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The language of cross-border love

Interview: How the U.S. and Mexico can learn to get along — just like the EU and Turkey do.

ISTANBUL — Let’s face it, the United States and Mexico haven’t always been the best of neighbors. Over the last two years Mexico’s drug wars have claimed 10,000 lives and issues of immigration have frayed greatly at the U.S.’s already limited patience. Meanwhile, American narco-dollars have made Mexico the main conduit for Colombian cocaine, and an estimated 90 percent of the weapons used by Mexican drug cartels come from the U.S.

So how can these two countries — which share a 2,000-mile border and centuries of history — strengthen such dysfunctional ties? Parag Khanna, Director of the Global Governance Initiative and Senior Research Fellow in the American Strategy Program at the New America Foundation, suggests for those on both sides of the Rio Grande a surprising teacher: Turkey.

Khanna is the author of "The Second World: Empires and Influence in the New Global Order," a book that led him to be names one of Esquire’s “75 most influential people of the 21st century.”

GlobalPost spoke with Khanna about the lessons Turkey offers on how to attain a more ideal union between the U.S. and Mexico.

GP: You argue that the U.S. and Mexico can learn from the relationship between the European Union (EU) and Turkey. What similarities do you see between Mexico and Turkey in that respect?

PK: In Washington and among the media, the new trend has been to label Mexico a “failed state.” Such language is revealing because to call it that the U.S. is admitting that their policies have also failed. I thought that was quite shocking.

I compare Turkey to Mexico in the sense that the U.S. has always had a very transactional policy towards Mexico. We have an energy relationship with them, we have an immigration relationship with them and there are remittance flows between the two countries. But while that transactional relationship is there, it hasn’t really been strategic since NAFTA. And now you see that many people are turning their back on NAFTA including, perhaps, the Obama administration. To me, that smacks of all that Europe has managed to avoid doing in their relationship with Turkey, despite all of the xenophobia in Western Europe.

For the last 40 years there has been a customs union, massive foreign investment and huge remittance flows between Europe and Turkey. They are working towards membership and accession [into the European Union] and retooling the Turkish economy. There are all kinds of binding agreements between the two sides, despite the fact that they don’t really like each other in a lot of ways. So for me it was just shocking that it was the “xenophobic Europe” that was having the success while we are not.