DeSantis needs to use diplomacy before talking of invasion

Randy Evans is executive director of the Iowa Freedom of Information Council and can be reached at

Campaigning for public office is no picnic. Day after day there are speeches, Q&A’s, interviews and the constant need to think before you speak.

Candidates eat enough chicken to have Colonel Sanders clucking approval. But for those who speak before engaging their brains, there other item on the menu often is crow.

The miscues are not the sole province of one party’s candidates to the exclusion of the other’s. Ask 2016 presidential candidate Hillary Clinton about that “basket of deplorables.” Ask 2022 U.S. Senate candidate Abby Finkenauer if she now wishes she had chosen a different way to express displeasure with a judge’s ruling on a challenge to her nomination papers.

In recent days, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis pledged that if elected president, he will send United States military forces into Mexico to deal with the drug cartels “on day one.” 

“The president of the United States has got to use all available powers as commander inchief to protect our country and to protect the people,” he said during the first Republican televised debate. A few days later in Iowa, he repeated that promise.

Just as Clinton and Finkenauer neglected to put their brains in gear and carefully think through what they wanted to say before opening their mouths, DeSantis may be guilty of relying too much on his mouth’s automatic transmission.

Do not think for a moment that I am minimizing the seriousness of illegal drugs or drug addiction in the United States. We have been fighting “the war on drugs” for 50 years. No one suggests the Biden administration’s approach to the problem represents the gold standard.

But do we really believe sending U.S. troops into another nation without invitation is the best way to deal effectively with problems illegal drugs cause—especially when that country is not our enemy?

We should not be surprised when a candidate whose campaign slogan is “Never Back Down” engages in such dangerous talk about using military force. 

DeSantis’ strategy illustrates that one of the pitfalls of political campaigns is the tendency of candidates to see easy solutions for incredibly complex problems. Build the wall. Raise the minimum wage. Cut taxes. Eliminate homelessness. 

DeSantis’ military pledge fails to foresee or to account for many complexities—namely, the effect military action south of the border would have on trade between our two nations.

Last year, Mexico was the second-largest buyer of U.S. goods behind Canada. Customers in Mexico paid $324 billion to American producers, according to U.S. Trade Office figures. Mexico also was the second-largest supplier of goods companies brought into the United States in 2022. Those purchases totaled $454 billion. 

Together, that is three-quarters of a trillion dollars in U.S. economic activity that would be jeopardized by an ill-conceived deployment of U.S. troops to Mexico. Think about U.S. jobs and consumer prices.

Another aspect of the complex nature of the drug problem is why the U.S. buys so much from Mexico. The cost of living is lower in Mexico. That fact means goods produced in there cost Americans less than if there were produced here in the U.S., and Americans like the bargain.

Beyond the statistics are some facts DeSantis’ Never Back Down pledge neglects: Iowa is a big agricultural state, and Mexico is the second- or third-largest buyer of U.S. ag products, depending upon the year. Mexico also is the largest foreign exporter of fruits and vegetables that American consumers eat.

DeSantis is kidding himself, and his campaign audiences, too, if he thinks drug lords will give up the lucrative U.S. drug market once our soldiers are airlifted south of the border. U.S. soldiers and Marines can take out enough drug peddlers to fill several cemeteries, but there will be another wave of producers and peddlers waiting to take over. The demand for illegal drugs by customers in the U.S., and the profit the cartels make from those drugs, has a way of replenishing the workforce.

Figures from U.S. Customs and Border Protection figures show that thus far in 2023, eight times more fentanyl has been seized at ports of entry on the U.S./Mexico border than has been confiscated by Border Patrol agents stopping people sneaking into the U.S. between the official crossings.

It also is a misconception that most drugs are seized from immigrants or asylum-seekers trying to cross from Mexico into the U.S., National Public Radio reported recently. Yes, illegal drugs sometimes are concealed inside trucks hauling legitimate cargo. More often, though, drugs are stashed in passenger cars or on or in the bodies of pedestrians trying to enter the U.S. at official crossing points. More than half of those smugglers are American citizens or other people legally authorized to cross the border, NPR said.

“I’ve been at this for over 36 years, and it’s been like that forever,” Michael Humphries, the U.S. port of entry director in Nogales, Arizona, told NPR.

The brute-strength strategy of DeSantis’ Never Back Down message leaves little or no room for diplomacy. Do we really want a leader who believes he has cornered the market on all the good ideas, without first seeing what can be achieved through the give-and-take of discussions with our Mexican counterparts?

Taking military action against our neighbor is a “solution” that most assuredly will create as many problems as it solves.

No one disputes that illegal drugs bring heartache and death to too many U.S. families. But how can that death and destruction compare with what we will see if our military forces storm across the border or are airlifted into our neighbor’s backyard? 

Theodore Roosevelt did not campaign on a Never Back Down approach to governing. I think many Americans, if they are itching for a slogan at all, would prefer Teddy’s “Speak softly and carry a big stick.”

Top photo of Ron DeSantis campaigning in Algona (Kossuth County) on August 26 was first published on the Facebook page of Never Back Down, the super-PAC that is paying for most of the DeSantis operation in Iowa.

About the Author(s)

Randy Evans

  • DeSantis

    Good read about DeSantis

  • clean our own house

    if we invade one of our allies and order troops to murder their citizens agricultural trade will be the least of our worries and will solve none of the problems that we face. It was racist when Trump came down an elevator and slandered Mexicans as Mexicans and it is racist when our politicians blame Mexico for our drug problems (with no buyers there is no market) let alone when we send troops to the border as part of the spreading of the Great Replacement conspiracy that the leading Republicans are spreading. Iowa is ground zero for much of this hate-mongering as we see with Tucker Carlson making the pilgrimage here to the White Christian Nationalist homeland to make sure that Republican candidates are onboard with the Iowa way…