State, national columnists

Should US rescue kidnapped Nigerian girls?

Most Americans probably hadn’t heard of Boko Haram before last week, when the group kidnapped 270 Nigerian schoolgirls and threatened to sell them into slavery. Nigerians responded with a social media campaign, which drew support from celebrities and even first lady Michelle Obama. The demand: #bringbackourgirls.

President Obama has committed U.S. drones and reconnaissance to the search for the girls. But Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., says the president should send special forces to rescue the girls – with or without Nigerian officials’ permission – because their abduction amounts to “crimes against humanity” under the United Nations’ charter.

Will anything short of American force save those kidnapped girls? Should Boko Haram be the next target in the flagging U.S. war against terrorism? Ben Boychuk and Joel Mathis, the Red-Blue America columnists, weigh in.

Ben Boychuck

Just a few years ago, recall, President Obama was saying “al-Qaida is on the run” and that the terrorist umbrella organization was “on the path to defeat” in Iraq and Afghanistan. He noted emerging threats in Africa and the Arabian peninsula, however.

Turns out, al-Qaida is doing just fine. Boko Haram – whose name translates, more or less, to “Western education for girls is forbidden” – is an al-Qaida satellite. This group that few Americans knew about until recently has been terrorizing Nigerians in general, and Christians in particular, for several years.

The group is well-funded and well-organized. The Nigerian government’s effort to suppress it has largely failed. U.S. law prevents the president from providing direct military aid to Nigeria, because government forces are almost as bad as Boko Haram.

Instead, we’re flying drones and aircraft over an area “roughly the size of New England,” looking for nearly 300 girls who deserve better than what they’re getting right now.

Sen. McCain’s recommendation isn’t serious. It’s cheap posturing. U.S. special operators are the finest in the world, but they aren’t magicians. He knows as well as anyone that we don’t simply drop four or six SEALs into the wilderness and expect them to emerge in a few weeks, mission accomplished.

The War on Terrorism has stretched our special forces to their limit. Hundreds of our top warriors have been killed or wounded around the world. Their operations rely on extensive logistical support and communications.

We wouldn’t simply be putting a few “boots on the ground” in Nigeria. It would be hundreds, perhaps thousands.

And for what? Americans’ hearts break at the thought of those girls, snatched at gunpoint from their classrooms, being held captive by thugs beholden to a medieval ideology. But emotional appeals cannot be the basis of U.S. foreign policy. And half-measures may be worse than no measures at all.

What McCain proposes would be the Republican flip-side of “leading from behind.” Just send in special forces and hope for the best. Failure is not an option because it’s not even a consideration. Neither is wiping Boko Haram from the face of the earth.

Joel Mathis

Here’s a three-part test to determine when the U.S. should go abroad in search of monsters to destroy.

  • Are U.S. citizens or interests threatened? In Nigeria, the answer is pretty clear: No. While the kidnapping of little girls in horrific and shocks the conscience, America will be no less secure or safe if we simply do nothing against Boko Haram.
  • Is the event so shocking to the conscience that U.S. intervention is warranted? Here, your mileage may vary. My own level of intervention-worthy shock is genocide, basically. It’s why the United States would’ve been justified in a Rwanda intervention 20 years ago; why the basis for intervening in Syria – which used chemical weapons against its rebels, but on a very limited basis – was somewhat iffy a year ago, but still in the realm of possibility. But it’s why Nigeria’s kidnapping, awful and evil as it is, doesn’t qualify.
  • What are the chances of blowback against the United States? Don’t be fooled by hawkish triumphalists: There is almost no such thing as “surgical” and “precise” military action, such as those undertaken by drones or special forces: It often ends up much messier and more deadly on the ground than is portrayed.

An example: Yemen. The United States has been conducting an increasingly unpopular drone campaign there for years against al-Qaida-affiliated militants; in recent weeks, the war has escalated, with terrorists attempting – and failing – to kidnap U.S. intelligence officials, who had to shoot their way out of a Yemeni barbershop to survive. Once you start a war, you don’t necessarily choose when and where it ends.

A U.S. intervention against Boko Haram wouldn’t make America safer; it would probably make us less safe. The U.S. cannot and should not try to eliminate evil in the world. The people and parents of Nigeria have our good wishes – but they must do their own fighting.

Ben Boychuk ([email protected]) is associate editor of the Manhattan Institute’s City Journal. Joel Mathis ([email protected]) is associate editor for Philadelphia Magazine. Visit them on Facebook: www.facebook.com/benandjoel.

Ben Boychuk and Joel Mathis


Discussion | 5 comments

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  • Rich GiddensMay 15, 2014 - 1:52 pm

    No clear national interest exists with such a hands on intervention in any of those horrible African savage nations. Even if such a mission were successful, where would it stop? We have tried do-goodery before with operations short of war in Africa. Do we really need to see dead Americans dragged through the Muslim or Hottentot streets again? Instead of chasing ingrained embedded terrorists in Nigeria, we need to first explain the diplomatic / national security failure at Benghazi! 4 Americans including te Ambassador died there and we weren't told truthfully why such a collosal failure happened there. Instead of charging into Lagos, let's figure out why our diplomatic mission couldn't be defended in Libya! Nigeria is not an ally of the United States---they have been causing terrorist problems for the past 20 years---attacks on oil rigs, attacks on Christians and Churches, kidnappings and murders of westerners, ''General Fadi Basem'' types ripping people off on the internet, drug production and smuggling and now this. Send Obama there--one way.

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  • John Christopher sunolMay 15, 2014 - 3:30 pm

    I believe that Boko Horam is a very dangerous criminal gang and terror group. I state that the United states should consider sending in the Special forces and I back Senator John McCain fully as this group is an evil group and needs to be hunted down by the whole world media, When captured put into chains and dragged off the courts, a full scale war should be launched against all these Islamic terror groups. To Kidnap young girls and sell them as sex slaves is unthinkable in anyone's language and the United states as the world strongest power has a dirty to take action against this group.;

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  • John Christopher sunolMay 15, 2014 - 3:32 pm

    sorry a type, It needs to be hunted down the the whole worlds Police and Military forces and declared war on anywhere at any time for this, We need to support Nigeria over this as this is to much for one country

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  • Rich GiddensMay 16, 2014 - 7:13 am

    Me thinks you are are not a thinking person---we did this before in Somalia, remember? Let Nigeria handle Nigerian problems---we have no vital interest there and the US can't right every wrong on the planet. Remember too---we just lost the war on terror, so why do you listen to Obama's emotional appeals and grandstanding?

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  • S KMay 16, 2014 - 7:36 am

    As much as I feel for these girls, the People of the area, I say NO, we are not the world's POLICE FORCE!!!!!!!! Our guys & gals in uniform have already done way way more than their share. Let the local Governments handle it. Bring all our men & women HOME, NOW.

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