The pressures on the Southern Border continue to grow, with South Texas authorities announcing a willingness to permit cross border engagements by the members of local law enforcement. The Southern Border is rapidly becoming the Third Front for the United States, with officers regularly being challenged or engaged in cross-border exchanges of gunfire.

There are a number of reasons why local law enforcement officers shouldn’t engage in this kind of activity; the two most compelling are the risk of escalating the situation and the need to respect international boundaries. However, every member of law enforcement must be allowed to protect themselves, regardless of the theoretical (rather than physical) boundary. More significantly, quelling trouble on the Mexican side of the border is clearly a responsibility for the Mexican authorities, who are not achieving their desired results.

We must look to Congress, indeed to the Senate, to ascertain the source of some problems with supporting Mexico’s attempt to quell the border unrest. You may recall that Senator Leahy and associates decided that an increased prosecution rate against Mexican soldiers was an important component of the conditions supporting the latest funding. This is another fantastic example of the ‘law of unintended consequences’ as applied by Congress – remember Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac? By putting in the restrictions around increased human rights investigations, these measures clearly alienate everyone involved. Rather than incentivizing the Mexicans by saying to them, “This is the way to deal with local populations” and using a developed counter-insurgency model that pulls support away from local populations through investment and treating them like humans, this approach essential says “You run a shoddy operation and need us to spank you like children.” That may not have been the Senate’s intention, but that is certainly the message.

I think that Senator Leahy, his staff and Senate colleagues need to take a deep breath and start wondering what life would look like from the other side of the bench – the United States remains in great shape to lead many countries away from human rights abuses, but the advocacy of human rights must come from leadership and not spanking . To be honest, this must happen if for no other reason than the fact that the United States has lost the moral authority globally to take that position any more – we must deal with the situation that is, not the situation they want it to be.

Senator Leahy’s objectives have always been completely honorable: to ensure that the US does not endorse nor tolerate human rights abuses, war crimes, etc. The problem is that this policy sees the world as the Senator wants it to be, not the way it is. People are not binary; they are not, by their nature, good or bad. Their decisions are often driven by context – what is appropriate now, what is tolerated now; the process of creating accountable and effective policing capabilities, accountable and effective organs of state in developing nations is about incentivizing behavior, of explaining to those being supported, those being trained, how new behaviors will enable them to better achieve their desired ends. As ever, I am happy to host Senator Leahy and his staff at any training or consulting event anywhere in the globe where my firm supports the US Government’s political imperative, and bring to light the unintended consequences that the current legislation and policies are having.

Support to other countries is about achieving diplomatic and political intent, and the training agenda must support those goals. Actions such as the Leahy Amendment create a significant hurdle to maintaining a ‘clean hands’ policy of support and to preventing a media backlash about training terrorists and former war criminals – which is laudable aim. However, the question has to be, at what cost do we pay to keep those hands clean? If the US is prevented from leading countries to good behavior, and to closer ties than before, is that worth the current regulations? This question is not rhetorical, but must be one of the first issues addressed by the new administration.