for law enforcement, as well as sending U.S. soldiers to Mexico as trainers and advisors - fairly standard for U.S. anti-drug efforts in Latin America.
America's intelligence commitment, on the other hand, has a foot in Clancyland. In November, a magazine article claimed that a diplomatic office in Mexico City actually houses the Office of Bi-National Intelligence, where a host of U.S. intelligence agencies have been given unofficial sanction from President Calderón to conduct espionage activities on Mexican soil, both against cartels and other intelligence targets, like Iran, who have a presence in Mexico City.
This intelligence partnership has yielded successes. The Wikileaks cables recently confirmed that the 2009 killing of Arturo Beltrán Leyva, one of Mexico's most wanted drug lords, was a joint operation between American intelligence and Mexican special ops. In a scene more reminiscent of Rainbow Six than GRAW, a group of Mexican Marines, acting on information from the U.S. Embassy, inserted onto the roof of Beltrán Leyva's apartment complex via helicopter and stormed the building's 12th floor, braving volleys of grenades to engage and neutralize the capo's bodyguards at close range.
But as much as GRAW resembles the cartel war, troubling differences remain. The Ghosts' HUD, which denotes friend from foe, is absent. It would be useful in a country where the cartels dress like police, the police wear masks to avoid retribution, and soldiers moonlight as hitmen. Corruption is endemic - both the country's drug czar and the head of the Presidential protection detail have been arrested for being on cartel payrolls. The President uses the Marines as his cartel headhunters because the army tends to leak information on upcoming raids. Casualties mount daily, and the thought that a squad of American Special Forces could resolve the issue with a black op seems charmingly naive.
The burning car is extinguished; the ambulances have left, CNN has moved on, but the tape in that reporter's camera is still rolling. Fast forward. Present day.
Mexico saw 15,273 narcotics-related homicides in 2010. For perspective, that's 3,657 higher than the number of U.S. Military deaths in Vietnam in 1969. It's a lowball estimate.
Mayor Héctor Murguía now lives in El Paso. During his last campaign, someone dumped a decapitated body on his doorstep.
Ubisoft has announced Call of Juarez: The Cartel. It's an action game about the drug war.
The Mexican government has already called for a ban.
Robert Rath (twitter: @robwritespulp) is a Hawaii-born novelist and freelance journalist living in Austin, Texas. He works as a Researcher and Security Analyst for an international tax and estate planning law firm, providing geopolitical briefings and security recommendations to clients living and traveling abroad.