The news: By this point, you probably know about Boko Haram and the more than 200 kidnapped Nigerian girls. The situation is dire, intensely complex and still full of questions. In Washington, politicians have started to ask what, if anything, could have been done to prevent Boko Haram's now-infamous raid. Whose fault is this? Well, if you ask a conservative, the answer's clear: Hillary Clinton.
The Daily Beast released an explosive story Wednesday claiming that former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton refused to list Nigerian militant group Boko Haram as a Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO) in 2011 or during the remainder of her time in that role. According to the story, Clinton basically sat on her hands and refused to give the official classification, but then, in an act of total hypocrisy, had the gall to tweet out her support for the kidnapped hundreds.
How dare she? And just like that, it's Benghazi all over again. Conservatives are freaking out and acting like this is another incident that shows us the real Hillary. The Blaze, the Daily Caller and National Review are all clamoring over it, while U.S. viewers can expect Fox News attention for weeks to come.
"Does Hillary think it's the job of the U.S. government to actually provide that support?" former Republican presidential candidate and pizza magnate Herman Cain asked on his website. "Because if she does, then why didn't she do anything about Boko Haram when she could have as secretary of state? And if she doesn't, because they're just local matters, then why is she talking about it?"
Not so fast: Conservatives claim that Clinton failed to take action and people died, and they're not going to let silly things like context get in the way.
Yes, Clinton's State Department resisted labeling Boko Haram as a terrorist organization (though Secretary of State John Kerry later applied the label once the situation was further clarified). That much is true. But in the midst of the rush to blame Clinton for the missing girls, it's important to note that there are actual reasons why she didn't pursue the classification.
"Designation is an important tool, it's not the only tool," a former State Department official told the Daily Beast. "There are a lot of other things you can do in counterterrorism that doesn't require a designation." As ThinkProgress points out, Clinton actually did two of them: boosting development aid to the affected areas and sending FBI personnel to work with the government in response to attacks.
Unneeded legitimacy: Then there's the group of scholars that warned a terrorist designation would "internationalize Boko Haram, legitimize abuses by Nigeria's security services, limit the State Department's latitude in shaping a long-term strategy and undermine the U.S. government's ability to receive effective independent analysis from the region." They warned that designating Boko Harm as an FTO would "enhance its status among radical organizations elsewhere" and perhaps encourage it to attack American targets to grow its prestige, even as most Nigerians were turning against it. And "whether in reality or perception," the designation would legitimize the government's abuses fighting the organization.
In 2012 Assistant Secretary of State Johnnie Carson told the Senate that Boko Haram was "not monolithic or homogenous" and "composed of several groups that remain primarily focused on discrediting the Nigerian government." Even as violence escalated, that appeared to remain their main strategic goal. And it's not like the State Department did nothing at all; Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau was individually designated as a global terrorist in 2012.
A threat to the U.S.? Furthermore, during the majority of Clinton's time at the helm, it wasn't clear whether Boko Haram was a security threat to the United States and not just an extremely violent insurgency against the Nigerian government. Perhaps Clinton thought an FTO designation may have embroiled America in an ugly guerrilla war with no clear outcome.
Finally, there's the hubris of Republicans who seem to think that Clinton's decision not to push American military might into Nigeria somehow makes her directly responsible for the kidnapping of more than 200 girls in a successful surprise attack. That's not our backyard — it's the Nigerian government's, and American officials aren't directly responsible for Nigeria's inability to maintain order.
A prudent secretary of state might question the necessity of setting up the framework for further U.S. actions in Nigeria when their government's complete lack of credibility on dealing with Boko Haram is the cause of its radicalization.
But never mind that. More Benghazi!