By Rich Oppel
The New York Times
Gov. Rick Perry of Texas said on Saturday that as president, he would consider sending American troops into Mexico to help defeat drug cartels and improve border security. He indicated that any such action would be done “in concert” with the Mexican government.
“It may require our military in Mexico working in concert with them to kill these drug cartels and to keep them off of our border and to destroy their network,” Mr. Perry said during a campaign appearance here.
“I don’t know all the different scenarios that would be out there,” he said. “But I think it is very important for us to work with them to keep that country from failing.”
Sending soldiers into Mexico — even with the approval of the Mexican government — would represent a far more aggressive policy than the one employed by Washington in recent years, despite the stepped-up surveillance and logistical aid that has been provided to Mexican authorities.
The idea would also almost certainly be a nonstarter with Mexican authorities. Mexico lost half of its territory to the United States in the 1850s, and ever since it has been very sensitive to the idea of any involvement by American troops in its territory.
Mr. Perry’s comments seemed to be his latest effort to show that he is tough on border security and illegal immigration after being painted by rivals for the Republican presidential nomination as being soft on the subject.
His stance on that issue appears to have cost him in some polls, especially after his statement during the last debate that those who disagree with his immigration position were heartless. He later backpedaled and said that the description was inappropriate.
Mr. Perry made the comments about potentially sending troops into Mexico while describing his hopes for increased cooperation with the Mexican government, and he said that if he were elected president, he would work hard to “create a very trusting relationship” with his counterpart in Mexico.
His comments also suggested that he might pursue a far more interventionist military and foreign policy in Mexico, one that is much more expansive that even the widened approach that the Obama administration has sought.
The United States has already been sending drones deep inside Mexico to gather intelligence about drug trafficking. And the Obama administration has also let Mexican authorities mount cross-border operations against drug traffickers from inside the United States. But Mexican President Felipe Calderon kept those operations secret in order to avoid legal and political protests from his opponents.
Deputy Secretary of State William J. Burns recently said that the scope of the American cooperation with Mexico would be strictly limited and defined.
“There are clear limits to our role,” Mr. Burns said. “Our role is not to conduct operations. It is not to engage in law enforcement activities. That is the role of the Mexican authorities. And that’s the way it should be.”
A Perry campaign spokesman, Robert Black, emphasized that what Mr. Perry was talking about was a cooperative arrangement with Mexican officials and that he wanted to “look at all options to work with the Mexican government.”
Asked whether Mr. Perry would ever consider sending American troops into Mexico without that government’s consent, Mr. Black said: “That’s way big hypotheticals. He’s going to work with the Mexican government to do what is necessary.”