The War on Boko Haram, and the Hubris of Unwarranted Intervention

John Glaser, December 28, 2011

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.




12 Responses to “The War on Boko Haram, and the Hubris of Unwarranted Intervention”

  1. Might be worth noting Royal Dutch Shell's involvement in Nigeria and Nigeria's Government.

  2. Nigeria is one of America's major oil suppliers.

  3. Ayo Oritsejafor, head of the Christian Association of Nigeria, an umbrella group, said that Christians had become victims of “Islamic Jihad.”

    Identify the drive by bombers. Has anyone considered that the militant Islamic Jihadists might have thrown the bomb into the Arabic school to further incite violence against Christians? That’s not an unreasonable premise given the Islamic violence around the globe.

  4. The only reason Nigerian Christians are getting any attention from the Mainstream Propaganda Machine is because of the oil. Oh, perhaps neocons & neoliberals want to seem concerned, too, since it is election season.

    But you did not hear a peep about how much worse off Christians were in Iraq after we freed them from a puppet that had become useless to us?
    http://www.crosswalk.com/news/religiontoday/11578
    Iraq: Worse for Christians Now Than under Saddam Hussein

  5. The "UN" has a fairly large presense there. Of course it's 90% US. We are also sending more troops there on the 3rd to "train" their military on counter insergency. My best friends brother is going to be the Commander/officer in charge (OIC) of the operation. This will be the first time he has been overseas, his job is normally the OIC of range control for a Nation Guard base. Atlhough he is a Lt. Colonel I don't think he has any experiece in counter-insurgency (possible a few weeks of book training) and I know that he knows nothing about Nigeria. He is a nice guy and all that, but I can't see how he could be put in charge of such a mission. If this is the kind of officers that we have been puting in charge of training in Afghanistan and Iraq it's little wonder why those missions have gone badly. Like I said he is a nice guy and he is professional, but he has no experience in this and it was sprung on him at the last minuet.

    More of us sticking our nose where it doesn't belong and doing it in a half arsed way.

  6. [...] interest in insinuating itself into the latest Nigerian conflict, saying that Boko Haram is “an emerging threat to US interests.” Nigeria is the fifth largest US supplier of [...]

  7. BOKO HAREM = Barak Obama

    Tooo close for comfort

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  9. Yeah, because we all know that Obama the Peace Laureate is going to end the wars, evacuate the military bases, bring the troops home and shrink the military down to the size necessary only for territorial defence.

  10. BOKO HAREM = Barak Obama

  11. very nice white news

  12. Most oil from Nigeria is going to America. Did you know that?