Former President Trump national security adviser John Bolton on Friday argued against labeling Mexican drug cartels foreign terrorist organizations after the idea has garnered support among some GOP lawmakers, saying it would not solve the problems related to the groups.
“I don’t underestimate their threat. I’ve been talking about it for a long time. We were very worried about it in the Trump administration. The cartels in Mexico, the cartels in Colombia have been growing in strength,” Bolton said on NewsNation’s “Morning in America.”
“But I think it fuzzes things up to label something as bad as the drug cartels a terrorist organization,” Bolton continued. “They’re not like Hamas or Hezbollah. It’s a different threat; it’s a serious problem. As I say, I’m not underestimating it at all, but I think rhetorical gimmicks don’t help advance policy.”
Bolton, who spent roughly a year as former President Trump’s national security adviser, argued terrorist groups like Hamas operating in the Middle East pose a different problem than drug cartels and therefore require different solutions.
He suggested the U.S. should be in talks with Mexico about having a military presence south of the border to help combat the cartels, another idea that has been the subject of chatter in the wake of a deadly kidnapping of Americans last week.
Four Americans were kidnapped by armed men last Friday after crossing the border for a trip to get a medical procedure. Two of the Americans were found dead on Tuesday. The two others arrived back in the U.S. on Tuesday and began receiving medical treatment.
Republicans have responded by calling for a tougher approach to the drug trade in Mexico.
Advocates argue that designating a group as a foreign terrorist organization would provide additional resources for prosecution and give greater authority to freeze financial assets.
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) spoke Wednesday about legislation that would classify certain Mexican drug cartels as terrorist organizations, describing them as a national security issue. Graham said Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.) would join forces on the measure, and he suggested at least some Democrats would be involved.
“An FTO designation is the highest designation you can give a criminal terrorist enterprise that’s not a nation-state,” Graham said, citing nine different cartels that he argued would warrant the designation.
The White House has dismissed the suggestion, however, arguing that labeling the cartels as foreign terrorist organizations would have minimal tangible benefits.
“The United States has powerful sanctions authorities specifically designated to combat narcotics trafficking organizations and the individuals and entities that enable them. So, we have not been afraid to use them,” press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said.