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EXPERT: Deborah Peter spoke at the House hearing about the 2011 killing of her family by members of Boko Haram in Nigeria.
Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images
EXPERT: Deborah Peter spoke at the House hearing about the 2011 killing of her family by members of Boko Haram in Nigeria.

Hashtag wars

Nigeria | Victims of terrorism past, present, and future deserve more than a sentimental campaign dressed as foreign policy

Issue: "Day of reckoning," June 14, 2014

A year ago I was invited to speak on Capitol Hill about terrorism in Nigeria along with a panel of Nigerian experts. Despite good publicity by stalwart activists, the event drew maybe 25 policymakers. By contrast, at a May 21 House hearing on the latest terrorist attacks in Nigeria, members of the public were turned away for lack of space. What a difference a hashtag makes. 

Boko Haram, the terror outfit that’s been attacking Nigerians for years, has become a household name after rights groups, with a boost from First Lady Michelle Obama, launched a Twitter campaign—#BringBackOurGirls—to protest the April abduction of 300 young women from a girls’ school. On the day of the May hearing, The Wall Street Journal and other papers carried Nigeria on their front pages.

The sudden attention is welcome, but it will take more than a news splash to seriously combat Boko Haram and to truly Bring Back Our Girls. Here the Obama administration continues to display its lack of seriousness on fighting terrorism. 

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After jumping on the hashtag bandwagon, the president has sent but 80 U.S. troops to neighboring Chad to aid in surveillance efforts aimed at tracking the 276 students presumably still in captivity—six weeks after they were taken. Remember the KONY2012 frenzy that sparked Obama to send 100 elite troops to hunt down Joseph Kony in central Africa? It, too, predictably went nowhere. This time the limp-wristed response has emboldened Boko Haram, which has launched daily attacks in the area since, including a May 20 bombing that killed 118.

At the May hearing, Under Secretary of State Sarah Sewall was dismissive and curt when asked why it’s taken so long to take seriously Boko Haram—two long years with many thousands dead before the State Department even declared the group a foreign terrorist organization (which has important implications on weapons buying, transit, and organization for such groups). 

Sewall said poverty is at the root of Boko Haram’s activities, and told lawmakers the group has killed more Muslims than Christians. Both are verifiably untrue and, as Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J., pointed out, an insult to poor people: “These are radical Islamists.”

Incredibly, some in the State Department are looking to cut off funding to Nigeria, citing government corruption but in reality because the country is out of step with the Hillary Clinton/Obama doctrine supporting gay marriage and so-called reproductive rights. 

Across the Hill at the same time, another hearing in the Senate Foreign Relations committee revealed more of the White House rationale on terrorism. There top administration lawyers argued in favor of ending the Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) approved by Congress three days after 9/11. While there’s broad bipartisan support for revising AUMF—which makes explicit the president’s authority under the Constitution “to take action to deter and prevent acts of international terrorism against the United States”—the president has said he wants to repeal it and may veto any revision.

To put it more plainly, Obama wants to end a U.S. war on terror even if the terrorists won’t go along. The terror threat is growing, if in places dispersed from where al-Qaeda began. It isn’t the same threat the United States faced after 9/11, but it’s no less menacing.

Yet the administration is determined to make up facts on the ground to fit its agenda. Asked about Boko Haram, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said it’s “not core al-Qaeda” and insisted, as the administration has since it killed Osama bin Laden, “core al-Qaeda has been decimated.” 

Notably FBI Director James B. Comey, Defense Intelligence Agency Director Gen. Michael Flynn, and Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the Democratic chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, take issue with that assessment. So do the militants.

The same day of the House and Senate hearings, a fighter in Syria climbed atop the hill of Tel Ahmar on the Golan Heights, planted an al-Qaeda flag and praised Osama bin Laden for his warfare in Afghanistan—all within sight of Israeli jeeps patrolling the Golan. The Americans may hedge, but the terrorists know it’s a fight without boundaries aimed ultimately at the United States and its allies.


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