New War Recasts Mexico Agenda

Mexico's President Vicente Fox didn't quite seem himself.

During a recent appearance on CNN's Larry King Live, Mr. Fox was uncharacteristically nervous, uncertain, even uncomfortable.

It wasn't anything Mr. King was doing that made Mexico's first-year president appear shaken. No, Mr. Fox simply looked like a man unused to the notion of having a golden opportunity slip through his fingers.

The opportunity lost -- or at least postponed -- is Mr. Fox's bold dream of propelling Mexico into the powerful and influential circle of developed nations.

In the days prior to the Sept. 11 attacks against the United States, President Bush had described the importance of U.S.-Mexico relations as crucial and unrivaled. Now at war, Bush's Mexico agenda has been put on a shelf.

To make matters worse, Mr. Fox has found himself on the defensive as his political opponents at home have bluntly resisted any suggestion that Mexico's military will take part in the U.S.-led coalition to combat terrorism.

In truth, there's little Mexico can do to assist the United States. The Mexican military is poorly trained and its reputation and effectiveness have been marred in recent years by incidents of corruption at the hands of international drug traffickers.

The Mexican people also don't easily forgive and forget. For many, the history of military aggression by the United States against Mexico is no textbook abstraction, but a series of personal affronts for which American leaders have never properly made amends. Consider, for instance, that a good many Mexicans are still angry at Hernan Cortes, the Spanish explorer who toppled the Aztec Indians.

Still, Mr. Fox understands the demands of modern-day diplomacy. He sees the big picture. Mexico and the United States need each other. And in the years and decades to come that interdependence will only grow.

In the days since Sept. 11, Mr. Fox has shared the shock and heartache of the American people. Though not widely reported, an undetermined number of Mexicans were among the thousands of innocents killed on that day. That number is undetermined because many were undocumented immigrants -- people who, by definition, do not leave a paper trial.

Mr. Fox recently flew to New York to pay his respects to families and friends of his dead countrymen. He no doubt thought of the impact the attacks will have on proposed immigration legislation and other cross border matters.

Off the table, for now, is any talk by the White House of a mass legalization program for the millions of Mexican laborers currently living in the United States.

Worse yet, Mr. Fox knows that as the U.S. economy goes so goes Mexico's.

Trade between our two nations has already suffered as the effect of the terrorist attacks ripples through the U.S. and Mexican economies.

So the challenges facing Mr. Fox have multiplied. Likewise, his ability to act depends on how America confront the challenges of the so called new war.

His fleeting unsteadiness aside, Mr. Fox is thought to be up to task. And perhaps some good will even come of it.

Some argue that on the day last December that Mr. Fox took office, democracy arrived in Mexico. In the trying times ahead, Mr. Fox will have a chance to affirm the resiliency of that new democracy.

James Garcia is editor and publisher of E-mail the writer at

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