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Beaucoup Boko
Nigeria's Boondock Jihadists and America's Long War

Boko Haram continues to gain momentum. Bloomberg Businessweek reports that kidnappings of students and Christians have dramatically increased, while Nigeria’s state and the traditional rulers of the Islamic north are continuing to lose control over significant chunks of the country.

Dealing with Boko Haram will be tougher in some respects than dealing with than ISIS. ISIS appeared in a part of the world with millennia of experience of strong states. As bad as Syria’s problems are, it is much easier to see that some kind of stability there will lead to effective governance and development.

This is not so in places like Mali and northern Nigeria, where Boko Haram and its fellow African jihadis flourish. Francis Fukuyama’s new book describes Nigeria as “one of the most tragic development failures in the contemporary world,” where a corrupt post-colonial state is propped up by traditional leaderships and tribal institutions reeling from the pressures of modernization. In this sense, Boko Haram is more like the Taliban than ISIS. Both jihadi groups inhabit a space where their rivals—central governments, bureaucratic institutions—are painfully weak.

“Boondock jihadis” like these are, in some ways, less of a danger to the rest of the world. Syria is much more accessible to jihadis from Western Europe, where the Schengen Agreement allows them to travel to Turkey with a simple identification card. It’s only a small hop from Istanbul to the Levant. Syria also has strong links to global financial and trade centers, unlike northeastern Nigeria or central Afghanistan. Nevertheless, these “boondock jihadis” can provide shelter and space to groups like al-Qaeda; it was from his refuge in Afghanistan that Bin Laden planned the 9/11 attacks.

What all this says is that we are in this fight for the long haul. So far, the civilized world’s record on countering these groups has been mixed. Successes, like the overthrow of the Taliban and the killing of Bin Laden, exist alongside very serious failures. The world’s jihadi movements were in better shape when Bush left office than when he was sworn in, and they appear to be gaining ground under President Obama as well.

So, what’s to be done? First, we shouldn’t panic. Cool heads are needed in hot times, and going all batty over the potential threats these groups pose won’t help us deal effectively with them. Beyond that, we need to study these groups, think much harder about both our defensive and our offensive strategies, and simply face the facts. We are in what could still be the early stages of a long war against an ideology based on powerful theological and social currents in the world’s second largest religious community (even though most don’t adhere to the terrorists’ ideology) at a time when small groups can wreak great havoc thanks to improvements in technology.

In the Bush years, America was in a state of emergency, where we threw everything we could think of at a horrifying new problem. In the Obama years, at least until the Administration’s “easy does it” philosophy came crashing down in ruins in Syria and Iraq, we tried to downgrade the threat even as we upped measures like drone attacks behind the scenes. Of course, we eventually found and dealt with Bin Laden. But in the future, we’re going to have to come to grips with the reality that the threat remains as serious and in some ways as unpredictable as we feared in the Bush years. We have to remember to still go at it in a disciplined, serious way.

After the midterm elections, Americans will begin to inspect the presidential hopefuls competing for the right to lead the nation after January 2017. Understanding how each candidate intends to cope with a deadly, unpredictable, but long-term enemy will play a key role in the national conversation—as it should.

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  • rheddles

    Understanding how each candidate intends to cope with a deadly, unpredictable, but long-term enemy will play a key role in the national conversation—as it should.

    Say what? How can someone have a cogent conversation about understanding how someone else will deal with something unpredictable? The bottom line is that all measures will be ineffective until we decide to find our new Sherman. And no one is going to look for our new Sherman until there has been an attack on an American city that results in tens of thousands of deaths. Because, ultimately this is a trivial problem to which we have overreacted when compared to the annual 33,000 highway fatalities, half of which are caused by drunk drivers. Really, who’s the bigger threat to your life, some Mohammedan nutcase in Nigeria or the guy leaving the bar drunk on Friday night and getting into his car?

    • Gene

      The first half of your comment is probably true, the 2nd an irrelevancy. Why not add in deaths from cancer, heart disease, diabetes, etc.? And … the problem of terrorism might be trivial, until the day it isn’t (and you even referred to that day in your comment so clearly you think it’s possible!). Looks like your proposed policy–downplay threats and wait around for an atrocity–has a few holes in it.

      • rheddles

        Name one. By the way, it’s actually the policy we’re following and have been for 6 years.

        • Government Drone

          Well, one hole is that we pretty much lock ourselves into a passive stance till we get attacked (see the 1990s). And if that doesn’t happen in a few years, that could well mean that instead of a “JV”-level “caliphate” in some desert, we have to deal with a much larger, wealthier, & better organized foe. And I don’t see much of an upside to waiting for them to attack us; the whole notion that they’re mad only because we’re over there (or we bombed them, or because of Israel, or whatever) seems pretty much moot; the World Trade Center was bombed by folks who were worked into a rage by Pres. Clinton, after all. I’m coming round to the view that they desperately need a good killing, & the sooner the better.

          • rheddles

            I don’t see waiting until you are attacked as being a hole. Being the aggressor in a preventive war is not a way to generate a lot of international sympathy or domestic support. And the moral is to the physical as three is to one.

            Our primary objective in this war should not be killing. It should be the elimination of Islam as an ideology. Just as we did not need to kill every German to eliminate Naziism, or every Japanese to eliminate militarism, or every Southerner to eliminate slavery, we do not need to kill every Mohammedan to eliminate Mohammedanism. How many is up to them. And as our prior experience indicates, it will take a lot of killing to convince those left.

            That is why we have to wait to be attacked. Nothing else will generate the level of support necessary to endure all the killing necessary. Look at the reaction to the relatively few deaths so far. We lost that many by 2 pm at Antietam but our resolve was not shaken.

            It’s a tragedy it has to be that way but that’s what history shows to be the American way of war.

          • f1b0nacc1

            In each of the examples you used (Germany, Japan, the antebellum South), you are conflating ideology with locale. In the last case (Islam) you are discussing a faith, and a totalitarian one at that. The nature of Islam is such that it is unlikely that it can be broken as an ideology, as it was explicitly designed to resist exactly that sort of attack.
            I wish that you were right that there was an alternative to what is likely to be a very bloody (but necessary, for self-defense if nothing else) genocide, but I rather doubt that this will be the case.

          • rheddles

            I’m not sure why you think I am stating there is an alternative to a very bloody genocide. What I am saying is that we are not easily moved to conduct one and until we are so moved, our efforts will largely be futile.

            As to an alternative, I would note that The United States was an anti-Pope, in the political sense, country for most of its existence. But it was willing to tolerate, if not always politely, individual Catholics. Over time Catholics have been assimilated to the point where they are a majority of SCOTUS justices. As American Catholics were assimilated, they also Americanized the Catholic Church in the middle of the last century. This entire process took centuries and was not always pleasant. But Protestants and Catholics learned to more than tolerate each other. The same is possible with Islam. But it also will take centuries and seems less likely to us today. But, if you had told the founding fathers that Catholics would make up a majority of the SC most would never have believed you.

          • f1b0nacc1

            I suspect then, that we agree upon what the long term result will be, as regrettable as that is…
            I might disagree, however, with your use of Catholics in America as an analogy. Catholicism is not a totalitarian creed in the way that Islam is, and thus I think any sort of reconciliation with it (Islam) is extremely unlikely. Catholics assimilated, there is little reason to believe that Muslims will.

          • rheddles

            You might have trouble convincing an Englishman in 1605 that Catholicism was not a totalitarian creed in the way that Islam is today. And it took a long time for that Protestant paranoia and prejudice to dissipate, approximately 350 years. And Catholics set up an extensive network of parochial schools in America to prevent assimilation by the Protestant public schools in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. That Catholics assimilated, as have many Jews, and the Mainline Protestants lost their evangelical self-righteousness and fervor is a testament to the assimilative power of American culture. Even though we are still plagued by the Puritanical PC zealots. The same thing will probably happen to Mohammedans but over the course of centuries. For those who live that long.

          • f1b0nacc1

            You really need to rethink your definition of ‘totalitarian creed’, since (for starters) Catholicism never mandated execution for those leaving the faith. Attempting to prevent assimilation (which in the American experience was more an ethnic thing than a religious one) is a rather big stretch as well.
            I devoutly (forgive the pun) hope you are right about Muslim assimilation, but I rather doubt that this happen event will come to pass. There is an saying ‘you can have multiculturalism, immigration, and democracy…pick two’, and apparently we are choosing the first two at the expense of the third…

  • Jacksonian_Libertarian

    “So, what’s to be done? First, we shouldn’t panic. Cool heads are needed in hot times, and going all batty over the potential threats these groups pose won’t help us deal effectively with them.”

    Like blowing ISIS or Boko Haram out of proportion as to their real threat. Since Obama couldn’t wait to abandon the attempt to drain the swamp that was spawning all these Jihadists, by planting a seed of Democracy in the middle of Islamoland Iraq at a huge expense of trillions of dollars, a decade of time, and thousands of lives, we no longer have a strategy for dealing with the problem.

    I call for a strategy of containment, and “Divide and Conquer”. We encourage the Sunni Jihadists to focus all their resources on killing the Shiite Jihadists and vice-a-versa. This benefits us by having the Jihadists exterminating each other and costs us nothing, while at the same time leaving them with no resources left to support Jihadist attacks on the innocents in the west. The other leg of this strategy is containment, I believe this is best achieved by arming and training the Christians into neighborhood militias that can then protect themselves. The benefits here are several fold, self reliant Christians will cost us nothing and could in time become grateful allies. Also we could provide weapons that because of caliber (no available ammo except from the Americans) or necessary training the Jihadists couldn’t just pick up and use themselves. This would also allow some control over potential rogue elements that might turn criminal after we armed and trained them. It would also be useful to offer bounties on the weapons and scalps of Jihadists, to encourage some to do reconnaissance and keep an eye on the Jihadists.

    So, to review: Since the Jihadists are going to just keep spawning a strategy which has them killing each other will be the most successful in protecting our people. And arming and training Christians to protect themselves is the most cost effective method of containing the Jihadists.

  • FriendlyGoat

    I’d rather see the sixth paragraph NAMING Islam as the crock-of-baloney problem it actually is—-and not rationalizing that most of the people in that “religious community” supposedly “don’t adhere to the terrorists’ ideology”. If this were true, the vast majority of Muslims simply would not tolerate the rise of the groups we see—-ISIL, Taliban, Hamas, Hezbollah, Boko Haram, etc.

    The fact of the matter is that most Muslims have no idea what they really believe about anything—-and are susceptible to being led down most ANY path by the next Imam, Mullah, Caliph or other character coming along—-because “The Prophet” leaves room for almost ANY interpretation of jihad.

    We are facing a “long war” because we have a billion people believing a falsehood they would rather defend than fix.

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