Options for Mexico with the Trump Administration

Vincent Dueñas is a recent graduate of the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, a U.S. Army Major, and an Associate Member of the Military Writers Guild.  This Mexico vignette was first written to fulfill a requirement in his degree program.  The views reflected are his own and do not represent the opinion of the United States Government or any of its agencies.  Divergent Options’ content does not contain information of an official nature nor does the content represent the official position of any government, any organization, or any group.

National Security Situation:  Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto faces a potentially combative relationship with the United States (U.S.), anemic economic growth, and increasing security concerns from Transnational Criminal Organizations (TCOs).

Date Originally Written:  December 21, 2016.

Date Originally Published:  February 9, 2017.

Author and / or Article Point of View:  This article is written from the perspective of the National Security Advisor for Mexican President Peña Nieto, who is offering options for Mexico, in light of incomplete domestic reforms and emergent challenges from the U.S.

Background:  President Peña Nieto’s “Pacto por México” was an agreement aimed at unifying the country’s three major parties in strengthening the Mexican state, improving political and economic democratization, and expanding social rights.  This agreement resulted in the successful enactment of constitutional reforms, but implementation has stalled due to opposition and unfavorable global conditions[1][2].  President Peña Nieto won the presidency as a member of the historically powerful, centrist Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI).  His election revived the PRI’s control after a 12-year tenure under the right of center National Action Party (PAN).  The PAN and the left of center Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD) have recently undermined the implementation of the President’s reforms for their own political gain prior to the 2018 election.

Significance:  Current U.S. overtures calling for the funding of a border wall by Mexico and the renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) pose a significant challenge to Mexico’s economic and national security dynamics.  This dramatic shift in relationship with the U.S., Mexico’s largest trading partner, may detrimentally impact Mexico and create a dangerous security issue.  Although we have a large capable military, our forces are committed to fighting TCOs and we are not prepared to engage in a direct conflict with the U.S.  As a nation, Mexico has actively sought to participate fully in the global liberal world order and a failure to counterbalance U.S. overtures threatens to destabilize our economy and amplify the worsening TCO problem.

Option #1:  Continue the “Pacto por México” and engage in limited unilateral diplomatic confrontation with the U.S.

Risk:  The risk in continuing the “Pacto por México” rests mainly in the inability for the country to implement these reforms at this critical juncture.  President Peña Nieto’s legacy will be incomplete as the PAN and PRD sabotage the progress on reforms in order to gain political advantage.  In responding reactively to the U.S., President Peña Nieto risks being seen as weak and our government will continue to lose legitimacy.  Progress in combating TCOs will continue to fall short as necessary judicial reforms will fail to materialize.

Gain:  The greatest gain from this approach would be the preservation of the status quo, drawing the least ire from the U.S.  It would minimize potential economic blowback and allow maximum possibility for favorable concessions from the U.S. during any renegotiation over NAFTA.  Additionally, it provides the most assured means of avoiding repercussions against vital security cooperation and assistance funding and collaboration with the U.S. military and its security agencies.

Option #2:  Get out in front of the U.S.’ overtures and reframe the challenge of the U.S. through a new PRI-led domestic campaign of “Dialogues” that would represent the next phase of “Pacto por Mexico” and reinvigorate public support for the reforms.  Acknowledging that the “Pacto” has faced difficulties, Mexican society can be rallied together by the PRI through a communications campaign that frames Mexico as a parent-like figure to the U.S., who is suffering from drugs and self-destructive behavior.  This campaign can connect directly with Mexican citizens’ familial inclinations through a perspective that describes a parent who is caring for a fellow family member with understanding.  Simultaneously, a provisional dialogue with TCOs should be initiated to seek a reduction in violence on the basis of pride and the threat that U.S. actions pose to Mexican society writ large.  Lastly, we should initiate and lead a multilateral hemispheric effort to economically and diplomatically counterbalance the U.S. by reinvigorating the concept of the Free Trade Agreement for the Americas.

Risk:  The risks are many, but the dialogue with TCOs poses the greatest risk, as the perception of government collusion with criminals could become a scandal that could undo the party.  The suspension of remittances and security cooperation and assistance funding, such as the Mérida Initiative, would be extremely costly.  This approach would also signal a clear departure from a collaborative approach with the U.S. and commit Mexico to dependency exclusively on other markets, such as China and the countries in Latin America, which historically have not looked favorably towards Mexico.

Gain:  This would increase Mexico’s leverage against the U.S. by spearheading a hemispheric economic block.  A deliberate campaign of domestic and international action could consolidate the PRI’s authority within the country as the leader that will protect Mexican citizens from hostile U.S. intentions and lead a hemispheric coalition to confront discordant U.S. policies.  Riding the hopefulness of the Colombian peace process, a successful truce with TCOs could bring about an era of peace and stability that would allow judicial reforms to be implemented, which could eventually tackle corruption.  President Peña Nieto can garner attention, legitimacy, and credibility by speaking objectively and unemotionally as a counterbalance to the U.S. approach.  This could also pay out in dividends as other regions of the world may begin to look to Mexico as a primary partner in the hemisphere.

Other Comments:  The U.S.’ redefinition of its role as guarantor of the international post-World War 2 order provides the opportunity for other states to become more authoritative in international affairs.  China, for example, has begun challenging the U.S.’ will to engage in a military confrontation in the South China Sea.  Brazil, Canada, Colombia and Mexico are the hemisphere’s most sizeable economic and military powers after the U.S.  Brazil is experiencing political upheaval and is incapable of significant international action.  Canada is too close of an ally to the U.S. and most likely would be unwilling to challenge them directly.  Colombia is undergoing a peace process and is also a major ally of the U.S., which reduces their willingness to challenge the U.S. directly.  Mexico therefore stands as the only country with the ability and freedom to assert itself against the U.S. in the hemisphere.

Recommendation:  None.


[1]  Sada, Andres. “Explainer: What is the Pacto por Mexico?” Americas Society/Council of the Americas. March 11,2013. Retrieved January 26, 2017, from http://www.as-coa.org/articles/explainer-what-pacto-por-méxico.

[2]  U.S. Congressional Research Service. Mexico: Background and U.S. Relations (CRS-2016-FDT-0759; December 5, 2016), by Clare Ribando Seelke. Text in ProQuest Congressional Research Digital Collection. Retrieved January 26, 2017.

Mexico Option Papers Vincent Dueñas

Red Team Options for Syria: The Fall of Raqqa, Syria from an Islamic State Perspective

Vincent Dueñas is a Master of International Public Policy candidate and Strategic Studies concentrator at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies and a U.S. Army Major.  The views reflected are his own and do not represent the opinion of the United States Government or any of its agencies.  Divergent Options’ content does not contain information of an official nature nor does the content represent the official position of any government, any organization, or any group. 


Source: Institute for the Study of War

National Security Situation:  Fall of Raqqa, Syria.

Date Originally Written:  December 9, 2016.

Date Originally Published:  December 15, 2016.

Author and / or Article Point of View:  The article is a red team exercise, written from the point of view of a senior planner in the Islamic State who is tasked with recommending strategy options, assuming that Mosul, Iraq will fall and that Raqqa will be next.

Background:  The ultimate goal is and remains the establishment of a powerful caliphate that can govern and impose Shari’a.  This will be done by reinforcing the legitimacy and authenticity of the Caliphate.  The likely fall of Mosul in Iraq necessitates a reexamination of the core tenets of our current campaign plan in order to ensure the Caliphate’s continued existence in Syria.  We are experiencing significant losses in personnel and manpower in Mosul, Raqqa, and al-Bab, as the enemy fighters push aggressively into our territory [1] (See Map Above).  To date we are estimated to have lost over 15% of our land holdings since 2015[2].  We initially did three things well to establish the Caliphate: 1. Tapped into Sunni Muslim grievances, 2. Established functioning local governance that benefited true faith Sunni Muslims and 3. Launched spectacular terror campaigns against Western targets, using sophisticated media campaigns.

Significance:  We are now at a critical point on the battlefield where we must decide on how best to consolidate and reorganize in order to prevent total annihilation and be able to continue waging jihad and protect the Caliphate.

Option #1:  Maintain a primarily conventional warfare strategy with a widespread harsh punishment strategy against civilians in our controlled territories.

Risk:  The primary risk in Option #1 stems from maintaining a conventional warfare strategy that would lead to a siege of Raqqa and a potentially catastrophic military defeat of our forces.  This would discredit our claim to the Caliphate and potentially risk the life of our leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

A secondary risk stemming from the continued use of widespread harsh punishment against the civilian population in our territories is the potential for local populations to turn against the Caliphate and provide information and support to the invading enemy.

A tertiary risk is encouraging the continued support of the great powers, Russia and the U.S., because of their perceived progress.  Currently the great powers are only committed to air power and very few ground forces because their populations only tacitly support military action.

Maintaining our current conventional and punishment strategy almost ensures a direct confrontation against all of our forces, which could potentially overwhelm us.

Gain:  The greatest gain to undertaking Option #1 is that if we were to begin defeating the enemy forces, backed by the great powers, we would fulfill the legitimacy that we initially claimed when we overwhelmed eastern Syria and western Iraq.  Success in conventional warfare would increase the belief in al-Baghdadi’s Caliphate worldwide and a continued widespread harsh punishment strategy would fulfill the implementation of Shari’a without concession.

Option #2:  Transition to an insurgency warfare strategy with a targeted punishment strategy against civilians in our controlled territories.

Risk:  The primary risk in Option #2 stems from the transition to an insurgency, which jeopardizes the legitimacy of al-Baghdadi’s Caliphate by disappearing into the shadows when the stated goal was to spread Shari’a actively.  Our current gains in international messaging and reach could be greatly diminished if it is believed that the Islamic State had been defeated and dissolved.

Gain:  The most obvious gain in Option #2 would be the continued existence of the Islamic State.  Al-Baghdadi and the Caliphate would be preserved and could reorganize to continue the jihad.  The first prerequisite for a successful insurgency is the ability to identify totally with the cause and the population attracted to it[3].  The Islamic State and the Caliphate identify completely with the cause of Shari’a and the entire majority of the population that seeks Sunni Muslim rule, thus stands most poised to overtake groups like al-Qaida and convert all Muslims sects to our path.

The likely fall of Raqqa would still occur, but would not wipe out the majority of our forces as we blend into the populations of cities like Palmyra and the border regions between Abu Kamal, Syria and Al Qu’im, Iraq.  These areas can remain under our firm grip as a weak Syrian government would be unable to extend governance effectively.

Shifting to an insurgency strategy would mean expanded guerrilla tactics against Syrian government forces and rebel forces in order to ensure a disruption of any sense of control, with the possibility of exhausting great power support.  Even more beneficial would be the increased ability for the Islamic State to act subversively to pit Russia against the U.S. through guerrilla attacks masquerading as either Assad forces or anti-Assad forces. An insurgency would sow continued instability throughout the country and prevent any direct confrontational military engagements.

The transition to a targeted punishment strategy would begin to spare Sunni Muslims thus removing a strong distaste that has emerged over our tactics.  Among other Muslims and non-believers, a more judicious use of punishment would encourage compliance and submission to Shari’a and more easily allow us to collect resources through taxes.

An insurgency would also allow us to successfully exploit the historic grievances of our targeted areas.  These Sunni Muslims have witnessed the indiscriminate killing of Sunnis at the hands of Hezbollah and the Assad government who are Shia.  The Islamic State offers the retribution that they seek and through a more judicial hand we can attract broader support.

Other Comments:  An important capability that has not been discussed, but which we have perfected, is our unique capacity to operate on the internet.  Our continued existence can be supported and expanded by using more sophisticated internet-protocol masking software that will allow us to continue publishing propaganda and maintain social media presence to actively recruit foreign fighters and encourage lone wolf attacks.

Recommendation:  None.


[1]  Gutowski, Alexandra. (2016, December 8). ISIS Sanctuary: December 8, 2016. Retrieved from http://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/isis-sanctuary-map-december-8-2016.

[2]  Islamic State and the crisis in Iraq and Syria. (2016, November 2). Retrieved from http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-27838034.

[3]  Galula, David. (1964). Counterinsurgency Warfare: Theory and Practice. New York: Praeger.


Islamic State Variants Option Papers Red Team Syria Vincent Dueñas Violent Extremism