Gov. Rick Perry: Drugs, Thugs and…U.S. Troops?

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Texas Governor Rick Perry on the campaign trail for the Republican presidential nomination wants U.S. troops to support Mexico’s war on drugs…because, he says, it worked so well in Colombia.

It did? That should surprise Colombia – and the Pentagon.

Colombia definitely needed help back in the 1980s and ’90s when organized crime giants had the country by its throat.  Pablo Escobar’s Medellin cartel practiced indiscriminate violence, a brand of terror all too familiar in Mexico today. The Cali cartel used its billions in annual drug profits to buy off the Bogota government. Cartel lawyers literally rewrote Colombia’s constitution in 1991.

No doubt about it, South America’s oldest democracy needed to be saved. And a lot of Americans came to its rescue.

Presidents George H. W. Bush and Bill Clinton poured in money and surveillance technology. The CIA put agents on the ground. So did the U.S. Customs Service, DEA, ATF, and the Department of Justice whose investigators methodically traced, tracked and built criminal cases against one cartel kingpin after another.

But notice what’s missing from that list. U.S. troops never engaged Colombian drug cartels. They played no meaningful role in stalking or fighting or capturing cartel crime bosses. Perry got that wrong.

But the governor was at least accidentally right to remember Colombia. Its historic success against the biggest and richest crime syndicates in the world remains a classic example of effective U.S. cooperation. And the American military had nothing to do with it.

Organized crime was finally driven from power in Colombia with major contributions from U.S. law enforcement. Hundreds of millions of dollars in foreign aid also gave the White House more political clout than the drug lords – clout the Clinton administration used to pressure Bogota leaders to stop protecting generous drug lords.

Washington’s financial, political and investigative assistance was decisive, but it was Colombians – daring, resourceful, and incorruptible Colombians – who finally took back their own country. A similar formula of cooperation is required today in Mexico.

As the Texas governor accidentally suggests: Remember Colombia.