Will We Intervene In Nigeria?

Andrew Sullivan —  May 14 2014 @ 12:57pm


Congress is considering authorizing the deployment of special forces to help rescue the kidnapped schoolgirls:

President Barack Obama has sent in an intelligence, logistics and communications team that includes 16 military personnel. On Monday, National Security Council and Pentagon officials told TIME that that the U.S. has begun sharing commercial satellite imagery with the Nigerians and is flying manned aircraft over Nigeria with the government’s permission for intelligence purposes.

The top ranking Senators on the Intelligence Committee, Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.) told TIME that they would support sending in special forces under certain conditions: Feinstein would send in the additional assistance only if Nigeria requests it, and Chambliss would do so with our allies. Retired General Chuck Wald, former deputy commander of the U.S. European Command, said that America would need to send “several hundred” Special Operations troops “to get it done right.”

John McCain, true to form, wants to send in the troops whether Nigeria asks for help or not. To which Allahpundit sighs:

So McCain’s now fully embracing the “Uncle Sam, world cop” vision, huh?

Intervention anywhere, with or without the governing regime’s permission, with or without any compelling U.S. national-security interest at stake, with no authorization needed beyond the assertion that a crime against humanity is taking place. (Somewhere right now, Putin’s conferring with his inner circle about “crimes against humanity” being committed against ethnic Russians in Kiev.) I’m tempted to ask whether he’d at least require the president to get an AUMF from Congress, but we all know the answer — of course not. That would only impede the mission. In a sense, all he’s doing here is extending the drone philosophy a few steps further: If we can blow up Boko Haram from the sky with the permission of the Nigerian government, we shouldn’t let the regime’s cowardice or corruption stop us from blowing them up without permission. And if we can blow them up without permission, why couldn’t we blow them up from the ground by sending in U.S. troops with grenades?

Larison declares that this idea is “unduly reckless even by McCain’s low standards”:

It takes a great deal for granted to assume that the mission would be successful with minimal loss of life for the captives and U.S. forces. Obviously nothing would be gained from a botched or failed raid, especially if it resulted in the deaths of many of the innocents held captive. Even a successful raid would carry substantial risks, and those risks would be even greater if this were done without the Nigerian government’s cooperation.

But the American public, as the chart above indicates, are relatively willing to get involved:

Support for involvement in the Nigerian kidnappings is greatest among Democrats. Nearly two-thirds (63%) of Democrats support greater US involvement in rescue efforts, compared to 41% of Republicans and 45% of Independents. Nevertheless, however, every group is more likely to support rather than oppose great US involvement in Nigeria.

Worth pointing out: the poll didn’t ask how Americans would like to “get more involved.” Doug Bandow wants the US to stay the hell out:

So far Boko Haram has restricted its murderous activities to Nigeria. Active U.S. involvement, however, risks turning the conflict into one of international jihad, when Boko Haram may broaden its attacks to Americans. Finally, what is the end point for American involvement?  What if the girls aren’t located? With failure almost inevitable, there will be pressure on the U.S. to do more, even enter the conflict directly.  Secretary of State John Kerry already has talked of doing “everything possible to counter the menace of Boko Haram.”

Sarah Margon focuses on the unsavory record of the Nigerian military with which we’d be cooperating:

The tactics of the government security forces are barely more palatable than those of the militants themselves. Nigerian security forces are known for raiding local communities, executing men in front of their families, arbitrarily arresting and beating people, burning residential property and stealing money while searching homes. Nigerian authorities also routinely hold suspects incommunicado without charge or trial in secret detention facilities and abuse and torture them. Unsurprisingly, due process rights for detainees are often absent.

Keating points out that such rescue operations often fail, although the alternative—negotiating with Boko Haram—isn’t very attractive either:

The best outcome would be for government forces—now working with military assistance from the U.S. and other countries—to rescue the girls. But these operations don’t have a great track record of getting the prisoners back alive. In 2012, for instance, when the Nigerian military aided by British special operations forces attempted to rescue a Briton and Italian being held hostage by Boko Haram, both were killed by their captors before they could be rescued. A rescue operation in the case carries the very real risk that not all of the girls will survive. On the other hand, a French family of seven kidnapped by the group in Cameroon in 2013 was released unharmed after a $3 million ransom was paid by unknown parties.

But negotiating with the group after a crime this dramatic sets a very bad precedent and could encourage more acts like this in the future. Taking a cynical political view, it would also make Jonathan’s government look extremely weak at a time when it’s already under intense domestic and international scrutiny for having failed to prevent the kidnapping.

The latest Dish on Nigeria here, here, here, and here.