While Donald Trump has issued saber-rattling threats against border crossers, saying deployed U.S. service members may need to use lethal force if they feel threatened, U.S. and Mexico military authorities are working behind the scenes and keeping things calm by ignoring the president.
According to a report at Buzzfeed, the U.S. military has worked hard for decades to create a cooperative atmosphere with their Mexican counterparts, only to see Trump heighten tensions with incessant attacks on border-crossers and demands to build a wall between the two countries.
“Up until now, the political tensions have somehow not contaminated the relationship of military and intelligence cooperation,” explained National Autonomous University of Mexico security expert Raúl Benítez-Manaut.
However, there are fears that Defense Secretary James Mattis may step down and some Pentagon staffers worry his replacement may see eye to eye with Trump on the military at the border.
“If that happens, it will no longer be the president saying these things and the secretary behind closed doors saying ‘don’t worry about it,’” remarked Craig Deare, who served early in Trump’s administration in the National Security Council. “If a new US defense secretary starts saying these things publicly too it would really cause problems. There’s a lot of uncertainty on all sides.”
In the meantime, there is hope that things will be kept on an even keel with Mattis still in control.
Discussing Gen. Luis Crescencio Sandoval González, expected to head Mexico’s military under new President López Obrador, it was noted that Mattis and the incoming defense chief have an existing relationship.
“Mattis’s relationship with Cienfuegos has been outstanding, so they’ve paid as little attention as they can to the political rhetoric and built a very solid defense relationship,” explained a former US official, who recently spoke with outgoing defense minister Gen. Salvador Cienfuegos Zepeda . “It’s clear that the level of interaction is unprecedented. If Mattis stays, that could continue [with Sandoval].”
According to retired Lt. Gen. Guy Swan, cooperation — despite the incendiary rhetoric of Trump — is the true key to border control.
“A border has two sides to it, so whenever we’re doing operations to secure the border it will only be effective when Mexicans are part of the discussion,” he told Buzzfeed. “It has only worked because eventually we spent a lot of time together, and our goal was to divorce ourselves from the political situation and deal with each other as fellow soldiers.”
He then added a cautionary note.
“What’s happening [politically] makes things more difficult, but on the mil-to-mil level these officers stand shoulder to shoulder with ours,” he explained. “Governments come and go, presidents come and go, but we’re still going to be there, trying to work together.”