Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., on Wednesday called for the “fury and might” of the United States to be unleashed on Mexican drug cartels, as he called for more action from both the U.S. and Mexico in cracking down on the flow of fentanyl into the U.S.
“We’re going to unleash the fury and might of the United States against these cartels,” Graham said at a press conference alongside Sen. John Kennedy, R-La.,. “We’re going to destroy their business model and their lifestyle because our national security and the security of the United States as a whole depends on us taking decisive action.”
Graham said that he intends to introduce legislation that would designate Mexican drug cartels as foreign terrorist organizations (FTO) and authorize the U.S. to use military force to go into Mexico and destroy the drug networks.
“Not to invade Mexico, not to shoot Mexican airplanes down, but to destroy drug labs that are poisoning Americans,” he said.
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Graham was referring to the ongoing opioid crisis, which is primarily being driven by fentanyl and causing the deaths of tens of thousands of Americans each year. He cited statistics that 70,000 people died due to fentanyl poisoning last year.
Fentanyl is 50-100 times more potent than morphine and illicit fentanyl is primarily created in Mexico using Chinese precursors and then smuggled along the southern land border. It is regularly cut with other drugs so users are not aware they are taking fentanyl.
Republicans have repeatedly called for an FTO designation for some time, and Attorney General Merrick Garland said recently he would not oppose such a designation but did express concern about the potential diplomatic impact of such a move on relations with Mexico — although he also said Mexico could be doing more to tackle the crisis.
Graham called the problem a national security threat.
“Fentanyl is a killer, and the people killing Americans reside out in the open in Mexico,” he said. “Now, I don’t know if it’s a lack of will on behalf of the Mexican government to bring these cartels to bay or a lack of capability. Either way, it’s the same result for the United States, chaos, heartache, terrorism, and murder. And it needs to come to an end.”
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He said that designating the cartels as FTOs would open up the capability to go after the cartels and their co-conspirators across the globe.
As for military action, he compared it to actions the Clinton administration took to combat drug cartels in Colombia in 2000.
“It’s time now to get serious and use all the tools in the toolbox, not just in the prosecution lane, not just in the law enforcement lane, but in the military lane as well,” he said.
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“Hopefully, this will change behavior of the Mexican government. Nothing would please me more than to have a meaningful partnership to take these drug cartels down and stop killing Americans. But if Mexico will not cooperate, then we’re going to have to do what’s in our national security interest,” he said.
He said that he wanted a good relationship with Mexico, but warned that Americans were not prepared to sit on the sidelines amid the crisis.
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“We’d like to help you, but we’re not going to sit on the sidelines anymore as a nation and watch our neighbor become a narco–state that kills more Americans in a single year than we lost in Vietnam,” he said.