The American public is largely isolationist and tunes out the rest of the world . . . until some Islamist nut-job kidnaps a couple hundred schoolgirls and promises to sell them as slaves.
Because the Boko Haram abduction story now tangentially involves president-in-waiting Hillary Clinton — in that Hillary Clinton and her staff at the State Department consistently resisted calls to declare Boko Haram a terrorist group — the story is going to take a dramatically different turn in some outlets.
Some outlets will take a sudden interest in the corruption, dysfunction, and allegations of human-rights abuses within the Nigerian government, suggesting that the State Department was wise to minimize its interaction with this country and its internal fighting.
Some will offer the State Department’s fear that declaring Boko Haram a terrorist group would make the situation worse. This is a baffling assertion, because if it were true, the United States should never label any organization anywhere a terrorist group. As Andy McCarthy notes elsewhere on NRO,
The main point of having the list, and the sanctions that accompany a terrorist designation, is to weaken the organization by depriving it of assets and material support. The logic of what Clinton supporters are claiming is that U.S. counter-terrorism law — much of which was put in place by the administration of President Bill Clinton — does more harm than good.
Some senior members of Hillary Clinton’s staff still contend that putting an organization on the terrorism list helps it with recruitment:
“At the time — and I still think it’s very true — we didn’t move on Boko Haram because we thought it would give them a recruitment boost,” former Obama administration Undersecretary of State for African Affairs Johnnie Carson told ABC News on Thursday.
Perhaps it is true that any U.S. action will call more attention to the group, and the ruthless men of Boko Haram will take perverse pride in being called a terrorist by the United States. But so what? Are we trying to lower their self-esteem, or mitigate and impede their reign of terror? If we’re concerned about calling more attention to them, it’s a bit late for that, with the global coverage of their mass kidnapping.
As Jeryl Bier noticed, a staffer from the U.S. Consulate in Lagos asked Carson in September 2012, “Why is the government reluctant to designate the Boko Haram sect as a foreign terrorist organization?” Carson offered an answer that suggested doubt about whether they met the definition of terrorist:
We believe that the bulk of the Boko Haram movement is — they’re focused on trying to discredit the Nigerian Government, trying to do everything in its power to show that the government is ineffective in the defense of its people and in the protection of government institutions, so we have not designated the entire organization.
Finally, the State Department — under John Kerry — designated Boko Haram a terrorist group in November 2013, noting:
While the group’s principal focus is Nigeria, the United States cites links to the al Qaeda affiliate in West Africa, and extremist groups in Mali. Gen. Carter Ham, then the commander of U.S. Africa Command, has warned Congress that Boko Haram elements “aspire to a broader regional level of attacks,” including against United States and European interests.
So if designating a terrorist group a terrorist group empowers them, why was it such a good thing for the U.S. government to do it in 2013?
Some may try to argue Boko Haram wasn’t as ruthless, dangerous, or as serious a threat until recently. This is nonsense; the group was founded in 2002, had been referred to as Nigeria’s Taliban in 2004, announced its explicitly Islamist agenda in 2009. Their name literally means “Western education is a sin,” so it’s not like these guys are vague about their agenda or ideology.
And their methodology became increasingly dramatic during Hillary’s time at the State Department:
There is no doubt that the suppression operation of 2009, and the killing of Muhammad Yusuf by Nigerian security forces in July of that year, was a turning point for Boko Haram. The group was frequently said at this time to be defunct. In September 2010 (coinciding with Ramadan), however, Boko Haram carried out a prison break (said to have released some 700 prisoners), and the group began operations again. Its major operations since that time can be divided into the following attack categories: 1) military (three operations); 2) police (at least 16 operations); 3) teachers/university (five operations); 4) banks and markets (two operations); 5) carrying out al-amr bi-l-ma`ruf attacks on beer drinkers, card-players, etc. (at least five operations); 6) attacks on Christian preachers and churches (at least three operations); and 7) targeted assassinations (at least five major operations) . . .
Most dramatic has been the transition of Boko Haram toward the use of suicide attacks, starting with the attack on the police General Headquarters in Abuja on June 16, 2011 and then culminating with the attack on the UN headquarters, also in Abuja, on August 26, 2011.
That suicide bombing attack on the UN headquarters killed 21 people.
Finally, we will undoubtedly see people accusing Republicans of “politicizing the girls” or “politicizing the issue.” This is the pundit equivalent of punting on fourth down; if the decision-making of our government is ruled out of bounds for discussion, we might as well shut down the news business entirely.
Of course, Hillary defenders have one last response in their arsenal: