On April 16th, in Nigeria, about 250 schoolgirls were kidnapped by the Islamist militant group Boko Haram. The story didn’t become widely known in the US for a while. However, now that efforts are being made by the United States government to assist in recovering these girls, conservatives have decided to use this time to play the blame game. Over the past couple of days, the right-wing media has focused their attentions solely on former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Based on the logic they are presenting, Clinton is to blame for Boko Haram’s actions due to her not designating them as a terrorist organization during her tenure as Secretary of State.
First off, for the record, since Clinton left her post, the State Department HAS designated Boko Haram as a terrorist organization. Under John Kerry, Boko Haram was named to the terror watch list in November 2013. Therefore, it seems silly to claim that Boko Haram felt emboldened to act in this manner, or that the United States ignored the group, simply because Clinton decided not to list them as a terrorist organization back then. The fact is, THEY ARE ON THE LIST. This kidnapping didn’t occur on Hillary Clinton’s watch. It happened less than a month ago. She hasn’t been Secretary of State for over a year.
However, that is the basic crux of the conservative argument. It doesn’t matter what has happened since. Hillary Clinton didn’t label the group Boko Haram as a terrorist organization in her last couple years as SoS, therefore she is solely to blame. Below is an excerpt from an article Andrew McCarthy of National Review wrote on Thursday saying just that:
What happened here is obvious, although the commentariat is loath to connect the dots. Boko Haram is an Islamic-supremacist organization. Mrs. Clinton, like the Obama administration more broadly, believes that appeasing Islamists — avoiding actions that might give them offense, slamming Americans who provoke them — promotes peace and stability. (See Egypt for a good example of how well this approach is working.) Furthermore, if you are claiming to have “decimated” al-Qaeda, as the Obama administration was claiming to have done in the run-up to the 2012 election, the last thing you want to do is add jihadists to the terror list (or beef up security at diplomatic posts in jihadist hot spots, or acknowledge that jihadist rioting in Cairo or jihadist attacks in Benghazi are something other than “protests” inspired by “an Internet video” . . .)
Former Republican Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, who is now a pundit for CNN, wrote something similar on Friday:
It is so clearly and vividly a terrorist organization that it seems indefensible that the State Department would have refused to designate it as such. A thorough investigation of the decision process that protected Boko Haram from 2011 until late 2013 could be devastating.
Now that Boko Haram has attracted worldwide attention for its vicious assault on young girls, political leaders, including the former secretary of state, are rushing to issue emotionally powerful but practically meaningless statements.
Hillary Clinton tweeted: “Access to education is a basic right & an unconscionable reason to target innocent girls. We must stand up to terrorism. #BringBackOurGirls”
Clinton’s tweet contrasts vividly with her failure to stand up to terrorism in 2011 by calling Boko Haram what it was.
I am sure that Gingrich’s longtime hatred of the Clintons didn’t cloud his judgment one bit with how he is seeing this. Not one bit.
And so it goes on the right. Everybody who writes for a conservative site, appears on Fox News or hosts a right-wing radio show is jumping on this train. It doesn’t matter to them how illogical it is to blame Clinton for what has occurred. Worse, they aren’t even really looking at the reasons why Sec. Clinton didn’t list Boko Haram as a terrorist organization during her tenure. Howard LaFranchi at the Christian Science Monitor said the following in his article on Saturday:
Boko Haram was not seen as a direct threat yet to the US and its interests – although some members of Congress pressing for the designation noted that other local or regional groups had evolved into threats to the US. That was especially true of groups that grew to become affiliates of Al Qaeda. Boko Haram was considered by some experts to be “linked” to Al Qaeda because of its known contacts with groups such as Al Qaeda in the Maghreb.
So the argument to list was largely one in favor of preventive action. But opposed to that position were two dozen Africa and terrorism experts who advocated for not listing Boko Haram, saying a designation by the US risked raising the group’s international profile and prestige – and therefore might accomplish for the group exactly what those seeking designation said they sought to prevent.
In a letter to Clinton, the 24 specialists – including a former US ambassador to Nigeria – argued that designating Boko Haram might encourage the group to redirect its focus and start targeting US and Western interests. Listing Boko Haram also entailed risks for the US, the scholars argued, because it would have the effect of associating the US more closely with the counterterrorism campaign of the Nigerian government, which international human rights groups had faulted for being carried out with summary executions and little regard for civilian rights.
Complicating the question of the pros and cons of associating more closely with the Nigerian government was the fact that the government of Nigeria, a US partner in a sea of African instability and conflict, was strongly opposed to a US listing of Boko Haram.
To add, the State Department may not have added Boko Haram as a terrorist organization at that time, but three leaders of the organization were added to the list of terrorist individuals while Clinton was at State. This wasn’t an issue of appeasement of an Islamist terrorist group. This was more about trying to make the right decision at the time while taking into consideration numerous other factors. It is obvious that Clinton, as Secretary of State, took her job very seriously and didn’t want to rash decisions. She wanted to take everything into account.
The only reason conservatives are grabbing on to this narrative is the fear of Hillary in 2016. They are hoping that this can piggyback on to Benghazi and hopefully smear Clinton enough in the eyes of the average American voter. The fact is that Hillary Clinton’s dominating in the polls right now, and that scares the bejesus out of the right. This will not be the last attempt by Republicans to bash, insult and defame Clinton before 2016.
Justin Baragona is the Managing Editor at Politicus Sports as well as Senior Editor at PoliticusUSA. He was a political writer for 411Mania.com before joining PoliticusUSA. Politically, Justin considers himself a liberal but also a realist and pragmatist. Currently, Justin lives in St. Louis, MO and is married. Besides writing, he also runs his own business after spending a number of years in the corporate world. You can follow Justin on Twitter either with his personal handle (@justinbaragona) or the Sports site’s (@PoliticusSports).