#BokoHaram Doesn't Sing
by Len - May 21, 2014
The tweeting has subsided. That tends to happen in a trending world. Now what for the kidnapped Nigerian schoolgirls?
Let's begin with relevant comments Sunday by two women in the U.S. government.
At a what-to-do-about-the-girls summit of Western and African nations in Paris, U.S. Under-Secretary of State for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman said: "You know, I think it's now become our girls, not just Nigeria's girls, it's the world's girls."
On CNN, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the California Democrat and Intelligence Committee chair, said something she sounds like she's wanted to say for awhile: "We just went through the opening of the 9/11 museum. I know they will come after us if they can. I see the intelligence. Terror is not down in the world. It is up. Both deaths, injuries in many, many different places. Al Qaeda has metastasized. The question becomes how do we prevent an attack in this country."
An image from a Boko Haram video of the abducted Nigerian schoolgirls. AFP/Getty Images
Some have been having sport with the hashtag campaign for the kidnapped girls and about them being "the world's girls." It sounds like a Michael Jackson foreign policy: "We are the world."
Well, we are the world, and they want to blow us up. Like it or not, we're living in a Manichean world. Good versus evil. Us, them. Nigeria's 276 kidnapped schoolgirls are the latest.
Now that we're all on the same page and willing to act, it's time to answer Sen. Feinstein's question about al Qaeda's deadly, metastasizing cells. Al Qaeda or strains of al Qaeda are all over Africa—Nigeria, Kenya, Somalia, Libya, Mali. They're in Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and I'm guessing somewhere in London and New York.
The cure to al Qaeda's cancer is not watchful waiting. But with some notable exceptions, such as the invaluable drone strikes, watchful waiting is what the U.S. does most of the time.
The U.S. foreign-policy bureaucracy has known about Boko Haram for years. The emphasis there is on bureaucracy.
After Boko Haram bombed the U.N. headquarters in the Nigerian capital of Abuja in 2011, a bureaucratic debate ensued over whether to put them on the State Department's official terrorism list. The value of the listing aside, what's interesting is the familiar bureaucratic input-output over Boko Haram.
The Justice Department wanted Boko Haram on the terror list, as did the CIA. In November 2011—2½ years before the girls' kidnapping—the House Subcommittee on Counterterrorism and Intelligence published an excellent, bipartisan report on the Boko Haram threat, including response options—from military action to diplomacy.
State decided not to designate Boko Haram a Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO), arguing other tactics were available. A 2012 letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, opposing FTO, from 25 Africa scholars at U.S. universities appears to have become State's policy. They wrote that, "An FTO designation would internationalize Boko Haram's standing and enhance its status."
In the event, Boko Haram decided to enhance its status with or without official U.S. opinion about its FTO designation.
Last month Boko Haram grabbed the girls. In September, it shot 40 students in their sleep at a Nigerian college. On Tuesday, three Boko Haram car bombs blew up at least 118 people in the Nigerian city of Jos.
The bureaucratic debate over Boko Haram's "FTO designation," including that African scholars' letter, is a case study of a disease inside U.S. policy: In matters of national security, the U.S. government has become hopelessly bureaucratized and the public debate about it hopelessly intellectualized.
The bureaucratization was on frightening view at a Senate Foreign Relations hearing Wednesday, at which senators and lawyers for Defense and State couldn't agree on the current scope of the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force.
Ayaan Hirsi Ali was banned from speaking at Brandeis as an "Islamophobe" the week before Boko Haram abducted the girls and displayed them in hijabs. The next day, Commissioner Bill Bratton's New York City Police Department abandoned the anti-terror surveillance unit formed under his predecessor, Ray Kelly.
The Web is filled with exquisite pro-and-con debates about these matters, and more—NSA surveillance, CIA drones. That's great. But while we pour our energies into choreographing the dancing angels atop "our values" and what is permissible, a Boko Haram, al Qaeda or al Shabaab is fine-tuning its bombs and terror strategies. We seem self-doomed to allowing the intellectually perfect be the enemy of what's good for us. At the do-something margin, this hurts and can kill us.
Here's a save-our-girls conundrum. If you asked their parents if they would waterboard a Boko Haram captive to find where the girls are, what do you think they'd say?
Oh gosh, but we're Americans not Nigerians. Really? No, we are the world now, because from Ground Zero to Nigeria, we're all potential victims of Islamic terrorism. If waterboarding is out, then what's in? On the evidence of the Boko Haram kidnapping, whatever current U.S. policy is now on organizing and leading a global counter-offensive against terrorism, it isn't enough.
But, the Webites will reply, it's complicated, it's hard, it's expensive. All true.
Good luck, girls.