Home > Q&A > Special Guest: Mark Bowden (Part 1)

Special Guest: Mark Bowden (Part 1)

March 16th, 2009

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[CORRECTION: Michael Yon was misquoted in Question 3. We should have said, "Michael Yon recently told us that Mexico was a growing threat to which not enough attention was being paid." We apologize for the good-faith error.]

Mark Bowden is a national correspondent at The Atlantic Monthly and a columnist for The Philadelphia Inquirer. He joins us today to discuss his views on the American military and national security threats. This is the first installment in the series. The second and last will be posted tomorrow, Tuesday.

1. Black Hawk Down was published in 1999. Ten years later, have your views on the American fighting man (or American power more generally) evolved?

I am even more impressed. An entire generation of volunteer soldiers, marines, airmen, and sailors have served in dangerous places since I wrote BHD, and thousands have lost their lives or been injured. Their example of self-sacrifice and principled service should be an inspiration to all of us. I have also been struck increasingly by how much warfare plays out publicly and in real time, so that appearances matter as much or more than battlefield outcomes. Because we own the world’s most powerful military, we need to be especially careful to use it sparingly, justly, legally (insofar as international law exists), and with careful attention to world opinion, mindful always that the best intentions of a nation can be undone by a single bystander with a digital camera.

2. Many observers have warned about overstretch — that we are essentially operating at capacity and risk breaking the back of the military, especially the Army and Marines. Do you have any thoughts on this?

We have been working our military to near full capacity, but I think those pressures will ease. The kind of fighting we need to be doing is applying smaller numbers more intelligently. I believe that’s where President Obama is headed, and I think it makes sense not just in terms of managing a limited resource, but toward furthering our goals.

War over the border: how serious a threat?

War over the border: how serious a threat?

3. The blogger Michael Yon recently told us that he thought Mexico was a more pressing security threat than Pakistan. Do you see any lessons from the Killing Pablo experience that might be applicable to the drug war-related situation boiling over south of the border?

I don’t agree with Yon, because I think the threat of Islamist terror ought to remain our top priority, with Iran a close (and related) problem. The answer in Mexico will come back to the answer in Colombia, lending our technology and expertise to the side of law and order in an indigenous war. Only Mexicans can uproot these criminals, and we ought to be looking for ways to help them.

Staff Q&A

  1. Michael Yon
    March 16th, 2009 at 03:03 | #1

    This is Michael Yon. The above interview misquoted me to Mr. Bowden regarding Pakistan vs. Mexico. My actual quote is below:

    No war is a good war. War is by definition very bad and only gets worse from there. The world is a big and very messy place, though most of us – the few who actually travel much – tend to hop, skip and jump around the world, making sure our feet land on the islands we call “civilization.” But when you really get out here, and wade through the swamps of humanity, you see that most of the world is what we westerners would tend to call “uncivilized,” or “third-world,” perhaps. Afghanistan is just one of many such places on earth. What makes Afghanistan particularly special is that al Qaeda launched attacks from Afghanistan, and it neighbors Pakistan. Pakistan is the real problem. Pakistan has atomic weapons and is losing ground to the terrorists. But insofar as Afghanistan per se, Mexico is a much larger and more proximate problem for the United States.

  2. March 16th, 2009 at 10:23 | #2

    @Michael Yon
    We have corrected this error.

  3. R. Garcia
    March 18th, 2009 at 10:12 | #3

    Extreme Islamic terrorism is grave threat, but Mexico is next door and with time and immigration the border lines are getting blurred. Even though it is harder for a Mexican to enter the U.S. than for a Pakistani or Iraqi, the close proximity and the long common history (most of the U.S. Southwest was Mexican a century and a half ago)make the border very permeable. Whole cities in the U.S. southern border are really “Mexican”, El Paso, Texas for example has a 90% (perhaps more) Mexican population and of course L.A. is the biggest “Mexican” city outside Mexico. Problems affecting Mexican do affect the American side.

    The loss of control of the Mexican government over their northern cities is a grave problem for the U.S. Cities like Juarez, Tijuana and Reynosa are in virtual control of the drug gangs; the Mexican government only controls the ground they walk on, but for all practical purposes law and order have broken down. Around 5,000 have died in the drug wars in Northern Mexico in the last twelve months. This violence is already breaking into the U.S. side, for example the area in Texas known as the Valley (the Rio Grand Valley, with McAllen, Brownsville and other many border communities) experience high incidence of crime in the form of habitual killings (people found in ditches, car trunks, ponds or outright killed in front of many witnesses. El Paso, while one of the safest cities in the U.S. (paradox that it lays across one of the most violent cities in the world, Juarez) is a major “warehousing” area for drugs and many an American law enforcement agent has fallen to the lure if illicit money.

    Probably the greatest threat beyond violence and corruption is the effect on American young people across the border. Drugs are corrupting and killing young Americans (how many young black or hispanics are now in jail for drug dealing?)and the creating of a non-law fearing generation who rather sell coke in the street than make minimum wage at McDonalds.

    Islamic terror is present and dangerous, but the Mexican Drug war is virtually in our own backyard.

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