MEXICO CITY - There was something unsettling about what U.S. Army Undersecretary Joseph Westphal said at the University of Utah's Hinckley Institute of Politics this month. It was maybe an ominous trial balloon.
Westphal's Feb. 8 lecture touched on wild speculation that the U.S. Army might end up fighting insurgents in Mexico, according to the Salt Lake City daily The Deseret News.
What's odd is that public-policy analysis is usually clear, precisely measured and hardly ever droll. Scenarios are allowed, even welcomed, if they have some linkage to the situation to help visualize likely or probable events.
But Westphal's statements were aimed at making the point that future battles might NOT take place in the Middle East.
How could he be so sure?
Well, with that going unaddressed, the next concern according to him was for U.S. Army intervention in Mexico. But it wasn't "just about drugs and illegal immigrants," he was quoted.
If that isn't a big hint about what is, I don't know what is.
Yes, it's about what he says it isn't. The double-speak means it probably is, or at least poses a rationale or a pretext or possibly even a cover story.
In other words, the trafficking of illegal drugs is a reason for military intervention because it is driving up violence in parts of Mexico (and we don't want our drug users and gun-runners to cause violence abroad).
That's a big factor, although he raises it by saying it isn't the concern. Nor is it the other driving force "illegal immigrants," either. But if you think about it, almost all "illegal immigration" is not "illegal" when those people are in Mexico. That raises the question, why would he even bring up this second factor in the first place?
No, it's not drugs or immigrants. So what is it?
According to the undersecretary, the need for intervention "is about the potential takeover of a government that's right on our border."
That suggests the problem is that Mexico is on OUR border and not far enough away or across a sea, or maybe far enough away, like where Central America is.
Someone should have told the undersecretary that Mexico has been where it is since the 1840s, and its borders are not a recent development.
Then Westphal shifted gears and said he was upset about the effects that corruption could have in Mexico and they don't have enough civilian oversight. Mexican President Felipe Calderon and its congress don't count?
By the following day, Westphal was backtracking and apologizing for saying U.S. troops might be needed for an "insurgency" in Mexico and he had mistakenly characterized the drug cartels and the Mexican government's ability to stop them.
He took pains to say that his statements at the policy institute did not reflect the views of the Defense Department, the president or any other government official.
All of a sudden he was just Joe Blow mouthing off. That sounds suspiciously like a trial balloon that burst.
Maybe the undersecretary had a little too much sherry before his lecture. Nawwww. That's not possible. Not in Utah.
Nor will the lecture ever compare with, say, the 1946 speech by Winston Churchill, at Westminster College, in Fulton, Mo., in which he used the term the "Iron Curtain" to define the staging of a policy.
To put it in that category, Westphal could have talked about the drug curtain or immigrant or corruption curtains, and then declared that more war and isolation will follow that noble calling.
Of course, if he had, he surely would have been fired before his plane landed back in Washington. In fact, he should have been fired for what he did say and for what he said he didn't say.
Before Westphal's speech, many have speculated that the Obama administration was going to develop a new Latin American policy. Could this have been it?