The War on Boko Haram, and the Hubris of Unwarranted Intervention
The Nigerian terror group Boko Haram detonated explosives early this week in Christian churches during Christmas mass, killing about 40 people. The attacks are just the latest in a series of an increasingly frequent actions by the group, which has renewed vigor as of late. What has also been happening with increasing frequency and with unprecedented vigor is U.S. intervention in Nigeria targeting Boko Haram. The day after the attacks, White House spokesman Jay Carney said “We have been in contact with Nigerian officials about what appear to be terrorist acts and pledge to assist them in bringing those responsible to justice.”
Interventions into Africa have been increasing overall recently, but Nigeria appears to be one of the hotspots. In October, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton met with Nigerian Foreign Minister Olugbenga Ashiru, and pledged an assorted variety of newfangled interventions from economic stimulus to fighting terrorism. Then reports came out in November that U.S. troops had been sent on the ground in Nigeriato help fight Boko Haram.
A Congressional report issued at the very beginning of December said “Boko Haram has quickly evolved and poses an emerging threat to US interests and the US homeland,” and justifies entrenching military and security interests with the Nigerian government. “We ought to put much more into developing local intelligence and relationships, and more into cooperating with Nigerian authorities to encourage them to help us work together to understand the nature of the threat,” said Patrick Meehan, chairman of the U.S. Congressional committee that drew up the report.“While I recognize there is little evidence at this moment to suggest Boko Haram is planning attacks against the [US] homeland, lack of evidence does not mean it cannot happen,” Mr. Meehan was quoted as saying. Brilliant.
As best I can tell, Boko Haram wasn’t on the radar until Africa became Washington’s new pet project in the “war on terror.” Indeed, the name translates to “Western education is sinful,” and until months ago they had an explicitly local agenda. Only recently does it have more national, anti-Western-intervention overtones.
The hubris of the current policy (which, by the way, is largely secret) is truly remarkable. First of all, these approaches backfire. As was pointed out in October when Obama announced the troop deployment into Uganda to fight the LRA militias, a similar operation against the LRA occurred in 2009, when “a small team from U.S. Africa Command helped the Ugandan army plan a complex series of raids on LRA camps” but ended up missing their target. LRA rebels responded by dismantling those camps and going on a rampage, killing more than 600 civilians.
Secondly, these policies will create a greater constituency for groups like Boko Haram and Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb by giving people reasons to hate U.S. interventions and fight against it. Through the Pentagon’s Africa Command, the U.S. is training and equipping militaries in Algeria, Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania, Morocco, Niger, Nigeria, Libya, Egypt, Kenya, Uganda, Senegal and Tunisia in the name of preventing “terrorists from establishing sanctuaries.” The strategy appears irreconcilable with recent history, however, given the U.S.-sponsored invasion of Somalia by Ethiopia in 2006 which gave rise to the militant group al-Shabaab – now ironically justifying current interventions.
This is the beginning, and as even Patrick Meehan and other imperialists recognize, there is no evidence that groups like Boko Haram present any sort of threat to the U.S. But U.S. policy seems intent on helping them reach that threshold, no matter how many illegitimate interventions it takes.
Update: Commenters rightly point out that Nigeria is one of America’s major oil suppliers. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration in November 2011, Nigeria ranked fifth in crude oil and total petroleum imports to the U.S., after Canada, Saudi Arabia, Mexico, and Venezuela.