Lindsey Graham Announces Plan to Authorize Use of Military Force Against Mexican Drug Cartels

AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite

Following the kidnapping of four Americans in Matamoros, Mexico, Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) announced his intent to introduce legislation that would “set the stage” for using U.S. military force against Mexican drug cartels.


“I would put Mexico on notice,” Graham said. “If you continue to give safe haven to drug dealers, then you are an enemy of the United States.”

Graham added he would “introduce legislation to make certain Mexican drug cartels foreign terrorist organizations under U.S. law and set the stage to use military force if necessary.”

“I would tell the Mexican government if you don’t clean up your act, we’re going to clean it up for you,” the senator said.

Graham held a press conference on Wednesday to announce the anticipated legislation.

At the conference, a poster to Graham’s right identified the cartels “to be designated as Foreign Terrorist Organizations”:

  • Sinaloa Cartel
  • Jalisco New Generation Cartel
  • Gulf Cartel
  • Los Zetas
  • Northeast Cartel
  • Juarez Cartel
  • Tijuana Cartel
  • Beltran-Leyva Cartel
  • La Familia Michoacana

During his remarks, Graham, who was joined by Senator John Kennedy (R-LA), stated:

I’ve just been on the phone with family members of those South Carolinians that were kidnapped, tortured, and survived, and those that were killed, we believe, by Mexican drug cartels.So, I’m joined here today with Senator Kennedy just to make a statement.

Drug cartels in Mexico have been terrorizing Americans for decades. We’re going to unleash the fury and might of the United States against these cartels. 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.

I have a two-step approach to this, but first, I want to just say: We’ve been talking about doing something against the Mexican drug cartels regarding “Foreign Terrorist Organization” designation for a decade — since 2012. Senator Kennedy and I are going to join forces — we believe Democrats will be involved — to label these organizations as Foreign Terrorist Organizations under U.S. law. That’s the top of the food chain. An FTO designation is the highest as a nation you can give a criminal terrorist enterprise that’s not a nation state.

What would it mean? It means that all the precursors coming from China — Chinese chemical companies and Chinese enterprises — would be subject to being prosecuted under U.S. [for] law providing material support to foreign terrorist organizations — something you can’t do today. So, we’re going to open up the prosecution lane. But I’m a firm believer that the prosecution model, as it exists today, is not working.

So, what are we going to do? We’re going to up the ante. We’re going to designate these groups — and others, if appropriate — Foreign Terrorist Organizations” under U.S. law, changing the game for those who provide assistance to them.

What drives this is fentanyl — it’s been a game-changer. More people died in the United States from fentanyl poisoning than car wrecks and gun violence combined. Fentanyl is becoming the leading cause of death for Americans ages 18-45. 200 Americans die every day due to fentanyl overdoses. Fentanly overdoses cause the equivalent of a new September 11th every two weeks.

I think John and I believe that if there were an ISIS or Al Qaeda cell in Mexico that lobbed a rocket into Texas, we’d wipe them off the planet. They’re doing that times thousands, and our response is inadequate. 106,000 people died last year of drug overdoses, 70,000 related to fentanyl, with no end in sight. We’ve recovered over 12,000 pounds of fentanyl at the border this year — enough to kill almost three billion people. Last year it was 14,700 pounds. This year, it’s almost 13,000 pounds and we’ve got eight months to go.

This problem is a national security threat. Fentanyl is a killer. And the people killing Americans reside out in the open in Mexico. 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 lack of capability. Either way, it’s the same result for the United States — chaos, heartache, terrorism, murder — and it needs to come to an end.

So, we’re going to do two things today: We’re going to introduce legislation in the coming days — and try to make it bipartisan — to designate these groups Foreign Terrorist Organizations under U.S. law to open up more capability to go after them and their conspirators all over the world. Secondly, we’re going to introduce an authorization to use military force, where the United States military can go in and destroy these labs, and destroy these networks if possible.

Once you’re designated an FTO — a terrorist organization — the second step that we’ll be engaging in is give the military the authority to go after these organizations wherever they exist. Not to invade Mexico, not to shoot Mexican airplanes down, but to destroy drug labs that are poisoning Americans.


Graham went on to highlight Joe Biden’s prior support of “Plan Colombia” in 2000 — a similar concept aimed at preventing Colombia from becoming a narco-state. He also pointed to the deadly nature of fentanyl and called it a “weapon of mass destruction,” raising the question of how Biden could have supported the prior endeavor and yet oppose what Graham is proposing — what he refers to as “Plan Mexico.”

Graham further expressed a desire to work with the Mexican government to address the issue but noted that at present, Mexico is a “narco-terrorist state.” He again remarked on the four South Carolinians who were kidnapped over the weekend in Mexico, noting that two of them would not be coming back alive.

Senator Kennedy offered brief remarks, as well, noting:

A couple things I think are undeniable. Number one, Americans are being killed on both sides of the border, and Americans are being addicted certainly on our side of the border — killed, too. And number two, I don’t mean any disrespect, but both President Biden and President López Obrador, when it comes to the border and the drug cartels, have been sheep in sheep’s clothing. And this has gone on long enough.

If you have the will, we in America have the ability to help “President AMLO,” as some call him, eradicate these drug cartels. And I just came to thank Lindsey for finally, somebody is going to do something — finally. And I’m hoping we will have a bipartisan effort and that Congress will work with the President and he’ll support this bill.

We’re not — we’re friends with Mexico, we just want to help. But at some point — thank you again, Lindsey — somebody has to do something, and I think this bill is a really good start.


Whether the measure will indeed receive bipartisan support — including that of Joe Biden — remains to be seen, of course.


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