[Editor’s Note: The following post is by TDV contributor, Wendy McElroy]
A foreign policy driven by twitter and celebrity 'selfies' holding signs is an embarrassing disaster. On April 14, 250+ Nigerian schoolgirls were kidnapped by the radical Islamic Boko Haram, which is on America's terrorist list. (Sources vary on the number of girls.) As of May 8, #BringBackOurGirls had been tweeted more than 1.6 million times and by such luminaries as Sean Penn and Angelina Jolie. Apparently that's enough for President Obama to send a team including military advisors into Nigeria.
At first, the political response was scant. Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan remained silent until May 4, when domestic and international outrage forced him to promise action. On May 6, the US Senate condemned the kidnapping and called for the “bad guys” to be sent a message. Hours later, Obama did so by announcing America would send a team consisting of the “military, law enforcement, and other agencies” to “identify where in fact these girls might be and provide them help.”
Using military to address a police situation in a foreign land reveals how unhinged and globally dangerous Obama has become. The best outcome: the maneuver may waste mega-dollars, further destabilize Africa and increase hostility toward the US Or…Nigeria may become a Vietnam. Obama is willing to take the gamble.
The Kidnapping in Perspective
The kidnapping viciously brutalized girls for the 'sin' of seeking an education. But it was also a tactical move by a political faction that seeks to create fear and to prove a point. Atta Barkindo is a researcher at the University of London's School of Oriental and African Studies who focuses on Boko Haram. He commented, “Boko Haram wants to instill fear…,demonstrate that the government can no longer protect Nigerians and make [it]…look incapable before the people.”
To up their own leverage, Boko Haram announced an intention to sell the girls into sex slavery at $12 a piece. The tactic is timely because elections hit Nigeria in 2015, with a massive voter registration drive commencing later this month.
One reason it took so long for Obama to speak out is that even he realized involvement could backfire badly. The following list gives some indication of how:
–Jonathan clearly does not welcome foreign military and agreed only under extreme pressure. His reluctance is mirrored by many Nigerians. A May 7th headline in the periodical Compare Afrique read, “Dear Americans, Your Hashtags Won’t #BringBackOurGirls. You Might Actually Be Making Things Worse.” The article opened, “Simple question. Are you Nigerian? Do you have constitutional rights accorded to Nigerians to participate in their democratic process? If not, I have news for you. You can’t do anything about the girls missing in Nigeria. You can’t. Your insistence on urging American power, specifically American military power, to address this issue will ultimately hurt the people of Nigeria.” Meanwhile, Obama has repeatedly indicated that future involvement would be necessary to rein in Boko Haram.
–The Obama administration is already undercutting Jonathan toward whom it is hostile due to such policies as imposing 14-year jail sentences for homosexuality. The Factual Reporter is an English-language newspaper published in the Nigerian capital of Abuja. It recently stated, “The United States government has said the [Nigerian] Federal Government has not done enough to check the Boko Haram insurgency….The US also accused the federal government of not matching the efforts by northern state governments to promote education in the area. According to a report by the US Department of State published on Wednesday, the Federal Government has failed in tackling 'the grievances among northern populations'.”
–The American presence offers at least four advantages to the atavistically savage Boko Haram. The group moves from local infamy and into international prominence. Global opprobrium is directed at a political rival. America's focus aggrandizes Boko Haram's stature. And it is now a key rallying point for Islamic radicals who despise the West.
–The intervention harms Hillary Clinton's Presidential prospects. In 2009, Boko Haram publicly declared war on the West and an intention to “Islamise” Nigeria. It has mass murdered civilians ever since. In 2011, a House Subcommittee on Homeland Security strongly recommended listing Boko Haram as a terrorist organization; the FBI, CIA and Justice Department concurred. The State Department, under Clinton, refused. Boko Haram was finally listed in late 2013. The media is dissecting Clinton's refusal.
–A dangerous precedent is established. American military are involved in a foreign country's domestic police problems even though no American lives are threatened. Hideous crimes happen every day. In 2012, when UNICEF reported that 400 children had been arrested and tortured in Syria, Obama did not send the military. Now America is literally becoming the world's policeman.
–No one knows for sure what is happening in Nigeria. For example, the American media and Pentagon officials believe the kidnapped girls have been split up and taken across various borders. By contrast, Jonathan recently switched from claiming he did not know where they were to claiming he does. He says they are being held in the Boko Haram stronghold of the Sambisa Forest, which is described as being “eight times larger than Yellowstone National Park and full of poisonous snakes.” Of course, it is to Jonathan's advantage to have foreigners attack Boko Haram's sanctuary, especially if the rescue mission fails and the foreigners are embarrassed.
–The situation is unstable and unpredictable. The news aggregator Newser reported on May 9th, “A Nigerian police officer was shot in the neck during a gunfight with suspected Boko Haram members…which suggests the group is going after those searching for the girls.” What happens if the American team is killed? No one knows.
These are merely a few of the pitfalls.
Why Is Obama Proceeding?
There are several reasons.
The American public – and especially his support base – cried for action on an issue Obama has championed. A Spectator article (May 9) observed, “A girl’s right to an education has become an important pillar in western ideology, and an important pawn in the battle against radical Islam.” The fact that Boko Haram is equally opposed to boys receiving a Western education never seems to arise; the many boys kidnapped or killed are rarely mentioned. Or, perhaps, the 20 female US Senators who petitioned Obama for intervention do not care about male children.
Foreign policy disasters, such as Benghazi and the Ukraine, have left Obama looking weak and incompetent on the world stage. He needs a foreign policy 'win' even if it is only a public opinion one.
America already has a strong military presence in Africa. An antiwar.com headline (April 15) read, The US’s Invasion of Africa That Nobody Knows About.” The article observed, “The Obama administration has been slowly – and very quietly – peppering the US military throughout the continent and putting hundreds of millions of dollars into the pockets of government contractors to build the necessary infrastructure for a permanent US military presence.”
In 2007, George W. Bush created the United States Africa Command (AFRICOM) to coordinate operations and military relationships within Africa; it currently covers approximately 53 nations. Obama is continuing Bush's policies. Why?
There is oil. According to wikipedia, Nigeria “produces a form of oil ideal for the United States, has huge reserves, and has increased its production to 2.8 million barrels of oil a day." But the Nigerian government is notoriously corrupt. An op-ed in the Los Angeles Times (March 27) commented on the removal of Nigeria's central bank governor in the wake of “an estimated $20 billion that disappeared from the nation's oil revenue over an 18-month period.” The corruption makes it extremely difficult for oil companies to conduct business, including American ones.
Nevertheless, Obama seems clearly reluctant to enter Nigeria. Why else would the most prominent White House spokesperson for #BringBackOurGirls be Michelle and not Barack? Apparently he is smart enough to distance himself from this debacle-in-the-making.