“Bring back our girls!”
It’s become a rallying cry among Nigerians–and among do-gooder Americans.
On April 15, nearly 300 teenage girls were kidnapped from a Nigerian school by Boko Haram, an Islamist terrorist group that has ties to Al Qaeda.
Its leader, Abubakar Shekau, claimed responsibility for the abudctions and threatened to sell the girls.
He also warned that Boko Haram would attack other schools and kidnap more girls.
Boko Haram means: “Western education is sinful.”
Fifty-three of the girls managed to escape; 276 remain in captivity.
It didn’t take long for Americans to thrust themselves into yet another role as World Policeman:
- The United States Senate passed a bipartisan resolution demanding the girls’ safe and immediate return.
- Several lawmakers observed a moment of silence on the Capitol steps.
- Dozens of people protested outside the Nigerian Embassy in Washington, D.C.
- All 20 female United States Senators urged President Barack Obama to pursue severe international sanctions against Boko Haram.
- Another group of Senators urged Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan to tackle the causes of unrest in his country.
Protest at Nigerian Embassy in Washington, D.C.
- The United States repeatedly offered assistance. But Nigeria refused to respond until Secretary of State John Kerry telephoned Jonathan as international outrage grew over the fate of the missing girls.
- Inerviewed by NBC’s Today, President Obama said: “In the short term our goal is obviously to help the international community, and the Nigerian government, as a team to do everything we can to recover these young ladies.”
- Obama further noted: “But we’re also going to have to deal with the broader problem of organizations like [Boko Haram] that can cause such havoc in people’s day-to-day lives.”
- White House Press Secretary Jay Carney announced that the United States would send military and law enforcement personnel skilled in investigations, hostage negotiation, Intelligence and victim assistance to Nigeria.
- Carney said that the United States would not send fighting units to Nigeria.
Abubakar Shekau, the leader of Boko Haram, didn’t waste time reacting.
On May 5, in a clip released online, he declared war on the West.
Echoing President George W. Bush’s famous statement–”Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists”–Shekau warned:
“Either you are with us … or you are with Obama! [French President] Francois Hollande! George Bush. Bush! Clinton!”
Pausing briefly, he added: “Abraham Lincoln!”
Most Americans have little interest in foreign affairs–and thus short memories for international events. So few now remember another well-intentioned effort that failed miserably in Africa almost 21 years ago.
Like the “Save our girls!” affair, it, too, started as a humanitarian gesture.
In 1992, civil war and famine gripped Somalia, resulting in over 300,000 civilian deaths.
Mogadishu, the capital of Somalia, was the most dangerous city in the world.
Fourteen armed militas, each led by its own warlord, were fighting to dominate Somalia. Teenage gunmen, high on a narcotic called quat, spread terror in their “technicals”–pick-up trucks equipped with heavy machine guns.
“I was overwhelmed. I’d never seen anything like it,” recalled Khalil Dale, a Red Cross worker. “There were bodies of people who had died of starvation.
“There were people with gunshot wounds. There were young children, women, just lying, waiting to die, really emaciated. and there would be mounds of dead bodies waiting to be buried. We were doing 300 or 400 a day.”
In late 1992, President George H.W. Bush launched a massive humanitarian mission to help feed the starving people of Somalia.
He ordered 25,000 troops into Somalia to carry out Operation Restore Hope.
Bush had been defeated for a second term by former Arkansas Governor Bill Clinton. Sending Americans into Somalia was the last major effort of his Presidency.
Addressing the American people from the Oval Office, Bush declared:
“Every American has seen the shocking images from Somalia. The scope of suffering there is hard to imagine.
“Only the United States has the global reach to place a large security force on the ground in such a distant place quickly and efficiently and thus save thousands of innocents from death.”
President George H.W. Bush addressing the nation
Americans–who like to think of themselves as international saviors instead of aggressors–applauded Bush’s action.
Then they turned their attention to more immediate concerns–such as the failing economy.
At first, all seemed to be going well
But then what began as a humanitarian mission turned into a nation-building one.
On January 20, 1993, Bill Clinton took office as President.
Mohammed Farrah Aidid, the most powerful of Somalia’s warlords, ruled Mogadishu. At Somali ports, his militias seized international food shipments intended to relieve starvation.
Food became his weapon–to be doled out to his supporters, and denied to everyone else.
A force of 20,000 United States Marines backed up the United Nations relief effort. Somalis started receiving food and a sense of order was restored.
Aidid waited until the Marines withdrew–in April, 1993–and then declared war on the small remaining force of U.N. peacekeepers.