Hillary and Boko Haram
The power of hashtag diplomacy


Rich Lowry

Hillary Clinton took to Twitter last week to excoriate Boko Haram’s kidnapping of 200 schoolgirls, using the now-ubiquitous hashtag #BringBackOurGirls. If there’s any natural enemy of the girl-hating, anti-education Nigerian terror group, it should be Clinton, who made promoting women’s rights around the globe her priority as secretary of state.

At a forum in New York a few days after her tweet, she said the kidnapping “is abominable, it’s criminal, it’s an act of terrorism, and it really merits the fullest response possible.”

Strong words. Stalwart sentiment. It sounded like the fierce denunciation of a woman who would have used every tool at her disposal to combat Boko Haram when she was in power. Except that when she had the chance, Clinton refused to designate the terror group as a terror group.

Josh Rogin of the Daily Beast reported that after Boko Haram car-bombed the U.N. headquarters in Abuja in 2011, the Justice Department, the FBI, and the CIA all wanted to so designate the group. Clinton didn’t take them up on it. Perhaps if the dozens of dead and wounded in that suicide attack had had a hashtag devoted to them, she would have thought differently.

State Department officials worried about giving Boko Haram more publicity. This is perverse, especially in retrospect. All the celebrity tweeters about the kidnapping, including the first lady, are now seeking to give Boko Haram and its latest crime as much publicity as possible, on the assumption that it will hurt the group and help its victims.

If triggering our counterterrorism laws and isolating and denying resources to terrorist groups is really a boon to these groups, we should reconsider our entire counterterrorism apparatus. Who knew that the most effective way to fight terrorists is to ignore them as they steadily up the ante of their violence, as Boko Haram has through the years?

Former Bush-administration ambassador to Nigeria John Campbell said on Fox News Sunday that he and other Nigeria experts opposed the designation because it would limit contacts with Boko Haram and thus the potential for negotiations. And who would want to preemptively cut an al-Qaeda-linked Islamic supremacist group — devoted to the imposition of sharia law and to the murder of Christians and insufficiently zealous Muslims — out of any peace process?

Clinton’s State Department did rouse itself to designate a few top Boko Haram leaders as terrorists, and finally John Kerry’s State Department got around to designating the entire group late last year. If the logic of Clinton’s defenders holds, these acts are mistakes by the U.S. government and bound to backfire and assist Boko Haram. They should be reconsidered if we really want to get serious about fighting the group — by once again finding ways to avoid calling it what it is.

The slowness of the State Department’s designation of Boko Haram no doubt, eflects Foggy Bottom’s general reflex toward passivity and its taste for otherworldly arguments. But the designation fiasco is nonetheless a sign of how Clinton’s lackluster tenure as secretary of state will dog her. She can’t even hit Boko Haram without it becoming an argument about how she had no tangible successes. As President Barack Obama’s top foreign-policy official, she logged nearly a million miles of travel but was otherwise an appendage of a strategy of retreat.

Dean Acheson’s memoir of his time as secretary of state was called Present at the Creation. Hillary Clinton’s should be called, simply, Present. Asked at another forum recently what she considered unfinished business from her time as secretary of state, she said leadership in a democracy is a relay race where you hand off the baton to someone else.

This is what someone who hasn’t done anything says to justify her lack of accomplishment. How did she handle Boko Haram? She handed off the task of designating it as a terror group to her successor.

— Rich Lowry is the editor of National Review. He can be reached via e-mail: [email protected]. © 2014 King Features Syndicate

Meme Watch: #BringBackOurGirls
As the world reacted with horror to the kidnapping of hundreds of young Nigerian girls by the terrorist group Boko Haram, a side debate soon emerged over the effectiveness of messages of support in social media and so-called “hashtag diplomacy.” Here’s a look at the debate.
The hashtag #BringBackOurGirls spread quickly as news of the kidnappings emerged, and social media was soon awash in photos and expressions of support from private citizens and well-known celebrities and politicians around the world. Pictured, Ellen DeGeneres chimes in.
Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson tweeted from @TheRock: “We gotta always protect our children. All cultures”
Journalist Christiane Amanpour with British prime minister David Cameron (Image via @camanpour)
A related meme features men holding signs reading “Real Men Don’t Buy Girls,” a reference to Boko Haram’s stated intention to sell of some of the kidnapped girls as brides. Pictured, a collage of photos from Sean Penn, Justin Timberlake, and Ashton Kutcher.
While concern for the kidnapped girls and revulsion at Boko Haram remains nearly universal, some have questioned whether these expressions of support really accomplish anything or are merely empty rhetoric indulging the self-esteem of the sign holder. (Image via @gerfingerpoken)
“Hashtags don’t liberate hostages, but these guys do.” (@EWErickson)
Critics seized on the notion of the Twitter pictures as empty, if well-intentioned, rhetoric. Here’s a look at some of the mockery, mainly focused on the picture tweeted by First Lady Michelle Obama. (Image via (@Partisangirl)
“Dems found an issue they can shamelessly exploit 2distract from all t/pesky scandals” (@TEXASSHEBANDIT)
(Image via Facebook/Conservative-Lady)
(Image via Facebook/ImageBlitz)
(Image via Facebook/ImageBlitz)
(Image via Facebook/NOLAPDOGMEDIA)
(Image via Facebook/NOLAPDOGMEDIA)
(Image via @4enzicTom)
“Oopsie #BringBackOurGirls — Boko Haram Blows Up Bridge, Kidnaps More Kids” (@USABillOfRights)
(Image via @AwHatnOcattie)
“Mooch would like to #BringBackOurGirls but can’t until her husband #BringBackOurBalls” (@LadySandersfarm)
“#BringBackOurBalls and get rid of this wimpy hash tag diplomacy” (@LadySandersfarm)
“Schoolgirls Have Already Been Sold, Put on Canoes & Shipped to Chad” (@USABillofRights)
Others took the Obama administration to task on political grounds. (Image via @PrisonPlanet)
“Michelle showed she cared — on social media — and thats all that matters” (@DANEgerus)
“#BringBackOurGirls Except for thrones kidnapped by AlQaeda in #Syria the US supporters that ALQaeda” (@Partisangirl)
"A low blow by my coreligionists” (@MaajidNawaz)
(Image via @4enzicTom)
Skepticism over the hashtag took on added weight after revelations that the State Department, under then secretary of state Hillary Clinton, had refused to classify Boko Haram as a terrorist organization. (Image via @IWF)
(Image via @gerfingerpoken)
Columnist Mark Steyn derided Michelle Obama’s photo as “this week’s Hashtag of Western Impotence,” and suggested the somewhat crude counter-tag “BringBackOurBalls.” Fellow travelers on Twitter took up the challenge. (Image via @Carry_That_Load)
(Image via @papagiorgio200)
(Image via @MrLTavern)
Columnist Ann Coulter had similar sentiments.
Updated: May. 12, 2014