Calderon took office in 2006 after a disputed election and went to the United States immediately for help in fighting cartels, which he said threatened to take over all aspects of Mexican society. His aggressive attack on organized crime was supported by the U.S., including with the $1.9 billion Merida Initiative for equipment and expertise.
While the Calderon administration took down 25 of its 37 most-wanted drug lords, critics said the effort did little more than cause a spike in gruesome violence that increasingly hit innocent civilians and spilled into everyday life. The situation seemed so chaotic that at one point, some American officials started to question whether Mexico was becoming a failed state.
Meanwhile, the Mexican economy was stabilizing and growing without much fanfare, said Raul Benitez, a security expert at Mexico's National Autonomous University.
"Trade marched on automatically without political interference or the need for cooperation," he said. "No one was paying attention, but the trade relationship now is very intense ... the free trade agreement is working."
Shannon O'Neil of the Council on Foreign Relations said the Obama meeting will be a start for increasing economic cooperation and trade, including improving border crossings and bureaucracy for quicker movement of goods.
She agreed that security efforts under Calderon at times lacked coordination to the point of being "counterproductive." But she said centralization also has its downside.
"Some of the deepest cooperation we saw in the last government was between particular agents or teams," said O'Neil, author of the book "Two Nations Indivisible: Mexico, the United States, and the Road Ahead." "You can imagine U.S. agents or agencies being reluctant to share intelligence when they don't know who it's going to."