Why do lawmakers who authorize billions for national security fuss over $100 hammers? Why do executives managing millions in revenue quibble about the cost of donuts at a budget meeting? The answer is two-fold. First, $15 for a dozen donuts is tangible when $100 million is abstract. Second, we obsess about things over which we think we have control when we would rather not deal with bigger, less manageable issues. And so it is with Boko Haram and the kidnapped girls.
Liberals care terribly about the 276 kidnapped girls, I have no doubt, yet they oppose a forward-leaning foreign policy that recognizes the plight of millions of women (in Afghanistan, for starters) victimized by radical Islam. Indeed, in failing to identify the malicious force as radical Islam (as opposed to “terrorists” or “al-Qaeda”), they narrow their vision, miss the extent of the problem and ignore lots of women and girls who don’t get a hashtag in their honor.
The president and his advisers shed a tear or two for the 150,000 killed in Syria, but that doesn’t affect the policy choices they make. Somehow 276 girls are imaginable in a way 150,000 dead Syrians is not. And the president is willing to devote resources to returning the girls but has adamantly refused (even when the casualty total was a few hundred) to act to forestall mass murder in Syria.
Here’s the thing: If you think it is intolerable for radical jihadists and Arab dictators to murder, kidnap, imprison and repress innocents on a massive scale, it behooves one to develop policies to address these horrors in a meaningful way. Many people tweeting the hashtag or, in the case of the president, making emotional tributes to the kidnapped girls, actually have the power to act in the world, but they choose not to. If the human rights disasters matter, then the absence of a coherent policy is a moral abomination. But if anti-interventionists on the left and right really think their policy is defensible, they should eschew the tears and reiterate their view — it is their view isn’t it? — in the face of 276 very comprehensible kidnapped girls that this is not our concern.
Surely the episode is also a reminder that Hillary Clinton’s tenure as secretary of state was littered with small and large missteps. The press is reluctant to revisit Benghazi, Libya, or slog through the Arab Spring history, but Boko Haram is a finite story, easily understood and emotionally laden. This, they can comprehend, in a way Clinton’s refusal to recognize the spread of al-Qaeda throughout North Africa is not. If we can grasp one relatively small incident, perhaps then the media, at least in this context, can acknowledge how wrongheaded, disorganized or inept — and maybe all three — Clinton’s leadership was. (A former government official e-mailed me that it wasn’t clear the decision to label Boko Haram as a terrorist group rose to Clinton’s attention. But that — like the pleas for security from Ambassador Chris Stevens — is further confirmation that the (supposedly) most competent woman on the planet had no system for insuring critical issues rose to her attention).
We can only hope that the latest incident can penetrate the administration and liberal media in a way Benghazi did not, that it can be a wake-up call to the metastasizing threat of radical jihadism. The corollary, of course, is that the Obama-Clinton-John Kerry foreign policy utterly failed to deal with it. A decade of war was ending, don’t you know?