Commentary Magazine


Topic: Boko Haram

Jeers for Cruz and the Reality of Jew Hatred

Yesterday, our former colleague Alana Goodman reported in the Washington Free Beacon that a roster of speakers with ties to Hezbollah, Iran, and anti-Israel extremists tainted a Washington conference that was supposed to promote awareness of persecution of Christians. But it turns out the speakers weren’t the only problem at the In Defense of Christians event. Senator Ted Cruz was booed off the stage at the conference last night when he expressed support for Israel. While some are unfairly speculating whether Cruz’s courageous stand was a calculated gesture, what happened highlights the insidious growth of anti-Semitism even in places where one might not have expected it.

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Yesterday, our former colleague Alana Goodman reported in the Washington Free Beacon that a roster of speakers with ties to Hezbollah, Iran, and anti-Israel extremists tainted a Washington conference that was supposed to promote awareness of persecution of Christians. But it turns out the speakers weren’t the only problem at the In Defense of Christians event. Senator Ted Cruz was booed off the stage at the conference last night when he expressed support for Israel. While some are unfairly speculating whether Cruz’s courageous stand was a calculated gesture, what happened highlights the insidious growth of anti-Semitism even in places where one might not have expected it.

For the Cruz haters, the significant factor here is his presidential ambitions rather than the hate he faced. Over at Slate, Dave Weigel seems to imply that once Cruz figured out that he was attending an event that was sponsored by some fairly fishy characters, the Tea Party firebrand made a decision to distance himself from the group and dared them to boo him by making a strong pro-Israel statement. It was, the liberal pundit claimed, a “Pro-Israel Sister Souljah Moment” that will insulate the Texas senator against any claims that he made common cause with extremists.

If so, it was an extremely clever move by Cruz and his defiance of the crowd jeering him will long be remembered in the pro-Israel community:

Those who hate Israel hate America. Those who hate Jews hate Christians. If those in this room will not recognize that, then my heart weeps. If you hate the Jewish people you are not reflecting the teachings of Christ. And the very same people who persecute and murder Christians right now, who crucify Christians, who behead children, are the very same people who target Jews for their faith, for the same reason. … If you will not stand with Israel and the Jews. Then I will not stand with you. Good night, and God bless.

But the idea that Cruz was worried about his pro-Israel credentials doesn’t wash. Cruz has made a lot of enemies on Capitol Hill with his take-no-prisoners approach to policy and an abrasive manner that has alienated colleagues on both sides of the aisle. But he’s also taken every possible opportunity to articulate strong support for Israel, often taking the administration to task for its predilection for picking fights with the Netanyahu government. While he certainly did himself some good by standing up to these haters, his statement was not out of character for a man who has often uttered these sentiments in other contexts.

It’s also not clear that this will give Cruz any material advantage in 2016. Other than Rand Paul, whose isolationist tendencies make him extremely problematic for supporters of the Jewish state or a strong U.S. foreign policy, all of the major and most of the minor GOP contenders have strong pro-Israel records. This is not an issue on which any of those contending for the nomination will be able to distance themselves from the pack.

But instead of speculating, as Weigel did, on the questionable notion that this was a political stunt by Cruz, the real issue here is the effort to mainstream anti-Semitism while operating under the banner of defense of persecuted Christians.

The issue of the oppression of Christians in the Middle East is an important one that has for too long flown under the radar. The rise of violent Islamist groups like ISIS and Boko Haram have brought this issue more attention in recent months. But the willingness of some Middle East Christians to make common cause with Muslims when it comes to Israel undermines their cause. Jews and Christians have always suffered under Muslim rule as Dhimmi, persecuted minorities that are nonetheless protected from murder so long as they accede to their second-class citizen status. In the 20th century, some Christians sought to prove themselves by affirming their loyalty to a pan-Arab identity that placed them in the forefront of the war against Zionism and the Jews. But the idea that their opposition to Israel could protect them against Muslim extremism was a tragic mistake.

Today, Christians find themselves under tremendous pressure in a region where true freedom of religion only really exists in Israel. Yet some who claim to represent Christians are once again outspoken in their hate for Israel and even absurdly blaming the Jews for their plight at the hands of hostile Palestinian Islamists. Instead of making common cause with Jews who are also targeted because of their faith, some Christian groups have become among the most outspoken advocates of hate against Israel.

This unfortunate trend must seen in the same context as the rising tide of anti-Semitism in Europe that is now beginning to be exported to American college campuses. As with others who oppose Israel’s existence and its right to self-defense, these Christian groups—whether mainline denominations such as the Presbyterian Church USA or organizations with their roots in the Middle East as is the case with In Defense of Christians—are spreading hatred of Jews and must be called out for their hypocrisy as well as the libelous nature of the propaganda they spread.

Americans need to speak up now against the persecution of Christians in the Middle East. But groups that wish to divert Western anger from Islamist killers to besieged Israel should not fool them. No matter his possible future plans, Cruz deserves credit for denouncing a hate group masquerading as victims. Rather than snipe at him, decent people on all parts of the political spectrum should be joining him in standing up to anti-Semites, not ignoring them.

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Will Michelle Join Hashtag Battle Against Hamas Kidnappers?

When the Boko Haram terrorist group kidnapped 300 Nigerian girls not long ago, the response from the mainstream media as well as liberal elites was not long in coming. The outrage and calls for action seemed strangely disconnected from the enthusiasm on the part of many of those speaking up about the kidnapped girls for President Obama’s weak “lead from behind” foreign policy that has left the U.S. paralyzed in the face of egregious human-rights disasters, such as the one in Syria. But as much as many of those promoting the Twitter hashtag #bringbackourgirls, such as First Lady Michelle Obama, seemed to confuse a tweet with tangible action that might do something, the willingness of Americans both prominent and obscure to express their concern was appropriate. As we have since learned, it will take more than a hashtag and a selfie to rescue the girls that Boko Haram have boasted of selling into slavery. But the criticism of the naïveté of the tweeters revealed that social media has become one of the principal battlefronts in human-rights controversies.

That’s become apparent in the last week as both Israelis and Palestinians have taken to Twitter and Facebook to express their feelings about the kidnapping of three Jewish teenagers who were apparently kidnapped Friday by Hamas terrorists. These social media campaigns have now been taken up by the rest of the world and become fodder for media stories. But unlike the worldwide consensus that kidnapping Nigerian girls was a terrible thing, what we have discovered is that there is no such unanimity in the civilized world about the fate of Jewish boys. While Jews and friends of Israel have promoted the #bringbackourboys slogan on Twitter, Palestinians and their sympathizers have answered with #threeshalits, an expression that is not only a callous comment about their abduction but an explicit endorsement of kidnapping as a tactic to force Israel to release imprisoned terrorists.

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When the Boko Haram terrorist group kidnapped 300 Nigerian girls not long ago, the response from the mainstream media as well as liberal elites was not long in coming. The outrage and calls for action seemed strangely disconnected from the enthusiasm on the part of many of those speaking up about the kidnapped girls for President Obama’s weak “lead from behind” foreign policy that has left the U.S. paralyzed in the face of egregious human-rights disasters, such as the one in Syria. But as much as many of those promoting the Twitter hashtag #bringbackourgirls, such as First Lady Michelle Obama, seemed to confuse a tweet with tangible action that might do something, the willingness of Americans both prominent and obscure to express their concern was appropriate. As we have since learned, it will take more than a hashtag and a selfie to rescue the girls that Boko Haram have boasted of selling into slavery. But the criticism of the naïveté of the tweeters revealed that social media has become one of the principal battlefronts in human-rights controversies.

That’s become apparent in the last week as both Israelis and Palestinians have taken to Twitter and Facebook to express their feelings about the kidnapping of three Jewish teenagers who were apparently kidnapped Friday by Hamas terrorists. These social media campaigns have now been taken up by the rest of the world and become fodder for media stories. But unlike the worldwide consensus that kidnapping Nigerian girls was a terrible thing, what we have discovered is that there is no such unanimity in the civilized world about the fate of Jewish boys. While Jews and friends of Israel have promoted the #bringbackourboys slogan on Twitter, Palestinians and their sympathizers have answered with #threeshalits, an expression that is not only a callous comment about their abduction but an explicit endorsement of kidnapping as a tactic to force Israel to release imprisoned terrorists.

The competition between these two groups hasn’t engaged liberal elites the way the Boko Haram attack, did but the willingness of some liberal publications to engage in the worst sort of blame-the-victim memes with regard to the kidnapped boys illustrates that the pro-human rights mentality that made #bringbackourgirls such a huge success is based on sentiments that run about a millimeter deep in our culture. With supposedly cutting edge websites like Vox using the kidnapping as an excuse to engage in specious and largely false arguments about the evils of Israeli occupation of the West Bank to rationalize if not justify Palestinian terrorism, it’s little wonder that Mrs. Obama is not lending her immense prestige to the campaign to free the Israeli boys.

Why won’t Michelle Obama tweet her sympathy for the Israeli boys? The answer is obvious. To do so would be to make it clear that the White House believes that the human rights of Jews, even those living on what the administration thinks is the wrong side of the green line, are human beings with rights, rather than just flesh and blood targets.

While no individual or even any government can involve itself in every issue or incident on the planet, the choices we make are instructive as to whether our putative concern for human rights is a pose or a genuine commitment. In the case of Boko Haram’s victims, it was easy for liberal Americans to express anger for the terrorists and sympathy for the victims, since to do so involved no hard choices, other than the choice former secretary of state Hillary Clinton made in refusing to designate the kidnappers as a terror group during her time in office. Americans don’t really care who runs Northern Nigeria or the intricacies of that vast nation’s political and religious conflicts. But that didn’t stop them from rightly expressing their disgust with the notion that terrorists could simply snatch girls from school and force them to convert to Islam and/or to sell them into slavery.

But to use their hashtag power to speak up against Hamas and the widespread support for kidnapping among Palestinians, even though PA leader Mahmoud Abbas has belatedly condemned the crime, involves some real hard choices. It involves a realization that the Middle East conflict isn’t so much about borders or Israel’s policies as it is about the hate that drives Palestinian rejection of the Jewish state’s repeated offers of peace.

Boko Haram’s military was not matched by an ability to mobilize international opinion on behalf of their cause of preventing women from being educated. But Hamas is more fortunate. They can not only count on Palestinian social media users to glorify their crimes and to call for more such abductions but also rely on the willingness of many Western liberals to rationalize any violence against Israelis.

Up until now, the response of the U.S. to the kidnapping has been weak. While Secretary of State John Kerry has condemned it, he has not sought to draw conclusions from events about the wisdom of his decision to go on supplying the Fatah-Hamas Palestinian government with American taxpayer dollars. Nor has the White House specifically called for the release of the boys and the surrender of the Hamas terrorists.

While we still know nothing about the fate of the boys, countering those who are supporting the kidnapping—a vicious campaign with overtones of traditional anti-Semitism—won’t be easy. But it would be helped if the first lady were willing to endorse freedom for the boys. A hashtag is no substitute for action or even a policy that sought to disassociate America from Palestinian terror. But it would be a start.

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Human Rights Watch Doesn’t Understand Terrorism

Kenneth Roth, the executive director of Human Rights Watch, is a prolific tweeter. And as with most policymakers, analysts, and activists who expound on Twitter, often their tweets can provide windows into their minds more illuminating than carefully edited essays.

Alas, from this recent tweet, it appears that Roth doesn’t really understand terrorism. He opines, in twitterese, “Abusive #Nigeria army is big part of why we have Boko Haram. Leahy Law key to ensure US aid doesn’t reinforce abuse.” Now, don’t get me wrong: Nigeria is an extraordinarily corrupt country and its army is often dysfunctional. Nor is the Nigerian army by any means a paradigm of human rights.

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Kenneth Roth, the executive director of Human Rights Watch, is a prolific tweeter. And as with most policymakers, analysts, and activists who expound on Twitter, often their tweets can provide windows into their minds more illuminating than carefully edited essays.

Alas, from this recent tweet, it appears that Roth doesn’t really understand terrorism. He opines, in twitterese, “Abusive #Nigeria army is big part of why we have Boko Haram. Leahy Law key to ensure US aid doesn’t reinforce abuse.” Now, don’t get me wrong: Nigeria is an extraordinarily corrupt country and its army is often dysfunctional. Nor is the Nigerian army by any means a paradigm of human rights.

But even if the Nigerian army is complicit in human rights abuses, Boko Haram doesn’t exist as a protest against the army. It exists because of the influence of Saudi-funded preachers who have for decades sought to introduce radical theological interpretations into Western Africa and elsewhere in the world, some of which have taken root. The speech by Boko Haram leader Abubakr Shekau, which I have previously written about and in which he justified his kidnapping of the still-missing Nigerian school girls, is quite illuminating. It is at once a rant against Christianity, a call for the re-institution of slavery and what in Shekau’s mind would be a perfect Islamist order, and finally a general condemnation of both democracy and the West.

Too many academics and diplomats—and it seems organizations like Human Rights Watch—prefer to ignore the ideology which underpins Islamist-inspired terrorism and instead see the world through the prism of grievance: That’s comforting, because it deludes its adherents into believing that they can resolve problems like Boko Haram simply by addressing concrete grievances. But it is also foolish and deluded because men like Abubakr Shekau, Ayman al-Zawahiri, Hassan Nasrallah, Ismail Haniyeh, and Ali Khamenei put their own narrow, extreme, and radical religious ideology above all else. They welcome concessions or incentives simply because it makes their fight easier, but they will never embrace their hateful doctrines. When it comes to Boko Haram and other Islamist terrorist groups, it is disappointing that men like Kenneth Roth and Human Rights Watch, the organization he represents, still ignore ideology and seem to believe that the fault lies more with the men and women putting their lives on the line to fight terrorism.   

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It’s About Christianity, Not the Girls

Commentators from across the political spectrum have chimed in on the horror of Boko Haram’s abduction of more than 300 school girls. And, certainly, the fact that the victims were young school girls has made a difference in the Western world’s interest in the story. But, while #BringBackOurGirls has become a trending hashtag, it may be missing the point.

Reading the speech of Boko Haram leader Abubakr Shekau, it is clear that for him, the target may have been the girls, but the motivation was not simply to prevent girls from receiving education or a desire to attack Western education more broadly, but rather to launch a much broader attack on Christianity.

He begins:

My brethren in Islam, I am greeting you in the name of Allah like he instructed we should among Muslims. Allah is great and has given us privilege and temerity above all people. If we meet infidels, if we meet those that become infidels according to Allah, there is no any talk except hitting of the neck; I hope you chosen people of Allah are hearing. This is an instruction from Allah. It is not a distorted interpretation it is from Allah himself. This is from Allah on the need for us to break down infidels, practitioners of democracy, and constitutionalism, voodoo and those that are doing western education, in which they are practicing paganism.

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Commentators from across the political spectrum have chimed in on the horror of Boko Haram’s abduction of more than 300 school girls. And, certainly, the fact that the victims were young school girls has made a difference in the Western world’s interest in the story. But, while #BringBackOurGirls has become a trending hashtag, it may be missing the point.

Reading the speech of Boko Haram leader Abubakr Shekau, it is clear that for him, the target may have been the girls, but the motivation was not simply to prevent girls from receiving education or a desire to attack Western education more broadly, but rather to launch a much broader attack on Christianity.

He begins:

My brethren in Islam, I am greeting you in the name of Allah like he instructed we should among Muslims. Allah is great and has given us privilege and temerity above all people. If we meet infidels, if we meet those that become infidels according to Allah, there is no any talk except hitting of the neck; I hope you chosen people of Allah are hearing. This is an instruction from Allah. It is not a distorted interpretation it is from Allah himself. This is from Allah on the need for us to break down infidels, practitioners of democracy, and constitutionalism, voodoo and those that are doing western education, in which they are practicing paganism.

He continues with a diatribe against tolerance and multiculturalism:

Suddenly you will hear somebody coming and be saying that there are no religious differences, where did you have that talk that there are no differences? Where did you get this talk because of Allah? Who told you there are no differences when Allah said there are differences in religion…?

Selling the girls—or better yet converting them—is but one part of the plan:

I am selling the girls like Allah said until we soak the ground of Nigeria with infidels blood and so called Muslims contradicting Islam. After we have killed, killed, killed and get fatigue and wondering on what to do with smelling of their corpses, smelling of Obama, Bush, Putin and Jonathan worried us then we will open prison and be imprisoned the rest. Infidels have no value. It is [Nigerian President Goodluck] Jonathan’s daughter that I will imprison; nothing will stop this until you convert. If you turn to Islam then you will be saved. For me anyone that embraces Islam is my brother.

Indeed, he appears obsessed with the idea that Christians are simply unclean. “In fact, you are supposed to wash and re-wash a plate Christian eats food before you eat as Muslims,” he warns, and continues:

We are anti-Christians, and those that deviated from Islam, they are forming basis with prayers but infidels. All those with turbans looking for opportunities to smear us, they are all infidels. Betrayers and cheats like them. Like Israeli people, Rome, England– they are all Christians and homosexuals. People of Germany like Margret Thatcher. Ndume are all infidels.

As he concludes his speech, he leaves no room for doubt:

To the people of the world, everybody should know his status: it is either you are with us Mujahedeen or you are with the Christians… We know what is happening in this world, it is a Jihad war against Christians and Christianity. It is a war against western education, democracy and constitution. We have not started, next time we are going inside Abuja; we are going to refinery and town of Christians. Do you know me? I have no problem with Jonathan. This is what I know in Quran. This is a war against Christians and democracy and their constitution, Allah says we should finish them when we get them.

There can be very little doubt about what is motivating Shekau and his followers. What is truly amazing is the extent to which the focus on Boko Haram’s hostages has overshadowed a very clear statement about motivation. No, the problem is not simply girls going to school. It is much, much broader and the fact that Western journalists, diplomats, and the first lady of the United States are ignoring this aspect of the Boko Haram outrage really does suggest the extent to which the West simply does not understand the ideological motivations driving terrorism against it.

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Hashtag Diplomacy Jumps the Shark

The Obama administration’s “hashtag diplomacy” has been under criticism for some time, though condemnation of its participation in the campaign to rescue the girls kidnapped by Nigeria’s Islamist terror group Boko Haram–tweeting messages along with the tag #BringBackOurGirls–was especially voluble this weekend. I agree with Jonathan on First Lady Michelle Obama’s decision to join the hashtag campaign: it’s harmless; she’s a political celebrity without the power to do more than speak out anyway; and while she certainly can simply tell her husband to “bring back our girls” in private, doing so publicly is more meaningful, and possibly more effective.

However, it is decidedly not harmless when a Western leader who really can order troops decides his or her contribution will be to play a hashtag game. I’m looking at you, British Prime Minister David Cameron, head of the government while representing the party once led by Winston Churchill and Margaret Thatcher. In fairness to Cameron, he was on a television talk show when another guest, CNN’s Christiane Amanpour, asked him if he’d like to hold the sign and mug for the cameras. I’m not sure how it would have looked if he’d said no. At the same time, he shows no understanding of just how silly it looks to have a Western leader join this campaign, which should be reserved for those who can’t do more than make a sad face and throw up their hands.

Just who is Cameron telling to “bring back our girls”? The terrified parents of these children are certainly getting the impression that they’re on their own, as the New York Times reports:

Desperate parents have entered the forest themselves, armed only with bows and arrows. Officials say the military is searching there but there have been no results so far.

So parents have in some cases taken bows and arrows into enemy terrain to hunt for their children, because the guys commanding the most powerful and technologically advanced armies in the world are holding up cardboard signs and looking glumly into the camera, as if Boko Haram will be moved to charity by the ostentatiously pathetic nature of it all.

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The Obama administration’s “hashtag diplomacy” has been under criticism for some time, though condemnation of its participation in the campaign to rescue the girls kidnapped by Nigeria’s Islamist terror group Boko Haram–tweeting messages along with the tag #BringBackOurGirls–was especially voluble this weekend. I agree with Jonathan on First Lady Michelle Obama’s decision to join the hashtag campaign: it’s harmless; she’s a political celebrity without the power to do more than speak out anyway; and while she certainly can simply tell her husband to “bring back our girls” in private, doing so publicly is more meaningful, and possibly more effective.

However, it is decidedly not harmless when a Western leader who really can order troops decides his or her contribution will be to play a hashtag game. I’m looking at you, British Prime Minister David Cameron, head of the government while representing the party once led by Winston Churchill and Margaret Thatcher. In fairness to Cameron, he was on a television talk show when another guest, CNN’s Christiane Amanpour, asked him if he’d like to hold the sign and mug for the cameras. I’m not sure how it would have looked if he’d said no. At the same time, he shows no understanding of just how silly it looks to have a Western leader join this campaign, which should be reserved for those who can’t do more than make a sad face and throw up their hands.

Just who is Cameron telling to “bring back our girls”? The terrified parents of these children are certainly getting the impression that they’re on their own, as the New York Times reports:

Desperate parents have entered the forest themselves, armed only with bows and arrows. Officials say the military is searching there but there have been no results so far.

So parents have in some cases taken bows and arrows into enemy terrain to hunt for their children, because the guys commanding the most powerful and technologically advanced armies in the world are holding up cardboard signs and looking glumly into the camera, as if Boko Haram will be moved to charity by the ostentatiously pathetic nature of it all.

A world leader holding up a sign asking someone to please do something is an unnecessary, if implicit, admission of the intent to do nothing. This has been a running complaint of Western leaders, especially Barack Obama, of late. He has taken to declaring he wouldn’t use force without even being asked. It just became second nature for the president to insist that there wasn’t much to be done.

Although it is an imperfect analogy, it’s striking to contrast this with Ken Adelman’s piece at Politico about Ronald Reagan’s Strategic Defense Initiative. It was derided, of course, as “star wars” by its critics and no one was sure it could even be done. But Adelman, who traveled with Reagan to his famous Reykjavik summit with Mikhail Gorbachev, notes that the Soviet leader was worried enough about SDI that he made it the focus of that meeting. He would give Reagan the dramatic nuclear cuts he wanted, but the deal had to include getting rid of SDI:

Reagan was furious with Gorbachev’s last-minute qualification. And he would not compromise on SDI, no matter the incentives. With all that we have achieved, he in essence told his Soviet counterpart, you throw in this roadblock and everything’s out the window. There’s absolutely no way we will give up research to find a defensive weapon against nuclear missiles.

“Am I wrong?” the president then scribbled on a note to George Schultz, his secretary of state. “No,” was the reply, whispered in his ear. “You are right.”

Adelman notes that the meeting was not considered a success because the two sides didn’t come to an agreement. But it was a success. SDI didn’t bring down the Soviet Union, but it played a role by accelerating Soviet reforms that the system could not, in the end, handle. Adelman quotes Margaret Thatcher as writing in her memoirs that Gorbachev was “so alarmed” by SDI that it made Reagan’s decision on SDI the “single most important of his presidency.”

Development of a missile shield is not the same as deploying forces in harm’s way, of course. But the point is less about the action taken than the willingness to make your enemies believe you’re capable of taking action. I’m reminded of a different Thatcher quote from another edition of her memoirs, when discussing members of her own party who behave as though they’ve already lost to the other side. “Retreat as a tactic is sometimes necessary; retreat as a settled policy eats at the soul.”

Cameron–and other Western leaders, including Obama–would do well to take that to heart. They should stop feeling so helpless, because they aren’t. But at the very least, they should stop acting so helpless.

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Boko Haram and the Liberal Elites

Some on the right are mocking the Twitter offensive being conducted by the administration and the liberal and Hollywood elite against the Boko Haram terrorists who abducted 300 Nigerian girls from a school and then boasted this week that they would sell them into slavery. While everyone agrees that the mass kidnapping and the effort to stop girls from being educated is outrageous, some people think there’s something slightly absurd about the fact that it seems as if the principal response of the West to this latest instance of Islamist depredations is to tweet about it. They’re right about that.

Let’s specify that making fun of the first lady for joining in the chorus of #bringbackourgirls tweets is both mean-spirited and beside the point. It is to the credit of Mrs. Obama that she would attempt to use her enormous international prestige to help dramatize the plight of the girls and add further force to the anger about the crime. Neither she nor any of the Hollywood stars that are use their Twitter accounts to put themselves on the side of those seeking to undo this injustice have anything to apologize about. Considering that all too many of this same group often devote their public utterances to inconsequential affairs or, worse, peddling the conventional wisdom about issues in the form of liberal platitudes, none of them can do much about Boko Harm other than stating their opposition–and good for them for doing so.

But once we’ve defended the backlash of outrage on Twitter, it is time to admit that Rush Limbaugh may have had a point when he noted last week that some of those who have done their bit for the abducted girls on Twitter may be under the delusion that doing so actually constitutes something important or even a tangible response to the crime. Much like the isolationists who must now explain why they think it is appropriate for the U.S. to try to do something about the 300 girls but still advocate a retreat from engagement in the war against Islamist terror, liberals must examine the disconnect between their outrage and the weak foreign policy of the Obama administration that they have cheered.

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Some on the right are mocking the Twitter offensive being conducted by the administration and the liberal and Hollywood elite against the Boko Haram terrorists who abducted 300 Nigerian girls from a school and then boasted this week that they would sell them into slavery. While everyone agrees that the mass kidnapping and the effort to stop girls from being educated is outrageous, some people think there’s something slightly absurd about the fact that it seems as if the principal response of the West to this latest instance of Islamist depredations is to tweet about it. They’re right about that.

Let’s specify that making fun of the first lady for joining in the chorus of #bringbackourgirls tweets is both mean-spirited and beside the point. It is to the credit of Mrs. Obama that she would attempt to use her enormous international prestige to help dramatize the plight of the girls and add further force to the anger about the crime. Neither she nor any of the Hollywood stars that are use their Twitter accounts to put themselves on the side of those seeking to undo this injustice have anything to apologize about. Considering that all too many of this same group often devote their public utterances to inconsequential affairs or, worse, peddling the conventional wisdom about issues in the form of liberal platitudes, none of them can do much about Boko Harm other than stating their opposition–and good for them for doing so.

But once we’ve defended the backlash of outrage on Twitter, it is time to admit that Rush Limbaugh may have had a point when he noted last week that some of those who have done their bit for the abducted girls on Twitter may be under the delusion that doing so actually constitutes something important or even a tangible response to the crime. Much like the isolationists who must now explain why they think it is appropriate for the U.S. to try to do something about the 300 girls but still advocate a retreat from engagement in the war against Islamist terror, liberals must examine the disconnect between their outrage and the weak foreign policy of the Obama administration that they have cheered.

Is it too much to ask that anyone who is angry about Boko Haram needs to understand that getting the girls back or helping the millions of other men, women, and children threatened by Islamist terror requires more than a hashtag and a selfie? Though the left still mocks neoconservatives as “warmongers,” do those flocking to Twitter really think anything short of force will rescue the girls, if indeed that is still possible after both the Nigerian government and the rest of the world has dithered about their fate in recent weeks?

Social media is an effective marketing and informational tool but terrorists are defeated by force, not sternly worded tweets. We’d all like to believe, as the New York Times’s Nicholas Kristof does, that education would defeat Boko Haram in the long run. But an administration that waited years before designated this al-Qaeda affiliate as a terrorist group, and whose “lead from behind” tactics created the power vacuum in Libya that led to it being armed, cannot evade some of the responsibility for the fact that it now operates with apparent impunity.

Like it or not, the West is locked in a long war with Islamist terror. Retreating from Iraq and Afghanistan won’t end it. Nor will détente with Iran or pressure on Israel. It will require patience that democracies often lack and a willingness to maintain both vigilance and an aggressive policy that keeps America engaged even when we’d rather stay at home and tend our own gardens. But most of all it will require Americans, both the ordinary person in the street as well as the Hollywood elite, to understand that incidents like the Boko Haram abduction can’t be isolated from a conflict they would rather forget or pretend was merely a function of Bush administration policy.

So tweet about the girls all you want, Hollywood. But while you’re tweeting about the girls in between attending fundraisers for the president who has weakened our ability to influence events abroad, just remember that if you really want to help the girls and the countless other potential victims of Islamist terror, you need to also support a strong America and the use of force to defend the values we all believe in.

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Helping Nigeria in the Long Term

I am deeply ambivalent about the current cry to #freeourgirls–the international Twitter campaign to pressure Boko Haram, a Nigerian terrorist group loosely affiliated with al-Qaeda, to release some 300 girls it has kidnapped. Like everyone else I am appalled at the brutality and inhumanity of Boko Haram, which has even some jihadists disassociating themselves from its actions. And I am sympathetic in principle to the idea of the U.S. working with the Nigerian government to free the captives. 

As Michael Rubin notes, this is the kind of humanitarian mission that can engender a lot of goodwill. The problem is that such goodwill can evaporate quickly–as it did in Pakistan after the U.S. helped provide relief following a 2005 earthquake. Pakistanis were grateful but today that country remains as anti-American as ever, with 74 percent of those surveyed by Pew in 2012 describing the U.S. as an enemy.

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I am deeply ambivalent about the current cry to #freeourgirls–the international Twitter campaign to pressure Boko Haram, a Nigerian terrorist group loosely affiliated with al-Qaeda, to release some 300 girls it has kidnapped. Like everyone else I am appalled at the brutality and inhumanity of Boko Haram, which has even some jihadists disassociating themselves from its actions. And I am sympathetic in principle to the idea of the U.S. working with the Nigerian government to free the captives. 

As Michael Rubin notes, this is the kind of humanitarian mission that can engender a lot of goodwill. The problem is that such goodwill can evaporate quickly–as it did in Pakistan after the U.S. helped provide relief following a 2005 earthquake. Pakistanis were grateful but today that country remains as anti-American as ever, with 74 percent of those surveyed by Pew in 2012 describing the U.S. as an enemy.

What we really need in Pakistan is the same thing we need in Nigeria: not one-off humanitarian assistance but a sustained and serious commitment to nation-building. It is the lack of effective governance that has allowed Pakistan and to a lesser extent Nigeria to become a playground for jihadists ranging from al-Qaeda to the Haqqani Network and Boko Haram. Whatever the fate of those poor kidnapped girls–and everything practicable should be done to liberate them–many more innocents will die in Nigeria unless the government can reduce its rampant corruption and increase its effectiveness such that it can effectively curb Boko Haram in the future.

That is a big job, and one primarily for the Nigerians. But the U.S. also has a stake in the outcome because we don’t want Islamist extremists destabilizing the No. 1 oil producer in Africa. Unlike Michael, I do believe that nation-building is a job for the U.S. military–at least, it is a job that the military has been doing ever since the Lewis and Clark expedition laid the foundations for America’s expansion from sea to shining sea. But it is not a job for our military alone. There needs to be a major interagency effort–with a big contribution from the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development, not just the Department of Defense–to help Nigeria to build more effective and accountable governmental institutions starting with its security forces.

This is obviously a long-term project that will not offer a quick payoff such as a mission to rescue the kidnapped girls. But it has the potential to do more good in the long run.

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Of Military and Humanitarian Missions

Using military assets to rescue the school girls kidnapped in Nigeria has become the crie du jour among the broader policy community. Admittedly, I am sympathetic as well to using tools in the American arsenal, although under no circumstances should that include boots on the ground: Nigeria is a corrupt morass and a major part of the story there—that the first lady of Nigeria at first denied the kidnapping and then targeted and had arrested family members of the kidnapped girls, accusing them of manufacturing the crisis to embarrass her husband—hasn’t fully made it into the Western press.

Nevertheless, if U.S. drones can survey territory not easily accessible and locate the girls or their captors, and if that enables the ability of Nigerian Special Forces to rescue them, it’s an excellent use of U.S. resources. If Ospreys are needed to ferry troops or provide transport, perhaps that further involvement would be worth it. The goodwill brokered by enabling such a rescue against a group so roundly hated in Nigeria and more broadly in Africa would be a great investment.

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Using military assets to rescue the school girls kidnapped in Nigeria has become the crie du jour among the broader policy community. Admittedly, I am sympathetic as well to using tools in the American arsenal, although under no circumstances should that include boots on the ground: Nigeria is a corrupt morass and a major part of the story there—that the first lady of Nigeria at first denied the kidnapping and then targeted and had arrested family members of the kidnapped girls, accusing them of manufacturing the crisis to embarrass her husband—hasn’t fully made it into the Western press.

Nevertheless, if U.S. drones can survey territory not easily accessible and locate the girls or their captors, and if that enables the ability of Nigerian Special Forces to rescue them, it’s an excellent use of U.S. resources. If Ospreys are needed to ferry troops or provide transport, perhaps that further involvement would be worth it. The goodwill brokered by enabling such a rescue against a group so roundly hated in Nigeria and more broadly in Africa would be a great investment.

Faced with criticism regarding how the United States distributes and spends foreign aid, the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) often complain that the United States spends just a tiny proportion of its budget on foreign assistance, and that USAID should actually have a larger budget. A successful rescue of the school girls in Nigeria, however, could bring greater benefit to America’s image than all the money the State Department has spent in Nigeria over the past two decades.

When it comes to goodwill and effectiveness, such reality is the rule rather than the exception. The U.S. military is the largest and most effective humanitarian organization in the world. Nation-building should not be its mission—much of what the public complains about in Iraq and Afghanistan are actually the result of ill-advised nation-building and mission creep, not the military’s initial goals—but the military has often been used in rescues and emergency relief. The United States received tremendous goodwill for its emergency relief in the wake of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami. Once again, the weeks of work the U.S. Navy and Marines did trumped decades of U.S. foreign assistance to countries like Sri Lanka, Thailand, and Indonesia.

The Navy was likewise on the front lines of operations in the wake of the Japan earthquake and tsunami, and the Haiti earthquake. Again, in each instance, the military exercised a capability neither the United Nations nor any NGO has, and the help offered by the military was far more effective and created greater goodwill than decades of work by the State Department and USAID. The video of rescues of Iranian fisherman likewise are a huge boon to the image of America.

How ironic it is that the Obama administration wants to trim the Marine Expeditionary Units and the Carrier Strike Groups so responsible for these successes, or that it seems to want to double down on an aid agency that has decades of expensive failure to its name. Perhaps it is time to value and enhance the capability of the military to do work that so promotes pro-American sentiment rather than throw good money after bad.

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Unsecured Libyan Weapons Went to Boko Haram

Add another drop of tragedy to the story of America’s reluctant, no-boots-on-the-ground operation in Libya in 2011: Weapons that were never secured after Muammar Gaddafi’s ouster made their way to Boko Haram, the Islamist terrorist organization now holding hundreds of Nigerian girls. Last May, Boko Haram staged an attack in the town of Bama, killing 55 innocents and freeing 100 prisoners. That month Reuters ran a story by Tim Cocks headlined “Nigeria’s Islamists staging bolder, deadlier comeback.” It explained:

The Bama attack showed their [Boko Haram's] substantial firepower, including machine guns, large numbers of rocket propelled grenades (RPGs) and pick-up trucks mounted with anti-aircraft guns, a sign the weapons flood from the Libyan war that helped rebels seize parts of Mali last year has reached Nigeria, officials say.

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Add another drop of tragedy to the story of America’s reluctant, no-boots-on-the-ground operation in Libya in 2011: Weapons that were never secured after Muammar Gaddafi’s ouster made their way to Boko Haram, the Islamist terrorist organization now holding hundreds of Nigerian girls. Last May, Boko Haram staged an attack in the town of Bama, killing 55 innocents and freeing 100 prisoners. That month Reuters ran a story by Tim Cocks headlined “Nigeria’s Islamists staging bolder, deadlier comeback.” It explained:

The Bama attack showed their [Boko Haram's] substantial firepower, including machine guns, large numbers of rocket propelled grenades (RPGs) and pick-up trucks mounted with anti-aircraft guns, a sign the weapons flood from the Libyan war that helped rebels seize parts of Mali last year has reached Nigeria, officials say.

Let this be a miserable lesson in the dangers of foreign-policy ambivalence. The Obama administration was dragged kicking and screaming into Libya and refused to take the necessary steps to secure the regime’s weapons after Gaddafi was gone. This “light footprint” approach was praised by many as a low-risk “new model” for American military action. But in reality it was just world-policing on the cheap. The results speak for themselves. We can either fight terrorism or we can watch it advance and offer our remorse after the fact.

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The Backlash Against Boko Haram

When Islamist terrorists seized more than 1,000 school children in Beslan, North Ossetia, abusing and ultimately murdering hundreds, the international response was pure and utter revulsion. Chechen and Daghestani separatists—and even many Islamists—could stomach no excuse for the action and rejected the religious justification espoused by the mostly Ingush and Chechen terrorists. Indeed, rather than enhance the Chechen or Daghestani causes, the Beslan massacre marked the end of most remaining international and Islamist sympathy for the their struggles against a brutal and abusive Russian regime.

If there is any silver lining to the horror occurring in northeastern Nigeria, it is that Boko Haram’s kidnapping of several hundred Nigerian school girls—and the leader’s threats to sell them off like chattel—may be a bridge to far for even those sympathetic to more militant strains of Islamism. And make no mistake, what Boko Haram is doing is rooted in Islam, albeit an archaic and twisted interpretation of it far from the mainstream. Indeed, anyone who denies the religious component has simply ignored the statement of Abubakar Shekau, Boko Haram’s leader and the man apparently responsible for the kidnapping, in his claim of responsibility:

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When Islamist terrorists seized more than 1,000 school children in Beslan, North Ossetia, abusing and ultimately murdering hundreds, the international response was pure and utter revulsion. Chechen and Daghestani separatists—and even many Islamists—could stomach no excuse for the action and rejected the religious justification espoused by the mostly Ingush and Chechen terrorists. Indeed, rather than enhance the Chechen or Daghestani causes, the Beslan massacre marked the end of most remaining international and Islamist sympathy for the their struggles against a brutal and abusive Russian regime.

If there is any silver lining to the horror occurring in northeastern Nigeria, it is that Boko Haram’s kidnapping of several hundred Nigerian school girls—and the leader’s threats to sell them off like chattel—may be a bridge to far for even those sympathetic to more militant strains of Islamism. And make no mistake, what Boko Haram is doing is rooted in Islam, albeit an archaic and twisted interpretation of it far from the mainstream. Indeed, anyone who denies the religious component has simply ignored the statement of Abubakar Shekau, Boko Haram’s leader and the man apparently responsible for the kidnapping, in his claim of responsibility:

My brethren in Islam, I am greeting you in the name of Allah like he instructed we should among Muslims. Allah is great and has given us privilege and temerity above all people. If we meet infidels, if we meet those that become infidels according to Allah, there is no any talk except hitting of the neck; I hope you chosen people of Allah are hearing. This is an instruction from Allah. It is not a distorted interpretation it is from Allah himself. This is from Allah on the need for us to break down infidels, practitioners of democracy, and constitutionalism, voodoo and those that are doing western education, in which they are practicing paganism…

We know what is happening in this world, it is a Jihad war against Christians and Christianity. It is a war against western education, democracy and constitution. We have not started, next time we are going inside Abuja; we are going to refinery and town of Christians. Do you know me? I have no problem with Jonathan. This is what I know in Quran. This is a war against Christians and democracy and their constitution, Allah says we should finish them when we get them.

According to SITE Monitoring, however, a subscription service which monitors and translates Islamist (and other extremist) websites, Boko Haram’s actions have become too much for even many extremists to accept: It is one thing to talk about religious war in theory; it is quite another thing to see the human toll when it is implemented in practice. Let us hope that the girls are rescued with minimal casualties, both among the hostages and those seeking to free them. And let us also hope that men like Abubakar Shekau will soon join the masterminds of the Beslan attack in hell. But, most of all, let us hope that those who until now might have been following and–in  the case of Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar–funding these radical preachers will see in these Boko Haram actions not righteousness, but true evil. Perhaps out of this horror, Nigeria can turn a corner.

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When American Interests Become Impossible to Ignore

The debate over whether and how to intervene in foreign conflicts tends to center on American interests, with special emphasis on threats to the U.S. This is especially true in civil wars and internal conflicts in countries with which we do not have any expressly delineated obligations. After all, even those opposed to NATO’s expansion might hesitate to suggest we renege on a mutual defense treaty.

This would seem to prejudice policy against humanitarian intervention, but in reality noninterventionists have settled on a kind of “boots on the ground” commitment as the red line. That’s why, as Jonathan wrote earlier, we don’t hear many voices protesting efforts to help recover the girls kidnapped by Boko Haram the way we do when the subject turns to Syria. But in a globalized world it’s no simple thing to argue that we have no interests–or even threats–at stake in the Syrian civil war, as a couple of stories this week make clear.

From the outset the noninterventionists’ arguments suffered from two weaknesses. The first was inconsistency, holding both that American interests are best served by the two sides in the war weakening each other in a bloody status quo but also that we don’t have interests at stake. The second was an unwillingness or inability to look past the present moment or anticipate the consequences of inaction for American interests. On Friday the Washington Post reported that American security officials were now grappling with the same threat that worried European officials months ago:

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The debate over whether and how to intervene in foreign conflicts tends to center on American interests, with special emphasis on threats to the U.S. This is especially true in civil wars and internal conflicts in countries with which we do not have any expressly delineated obligations. After all, even those opposed to NATO’s expansion might hesitate to suggest we renege on a mutual defense treaty.

This would seem to prejudice policy against humanitarian intervention, but in reality noninterventionists have settled on a kind of “boots on the ground” commitment as the red line. That’s why, as Jonathan wrote earlier, we don’t hear many voices protesting efforts to help recover the girls kidnapped by Boko Haram the way we do when the subject turns to Syria. But in a globalized world it’s no simple thing to argue that we have no interests–or even threats–at stake in the Syrian civil war, as a couple of stories this week make clear.

From the outset the noninterventionists’ arguments suffered from two weaknesses. The first was inconsistency, holding both that American interests are best served by the two sides in the war weakening each other in a bloody status quo but also that we don’t have interests at stake. The second was an unwillingness or inability to look past the present moment or anticipate the consequences of inaction for American interests. On Friday the Washington Post reported that American security officials were now grappling with the same threat that worried European officials months ago:

FBI Director James B. Comey said Friday that the problem of Americans traveling to Syria to fight in the civil war there has worsened in recent months and remains a major concern to U.S. law enforcement and intelligence officials.

In a wide-ranging interview with reporters at FBI headquarters, Comey said the FBI is worried that the Americans who have joined extremist groups allied with al-Qaeda in Syria will return to the United States to carry out terrorist attacks.

“All of us with a memory of the ’80s and ’90s saw the line drawn from Afghanistan in the ’80s and ’90s to Sept. 11,” Comey said. “We see Syria as that, but an order of magnitude worse in a couple of respects. Far more people going there. Far easier to travel to and back from. So, there’s going to be a diaspora out of Syria at some point and we are determined not to let lines be drawn from Syria today to a future 9/11.”

Comey declined to give a precise figure for Americans believed to be involved in the Syrian struggle but said the numbers are “getting worse.”

Passport-holding American jihadists are certainly a threat. Now, in fairness to noninterventionists, you can still identify this as a threat and believe that it’s not one we can or should prevent through intervention. But the idea that the civil war in Syria doesn’t have global implications and isn’t creating a burgeoning threat to U.S. interests or security is not a plausible argument.

It’s also not so easy to take each conflict in a vacuum. Some realists and liberal interventionists were hailing the modest intervention in Libya to decapitate the regime of Muammar Gaddafi. But “leading from behind” left behind an anarchic nightmare that resulted in a deadly attack on the American mission, the flow of arms to Mali, and now jihadists to Syria. Eli Lake reports that Libya has become a “Scumbag Woodstock” according to intelligence officials: “The country has attracted that star-studded roster of notorious terrorists and fanatics seeking to wage war on the West.”

Lake writes that officials don’t consider the situation in Libya to be as much of a terrorist threat as Syria, “But Libya is nonetheless intricately involved in funneling fighters into Syria, and its lawless regions provide an ideal haven for al Qaeda affiliates and fellow travelers.” Those who believe this was inevitable are underestimating American capabilities, but that is still miles ahead of the “it’s none of our business” chorus, who look positively ridiculous at this point.

Aside from security threats, there’s the not-inconsiderable matter of global health. As Bloomberg reports, the conflicts in Syria and elsewhere are enabling polio to make a comeback, and spread:

The spread of polio to countries previously considered free of the crippling disease is a global health emergency, the World Health Organization said, as the virus once driven to the brink of extinction mounts a comeback. …

The disease’s spread, if unchecked, “could result in failure to eradicate globally one of the world’s most serious, vaccine-preventable diseases,” Bruce Aylward, the WHO’s assistant director general for polio, emergencies and country collaboration, told reporters in Geneva today. “The consequences of further international spread are particularly acute today given the large number of polio-free but conflict-torn and fragile states which have severely compromised routine immunization services.”

To their credit, humanitarian interventionists argued from the outset that the West had an obligation to stop the slaughter. And as is now clear for all to see, those who argued we had an interest in stopping the slaughter were right too.

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Boko Haram and the Isolationists

When the Obama administration announced yesterday that it is prepared to assist the Nigerian government in efforts to recover the girls kidnapped by the Boko Haram terrorist group, the announcement was greeted with general satisfaction. Far from criticizing the president for sticking his nose into the business of other countries, voices on both the left and the right agreed with the decision to provide Nigeria with a team of experts, including military and law enforcement officers, along with hostage negotiators and psychologists. Indeed, there were not a few prepared to send in the U.S. Marines or fly over drones or do whatever it takes to save the girls or to bring their captors to justice.

I concur with those sentiments. Though the obstacles to a successful foreign intervention in Nigeria may have more to do with the dysfunction of the government in Abuja than in Western reluctance to get involved in an African battle, the case for intervention in Nigeria is easy to make. The defense of human rights has always been an important element in U.S. foreign-policy objectives and the notion of the West standing by and doing nothing while young girls are enslaved and sold with impunity in this manner is intolerable. But while we all join in expressing outrage about Boko Haram’s crimes, it’s fair to ask why Americans or their leaders aren’t similarly exercised about the atrocities being committed against children in Syria. The casualties in the fighting in Syria between the Assad regime and its opponents have reportedly taken the lives of up to 150,000 people, of which at least 11,000 are believed to be children. And yet both the administration and isolationists on both the left and the right tell us it’s none of our business. Does anyone else see this as a demonstration of our lack of honesty or at least consistency in our approach to foreign policy?

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When the Obama administration announced yesterday that it is prepared to assist the Nigerian government in efforts to recover the girls kidnapped by the Boko Haram terrorist group, the announcement was greeted with general satisfaction. Far from criticizing the president for sticking his nose into the business of other countries, voices on both the left and the right agreed with the decision to provide Nigeria with a team of experts, including military and law enforcement officers, along with hostage negotiators and psychologists. Indeed, there were not a few prepared to send in the U.S. Marines or fly over drones or do whatever it takes to save the girls or to bring their captors to justice.

I concur with those sentiments. Though the obstacles to a successful foreign intervention in Nigeria may have more to do with the dysfunction of the government in Abuja than in Western reluctance to get involved in an African battle, the case for intervention in Nigeria is easy to make. The defense of human rights has always been an important element in U.S. foreign-policy objectives and the notion of the West standing by and doing nothing while young girls are enslaved and sold with impunity in this manner is intolerable. But while we all join in expressing outrage about Boko Haram’s crimes, it’s fair to ask why Americans or their leaders aren’t similarly exercised about the atrocities being committed against children in Syria. The casualties in the fighting in Syria between the Assad regime and its opponents have reportedly taken the lives of up to 150,000 people, of which at least 11,000 are believed to be children. And yet both the administration and isolationists on both the left and the right tell us it’s none of our business. Does anyone else see this as a demonstration of our lack of honesty or at least consistency in our approach to foreign policy?

The story of the abducted girls of Nigeria seized our attention because of the enormity of this crime, the brazen nature of the criminals who openly brag of their “right” to kidnap and abuse girls, and, as our Michael Rubin aptly pointed out yesterday, the religious motivation behind their crime. It is also a neatly contained sort of tale that allows television news to do what it does best: pull on our heartstrings with a human-interest story. After all, Americans weren’t particularly bothered by Boko Haram’s reign of terror in part of Nigeria that had taken the lives of thousands of people, including children before this week. But since this lurid crime is more easily understood than Boko Haram’s previous depredations or the complexities of the Syrian civil war, everyone, including those who are generally opposed to any sort of U.S. involvement in foreign squabbles, is prepared to use the full power of the Pentagon to save these children.

This tells us a lot about how easily manipulated we are by images but it also ought to make us think twice of the implications of a rising tide of isolationist spirit that has influenced American decision making in recent years. The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have drained the public of its appetite for foreign adventures, especially in the Middle East.

But let’s say that we accept, even though we shouldn’t, President Obama’s cowardly excuses that he is doing the best he can and that after prevaricating for so long on Syria, there’s nothing that can be done now. Let’s pose another not entirely hypothetical question: What will be the American public’s attitude if, in the coming years after the last American troops have left Afghanistan, the Taliban sweeps to victory and returns to power in Kabul in an orgy not just of murder but of rape in which women and girls are once again the particular objects of their hostility? If Afghan girls are once again being imprisoned in their homes or sold into slavery, will the same people who are today calling out the Marines on behalf of the Nigerian kidnapping victims be crying out for America not to stand by in silence? Don’t bet on it.

Perhaps it is too much to ask people to be consistent. But the isolationists who want no part of the global war being waged on the West by Islamist terrorists need to remember that the consequences of our indifference to their crimes are serious. The U.S. may not be able to solve every problem in the world or be its policeman. Yet neither can we pretend that the horrors perpetrated by these Islamists have nothing to do with us. Anyone expressing outrage about Nigeria should remember that the U.S. has made a conscious decision to ignore crimes just as bad in Syria and have set in motion a train of events that may lead to even worse in Afghanistan.

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Where Is America’s Anti-Corruption Strategy?

Boko Haram’s kidnapping schoolgirls and its threats to sell them like chattel horrifies the international community, highlights the dangers of certain strains of Islamist thought, and has led to a decision to utilize American assets to help locate the hostages. There may be much more to the story than simply the headlines, however. It’s no secret that Nigeria is one of the world’s most corrupt countries. Indeed, some reports place the embezzlement by Nigerian leaders at $400 billion since 1960.

A report in the Italian daily Il Foglio yesterday highlighted the rumors that Boko Haram couldn’t have conducted its operation without the complicity of corrupt officials. The Open Source Center provided a translation:

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Boko Haram’s kidnapping schoolgirls and its threats to sell them like chattel horrifies the international community, highlights the dangers of certain strains of Islamist thought, and has led to a decision to utilize American assets to help locate the hostages. There may be much more to the story than simply the headlines, however. It’s no secret that Nigeria is one of the world’s most corrupt countries. Indeed, some reports place the embezzlement by Nigerian leaders at $400 billion since 1960.

A report in the Italian daily Il Foglio yesterday highlighted the rumors that Boko Haram couldn’t have conducted its operation without the complicity of corrupt officials. The Open Source Center provided a translation:

Some sources, that Il Foglio has spoken with, referred to the possible involvement of members of the police and the intelligence services in transforming the high school students into human shields, to prevent the intervention of the military. The second reason that makes international intervention necessary is the high level of corruption in the country, from which it is alleged that the jihadist groups, led by Abubakar Shekau, also profit. These groups allegedly benefit from consolidated collusion among certain political and government circles. On Sunday came news alleging that the former Governor of the Nigerian Central Bank, Lamido Sanusi, had his passport withdrawn on direct orders from the President, Goodluck Jonathan, and that he has been prevented from leaving the country to go to France. Sanusi was suspended in February from his post as Governor of the central bank, after accusing the national oil company of having fraudulently siphoned off more than 14 billion euros from public funds. Some of these funds allegedly later ended up, according to our talking-partners, in the hands of important political and government figures, as well as — and this is even more deplorable — in the hands of Boko Haram, in order to guarantee the security of oil installations. Obviously Lamido Sanusi was allegedly stopped, before his departure for France, by none other than the men from the “Secret Service for the Security of the State.” In other words, the security service that is most compromised with the Boko Haram jihadists.

Just because a European paper says it doesn’t make it true, nor does it diminish the ideological and theological component to Boko Haram. But it is important to recognize that corruption likely enables such groups to thrive, be it Boko Haram in northern Nigeria or Osama Bin Laden monitoring al-Qaeda from Abbottabad, Pakistan.

Back in 2005, I wrote a piece for Lebanon’s Daily Star calling corruption the real bane of the Middle East. I shouldn’t have limited that to the Middle East, however. While terrorism victimizes hundreds and perhaps thousands of people, corruption impacts hundreds of millions. It threatens to unravel all that has been done in Afghanistan, and it continues to undercut Iraq’s growth and development. While the State Department often talks about the need for foreign aid, it does far less to explain how that aid will be shielded from the impact of corruption or, indeed, whether flooding a country with money and resources might actually make that corruption worse. The World Bank, for its part, is no better: rather than address growing corruption, it simply ignores it or covers it up.

Corruption did not cause Boko Haram nor create al-Qaeda, nor does it alone explain the Taliban. Nevertheless, the failure of the West to create a comprehensive strategy to root out corruption enables the phenomenon to spread like a cancer, depressing societal immunity, and enabling groups like Boko Haram and al-Qaeda a broader ability to act. Rather than throw millions of dollars at problems as they occur, perhaps it is time for Secretary of State John Kerry to outline what America is doing to weed out corruption among its aid recipients, and the metrics if any that the State Department is using to judge its success.

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Address, Don’t Deny Religious Component to Boko Haram

News out of Nigeria continues to horrify, as the radical Islamist group Boko Haram refuses to release kidnapped school girls and now threatens to sell them into marriage, slavery, or worse. Boko Haram, whose very name in Hausa professes the sinfulness of Western education, roots its belief in religion although, as is so often the case, it often confuses pure theology with local custom. For its victims, however, such footnotes are academic. The group has become infamous in Nigeria for the slaughter of Christians. Boko Haram is neither the first nor will it be the last group to spark outrage on the world stage by embracing and imposing retrograde religious interpretation on society.

The shock of the Islamic Revolution in Iran was that it shook faith in the forward momentum of history. The shah was far from perfect, but he actively sought to modernize his country. That he did so unevenly and brokered few means to dissent legally simply threw fuel on the Islamist backlash that ultimately ushered in reactionary cleric Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. Far from being the “progressive force for human rights” that William Miller, now with The Iran Project described, or a man whom the United States should trust, as Princeton University’s Richard Falk suggested, Khomeini took women, minorities, and much of Iranian society headlong into the past, stripping Iranians of centuries of rights and brutalizing them in manners once thought condemned to centuries past. The problem is not Shi’ism, per se, but rather Khomeini’s and his successor Ali Khamenei’s interpretation. To this day, their exegesis remains a minority view, forced on society at the barrel of a gun, with dissenting clergy marginalized, imprisoned, or worse.

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News out of Nigeria continues to horrify, as the radical Islamist group Boko Haram refuses to release kidnapped school girls and now threatens to sell them into marriage, slavery, or worse. Boko Haram, whose very name in Hausa professes the sinfulness of Western education, roots its belief in religion although, as is so often the case, it often confuses pure theology with local custom. For its victims, however, such footnotes are academic. The group has become infamous in Nigeria for the slaughter of Christians. Boko Haram is neither the first nor will it be the last group to spark outrage on the world stage by embracing and imposing retrograde religious interpretation on society.

The shock of the Islamic Revolution in Iran was that it shook faith in the forward momentum of history. The shah was far from perfect, but he actively sought to modernize his country. That he did so unevenly and brokered few means to dissent legally simply threw fuel on the Islamist backlash that ultimately ushered in reactionary cleric Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. Far from being the “progressive force for human rights” that William Miller, now with The Iran Project described, or a man whom the United States should trust, as Princeton University’s Richard Falk suggested, Khomeini took women, minorities, and much of Iranian society headlong into the past, stripping Iranians of centuries of rights and brutalizing them in manners once thought condemned to centuries past. The problem is not Shi’ism, per se, but rather Khomeini’s and his successor Ali Khamenei’s interpretation. To this day, their exegesis remains a minority view, forced on society at the barrel of a gun, with dissenting clergy marginalized, imprisoned, or worse.

The same was true with the Taliban in Afghanistan. The notion that the Central Intelligence Agency created the Taliban is silly, the product of anachronistic and lazy analysis. Some Afghans embraced the Taliban in the years after the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan because the group promised security, but the group itself was quickly co-opted by Pakistan. Ever since the loss of East Pakistan and its subsequent independence as Bangladesh in 1971, leaders in West Pakistan—or simply Pakistan as it became—embraced religious radicalism as a glue to hold their fissiparous country together. While more than a decade of war has conditioned Americans to see infiltration across the Afghanistan/Pakistan border as one way from Pakistan into Afghanistan, throughout much of the last century, Afghan irregulars were infiltrating—if not outright invading—Pakistan.

Because the ethnic fault lines in Pakistan are seldom far beneath the surface of society, sponsoring the Taliban—and thereby prioritizing religion over Pashto identity—was meant to immunize the Northwest Frontier Province from the attractiveness of Pashto nationalism. That it came upon the blood and repression of Afghan women was a price the Pakistani leadership was willing to bear. The shear brutality of the Taliban shocked the world, even though the State Department was more than willing to normalize ties with the group. The Taliban really were a throwback to the twelfth century, albeit harboring a twentieth and now twenty-first century technology to kill.

Any number of other religious radicals has reinterpreted faith to justify horror. The Muslim Brotherhood has justified the murder of those who do not share their vision, and some Brotherhood theologians have contributed directly to the vision embraced by al-Qaeda.

There is a tendency among many to deny the religious component to much modern terrorism. That is what drives, for example, UN bodies to try to criminalize so-called Islamophobia, and also drives local groups like the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) to stigmatize and punish free speech and open debate. To do so is a mistake, and to deny that those from Boko Haram’s leaders to 9/11 hijackers to the Beslan child murders were not motivated by Islam, however twisted and irregular an interpretation, is disingenuous.

Too many who deny the role of religion say that Islam is misunderstood. Jihad, for example, means not Holy War but an internal struggle to improve oneself. While it is true that a 21st century interpretation of jihad prioritizes internal struggle or defensive fighting, there is a logical flaw inherent in embracing only the most evolved interpretation of jihad. Islamist radicals dismiss 21st century society as a perversion, corrupted by Western thought and liberalism. They uphold instead an interpretation of centuries past as the golden age of Islamic civilization and so strip away centuries of religious interpretation as illegitimate and corrupt. Just as zealous Christians might have burned a woman at the stake 500 years ago for the sin of publicly reading the Bible, the manner in which Boko Haram treats local girls and women is rooted in an interpretation of Islam that it seeks to revive from the past.

While I fully support the separation of church and state that the U.S. Constitution demands (although I agree with Jonathan’s interpretation here), too many American policymakers use that separation to paralyze the American policy response on the global stage. American diplomats and officials should not promote religion but they cannot ignore it either, as it plays a far greater place in the world than perhaps it does in the fairly elite schools from which many diplomats come. Peoples from Afghanistan to Iran to Nigeria are engaged in a battle of religious interpretation. Those who would deny a relationship between Islam on one hand, at least as practiced by the Taliban and Boko Haram, and terrorism and misogyny on the other simply surrender the battlefield to those promoting extreme interpretations.

Too often, American officials and religious activists, whether out of excessive political correctness or some other motive, dismiss religious motivation to terrorism by decreeing that the actions of those radicals—Taliban stoning women in Afghanistan, al-Qaeda hijacking planes in America, or Boko Haram kidnapping and selling girls in Nigeria—do not represent true Islam. Make no mistake: It is not the job of any American official—from the president on down—to determine what true religion is. We have to accept that religion is what its practitioners believe it to be in any time and place; what the president says, an ambassador says, or a professor of theology says is simply academic.

Denying horror won’t make it go away. Nor is it the place of the United States to preach. But just as radicals in Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, and elsewhere promote these horrific groups—the Turkish government has apparently supplied Boko Haram—it behooves the United States to support those seeking to roll them back, be they Egyptian generals, Indonesian Sufis, or Moroccan mourchidat. While America promotes and encourages religious tolerance and seeks to strengthen liberal and moderate interpretations of Islam, those who feed and justify Boko Haram’s ideological hate—even if American allies—must be recognized for what they are: culpable in terrorism.

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Tape Suggests Turkey Supports Terror

This winter has been a turbulent one in Turkey, as a political dispute between Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his former political ally, Islamist movement leader Fethullah Gülen has led to a series of revelations and leaks, each more embarrassing than the last. Initially, the leaks centered on corrupt ministers, like former European Union Affairs Minister Egemen Bağış, who apparently enriched themselves on Erdoğan’s coat tails. Then they exposed how Erdoğan bullied the press. The latest leaks of recorded phone calls suggest something more nefarious afoot.

For the past several years, sectarian violence has escalated in Nigeria, and Islamist groups such as Boko Haram have conducted horrific massacres against Christian men, women, and children. Now, it seems, Turkey may have had something to do with that. The most recent leaked tapes record a conversation between an advisor to Erdoğan and the private secretary of the CEO of Turkish Airlines. The Turkish Airlines official, according to the tape, said that he does not feel comfortable with the (secret) weapons shipments to Nigeria, and he asks whether those weapons “are to kill Muslims or Christians.” The context of the conversation suggests he worries only after the former instead of the latter. The prime minister’s advisor, however, tries to assure him and says he will check with Hakan Fidan, the director of Turkish intelligence and get back to Turkish Airlines with an answer.

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This winter has been a turbulent one in Turkey, as a political dispute between Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his former political ally, Islamist movement leader Fethullah Gülen has led to a series of revelations and leaks, each more embarrassing than the last. Initially, the leaks centered on corrupt ministers, like former European Union Affairs Minister Egemen Bağış, who apparently enriched themselves on Erdoğan’s coat tails. Then they exposed how Erdoğan bullied the press. The latest leaks of recorded phone calls suggest something more nefarious afoot.

For the past several years, sectarian violence has escalated in Nigeria, and Islamist groups such as Boko Haram have conducted horrific massacres against Christian men, women, and children. Now, it seems, Turkey may have had something to do with that. The most recent leaked tapes record a conversation between an advisor to Erdoğan and the private secretary of the CEO of Turkish Airlines. The Turkish Airlines official, according to the tape, said that he does not feel comfortable with the (secret) weapons shipments to Nigeria, and he asks whether those weapons “are to kill Muslims or Christians.” The context of the conversation suggests he worries only after the former instead of the latter. The prime minister’s advisor, however, tries to assure him and says he will check with Hakan Fidan, the director of Turkish intelligence and get back to Turkish Airlines with an answer.

Turkish Airlines, for its part, denies that they have smuggled arms, but it is a state company and no other state company has been able to stand up to the prime minister, nor has there been any indication that any of the telephone calls, while illegally recorded, are inaccurate in content.

There is already great evidence that Turkey has supported al-Qaeda-affiliated rebels in Syria, and the prime minister is quite open about his support for Hamas and, at times, Hezbollah as well. That Turkey appears to be supporting terrorism in Nigeria takes the problem outside the realm of the Arab-Israeli conflict and, if true, makes Turkey a full-blown sponsor of terrorism. Why any congressman remains in the Congressional Turkey Caucus is beyond me. And why, so long as such allegations hang over Turkish Airlines, U.S. authorities continue to allow it to fly over American cities or handle baggage transferred onto American airlines is a question that more responsible congressmen should begin to ask.

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The Silence of the Imams

In discussing the horrendous massacre of children in Nigeria, stabbed and burned alive by Muslim extremists as they slept, Bob Beckel, on Fox News’s The Five wondered why incidents such as this—and such incidents are frequent—are never condemned by Muslim leaders, secular or religious. It’s a good point. The silence on the part of the leaders of the Muslim world, even avowed moderates, is deafening. Even 9/11 and the attack at Fort Hood were not condemned.

But the reason for that silence is, I suspect, simple: moderates in the Muslim world are afraid to speak out and condemn these atrocities carried out in the name of Islam.

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In discussing the horrendous massacre of children in Nigeria, stabbed and burned alive by Muslim extremists as they slept, Bob Beckel, on Fox News’s The Five wondered why incidents such as this—and such incidents are frequent—are never condemned by Muslim leaders, secular or religious. It’s a good point. The silence on the part of the leaders of the Muslim world, even avowed moderates, is deafening. Even 9/11 and the attack at Fort Hood were not condemned.

But the reason for that silence is, I suspect, simple: moderates in the Muslim world are afraid to speak out and condemn these atrocities carried out in the name of Islam.

The situation is highly reminiscent of Japan of the 1930s, when secret societies carried out politics by means of assassinations and coups. Anyone who advocated anything but militant aggression and ultra-patriotism or who criticized atrocities carried out in the name of that ideology was very likely to find himself dead.  Organizations that didn’t advocate militarism and an all-powerful army were destroyed. The fanatics effectively silenced all opposition and Japan, held in the grip of their militant ideology, hurtled down the road to utter disaster.

The Muslim world, of course, is not a unified state, still less, thank heavens, a great power as Japan was. That makes the defeat of the poisonous ideology espoused by such groups as Boko Haram, which carried out the massacre in Nigeria, that much more difficult to accomplish. But defeated it will have to be if the Muslim world is ever to enjoy the fruits of modernity.

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Boko Haram’s Spirit Comes to London

Details are still emerging about the life and habits of Michael Adebolajo, the Islamist butcher who displayed the blood-drenched palms of his hands to a passing cameraman just moments after he and an accomplice murdered 25-year-old Lee Rigby, a soldier in the British Army’s Royal Fusiliers regiment, on a south London street this week.

As is common with any terrorism investigation, the focus is upon who Adebolajo was mixing with and which organizations he approached. A much-tweeted photo shows a stony-faced Adebolajo standing behind Anjem Choudary, a founder of the now banned Islamist organization Al Muhajiroun, at rally in London. It was Choudary who, in 2010, led a ceremony in which he and other supporters of al-Qaeda burned the poppies which many Britons pin to their lapels every November in commemoration of the British and Allied soldiers who fell in two world wars. And it was the same Choudary who justified Adebolajo’s barbarous act by citing “the presence of British forces in Muslim countries and the atrocities they’ve committed.”

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Details are still emerging about the life and habits of Michael Adebolajo, the Islamist butcher who displayed the blood-drenched palms of his hands to a passing cameraman just moments after he and an accomplice murdered 25-year-old Lee Rigby, a soldier in the British Army’s Royal Fusiliers regiment, on a south London street this week.

As is common with any terrorism investigation, the focus is upon who Adebolajo was mixing with and which organizations he approached. A much-tweeted photo shows a stony-faced Adebolajo standing behind Anjem Choudary, a founder of the now banned Islamist organization Al Muhajiroun, at rally in London. It was Choudary who, in 2010, led a ceremony in which he and other supporters of al-Qaeda burned the poppies which many Britons pin to their lapels every November in commemoration of the British and Allied soldiers who fell in two world wars. And it was the same Choudary who justified Adebolajo’s barbarous act by citing “the presence of British forces in Muslim countries and the atrocities they’ve committed.”

When it comes to contacts with Islamist groups outside the United Kingdom, some press reports have mentioned that Adebolajo traveled to Somalia in the last year to join Al Shabab, a particularly brutal al-Qaeda offshoot in east Africa, and may have even been arrested along the way. No solid evidence has, as yet, emerged to tie Adebolajo–a British citizen of Nigerian descent–with Boko Haram, the Nigerian Islamist terror organization that has instigated church bombings, pogroms and similar atrocities against the west African country’s beleaguered Christian population.

The prospect of a link with Boko Haram is of interest because Adebolajo was born into a Christian family who were regular attendees at a church in Romford, just outside London. Given the loathing with which Boko Haram regards Christians and Christianity, manifested in the more than 1,500 people killed during the group’s attacks over the last three years, the very idea of a Nigerian Christian joining their ranks is as shocking as the hypothetical (so far, at least) example of a Jew who converts to Islam, joins Hamas and becomes a suicide bomber.

But there is another, perhaps more important, observation to make here. The experience of Nigeria, which Christian rights activists say is now the most dangerous place on earth for Christians, illustrates the flaw of concentrating too narrowly on Islamist organizations, at the expense of the wider influence which Islamist ideas enjoy among the unaffiliated. As Ann Buwalda and Emmanuel Ogebe point out in a compelling study of Boko Haram and its anti-Christian fixations:

While Boko Haram’s bloody terrorist tactics certainly merit serious concern, the focus on this group has overshadowed a pattern of systemic religious violence in Nigeria. It obfuscates the pervasive history of the killing of Christians by Muslims in northern Nigeria going back over a quarter century.

Buwalda and Ogebe argue that Islamist activity in Nigeria has to be understood in the context of three concentric circles: sect (which incorporates Boko Haram), state, and street. Too much attention is paid to the sect circle, they say, and not enough to state policy or public sentiment. For example, the wave of anti-Christian violence that followed the 2011 elections in Nigeria was not orchestrated by Boko Haram, but “was an act of ordinary Muslims across most northern states.” That particular carnage resulted in more than 200 Christians being killed, more than 700 churches destroyed, and more than 3,000 Christian families being driven from their homes.

One can similarly make the case that it doesn’t matter whether or not Michael Adebolajo engaged in direct contact with Boko Haram; like the young Muslims who rampaged against Christians in Nigeria two years ago, he is one of their number in spirit. And now that the killing methods of Boko Haram have come to the streets of London, perhaps Western leaders will pay serious attention to the fact that, alongside Zionism, Judaism and secularism, Christianity has been designated by the Islamists as a transcendental force of darkness–and that Christians across the Muslim world have to live with the consequences of that every day.

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More Consequences of Leading from Behind in Libya

The evidence of the baleful effects of the Obama administration’s shameful neglect of post-Gaddafi Libya continues to pile up.

We already know that by failing to help the pro-Western government to establish control of its country, we not only created the conditions which led to the death of our ambassador and other Americans last September 11 but also destabilized neighboring countries. The outflow of arms and fighters from Libya tipped the balance of power in Mali and allowed al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb to seize control of the northern part of the country until a French intervention dislodged them (perhaps only temporarily).

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The evidence of the baleful effects of the Obama administration’s shameful neglect of post-Gaddafi Libya continues to pile up.

We already know that by failing to help the pro-Western government to establish control of its country, we not only created the conditions which led to the death of our ambassador and other Americans last September 11 but also destabilized neighboring countries. The outflow of arms and fighters from Libya tipped the balance of power in Mali and allowed al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb to seize control of the northern part of the country until a French intervention dislodged them (perhaps only temporarily).

As soon as the Islamists established their authority in northern Mali, they set up training camps where militants from all over the region flocked. Now we are seeing the consequences in Nigeria. The Wall Street Journal reports that as many as several hundred Boko Haram members from Nigeria trained in Mali on the use of rocket-propelled grenades, which they are now employing for the first time in their homeland: “Militants used shoulder-fired grenades against soldiers in the mud-brick town of Baga on Friday night and Saturday, officials said, in fighting that was believed to mark the first major use of rocket-propelled grenades by the group, Boko Haram.”

There are two obvious lessons to be drawn: First, we need to do more to stabilize countries such as Libya after a transfer of power. Second, we can’t afford to ignore Islamist attempts to take over territory in North Africa, the Middle East, and Central Asia. If successful, they will surely export terrorism elsewhere.

This is a particularly important lesson to keep in mind as the administration debates how many troops to leave in Afghanistan post-2014. Those who argue for minimal or no commitment at all suggest we have nothing to fear from a Taliban takeover because it will have no impact beyond Afghanistan itself. The history of 9/11–and, more recently, the experience of Libya and Mali–suggests otherwise.

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