The trip by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to Mexico contained some very straight talk for the United States as well as her hosts.
Mrs. Clinton no doubt imagined when she accepted the post that her preoccupation would be the recent thorny subjects of America's foreign policy: the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran, China and relations with traditional allies in Europe, Asia and Latin America.
It now turns out that a major issue is relations with neighboring Mexico. It was during her husband's administration that Mexico was folded, with Canada and the United States, into a new economic framework, the North American Free Trade Agreement. While designed to reduce trade barriers, NAFTA was not believed by anyone to be the solution to all of the problems between the United States and Mexico.
At the same time, most observers did not expect relations to suffer in the wake of insatiable demand by Americans for illegal narcotics, the ready availability of U.S. weapons for sale to Mexicans and the inability of American or Mexican authorities to control the border against the flood of drugs north and guns and money south. NAFTA, on balance, has helped the Mexican economy but not enough to cause all Mexicans to favor legitimate economic activity over participation in a murderous cross-border trade.
Secretary Clinton and the administration of President Barack Obama have responded decisively to the challenge presented by this growing problem. Mr. Obama has announced his intention to beef up security on the U.S. side of the border, with the pledge of more resources to come.
During her visit Mrs. Clinton used unusually blunt talk, acknowledging that the problem is American as much as Mexican, citing demand for illegal drugs in the United States as well as the ready availability of weapons for sale. What she didn't say was that, to really attack the problem of U.S. demand for Mexican drugs, her own country must develop policies and laws that are effective in curbing their use. As to gun trafficking, she noted the "very big hurdle" to weapons control posed by the powerful U.S. gun lobby -- which is apparently still effective in Mr. Obama's Washington, given his inaction on the subject so far.
We will soon see the impact of the administration's efforts and Mexico's response on the actual trade, and particularly on the bloodshed near the border. Unfortunately, this problem may have to get worse before effective steps are taken. In the meantime, deaths mount on both sides of the border, from drugs and from guns.