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Troops on the border

Will the US eventually send troops to Mexico to battle drug cartels?

Soldiers inspect a car for drugs and weapons at a military checkpoint outside the Cordova-Americas international border crossing bridge in the city of Ciudad Juarez Apr. 11, 2009. (Alejandro Bringa/Reuters)

SAN DIEGO — Eager to be all things to all people, President Barack Obama tends to say one thing and do another. And so, when Obama said recently that he had no interest in "militarizing" the U.S.-Mexico border, it was only a matter of time before the administration drew up plans to do just that.

Sure enough, according to media reports, the Pentagon and Homeland Security Department are developing contingency plans to send National Guard troops to the U.S.-Mexico border.

The specifics have yet to be worked out, but the $350 million initiative would radically expand the role of the U.S. military in the drug war. The proposal does not mention troop deployments, only that the military would receive the funding "for counter-narcotics and other activities" on the border.

So, for some in the National Guard, it is goodbye Iraq and Afghanistan. Hello San Diego, Nogales and Brownsville.

Before you can get your head around whether putting troops on the border is a workable solution to the drug war or just a recipe for more problems, you've got to know what this is and what it isn't.

It isn't a plan to dispatch armed National Guard troops to the border to shoot it out with drug smugglers headed north or gun smugglers headed south. You're not going to have soldiers physically interdicting southbound vehicles into Mexico looking for loads of cash, weapons or ammunition. And you're certainly not going to have those troops doubling as border patrol agents and trying to keep out illegal immigrants entering the United States from Mexico — according to the Border Patrol, there is not much of that going on lately anyway, because Mexican immigrants are as afraid of the dreadful U.S. economy as American tourists are of drug violence and swine flu. For now, everyone is staying in his own neighborhood.

Rather, what Obama seems to have in mind is exactly what President George W. Bush had in mind when, in 2006, his administration spent more than $1 billion to deploy as many as 6,000 National Guard troops to the U.S.-Mexico border in something called "Operation Jump Start." The goal then was to curb illegal immigration, and the guard played a supporting role.