Nigerian Kidnappings: Imperialism Not Feminism

Nigerian Kidnappings: Imperialism Not Feminism

Send in the Marines

“Bring back our girls” A sentiment that American politicos of all persuasions –left, right, and center—and an American public longing to feel good about themselves and their country can get on board with.

Here’s “two-gun” McCain in his statesman persona: “If they [US military] knew where they were, I certainly would send in U.S. troops to rescue them, in a New York minute I would, without permission of the host country,”

John Kerry, senator in 2014, soon to be ex-secretary of state, struck a slightly less interventionist note: “The kidnapping of hundreds of children by Boko Haram is an unconscionable crime. We will do everything possible to support the Nigerian government to return these young women to their homes and hold the perpetrators to justice.”

Outrage du Jour

President Obama, mindful of his rapidly eroding support from key constituencies, was reduced to plain vanilla phrases “outrageous” and “heartbreaking,” unlikely to cause any huge gyrations in the political beauty contest meter. The popular Obama, Michelle, made her solo debut as a foreign policy adviser decrying the kidnapping and, apparently hankering after the women’s vote, deconstructed the kidnappings as a feminist outrage: “What happened in Nigeria was not an isolated incident. It’s a story we see every day as girls around the world risk their lives to pursue their ambitions,” A tweet of her holding the ubiquitous “Bring back our girls” sign was universally hailed (the US being the self-appointed universe) as a touching reminder of America’s perennial concern for the downtrodden of a country under the thumb of ruthless scoundrels, with some prominent exceptions – Egypt, Rwanda, Uganda, Israel, Indonesia, Panama, Chile, Saudi Arabia, Iran (when the Shah was in power) to mention a few whose strongmen are or have been our beloved buddies for the usual reasons: “enlightened self-interest” (Obama), to promote the kind of peace that “makes life worth living” (JFK), “block the International Communist Conspiracy,” (Eisenhower) and of course unanimous consent in every post war administration the solemn obligation to “keep us safe.” Which makes, foreign policy “experts” from George Kennan to Hillary Clinton tell us, US bed hopping among this crew of tin pot dictators realpolitik.

On both sides of the congressional aisle the outrage boiled over: The only member to vote against the Afghanistan War and the fading star of the morally bankrupt Congressional Black Caucus, Sheila Jackson Lee, holding up $12, proclaimed: “We are anguished as mothers, grandmothers and lovers of children that this is what the children, the girls in Nigeria are worth. And so our first command and demand is to use all resources to bring the terrorist thugs to justice.” Later on she described the kidnappings as a “crime against humanity.” Of the 6 million souls murdered with US support in the Congo, her silence and that of her colleagues was and is deafening. On the right (would that be the righter?) side of the aisle, (Where is Paul Ryan when you really need a half-baked assessment of a crisis in some far-away land?} channel Susan Collins, whose bon mots on complex foreign policy issues are always worth a laugh or two, playing the woman-cum-mother-cum-grandmother card and opining that she “would like to see Special Forces deployed to help rescue these young girls.”

To Go In or Not to Go In

For a “probing” discussion of a multi-layered problem with US geo-political fingerprints all over it, look no further than the heads of the Senate Intelligence (stretching the definition by a country mile) Committee Diane Feinstein and Saxby Chambliss who told Time that they would support sending in special forces under certain conditions: Feinstein would send in the additional assistance only if Nigeria requests it, and Chambliss would do so with our allies.”

After raising a finger to check which way the political wind was blowing and aided by a CBS news report headlined “world outrage grows over Nigerian kidnappings,” and the 1.6 million who responded to Michelle Obama’s tweet “Save our Girls,” Hillary-will I-or-won’t-I-run-for-President Clinton (who can forget these tense days of indecision) covered the waterfront with such descriptions as “abominable,” “criminal,” “act of terrorism.” Unlike her instinctive response to most foreign policy disasters which ranges from “hang ‘em high” to “send in the Special Forces”, she took the high(er) road: [Kidnappings] “merit the fullest response possible first and foremost from the government of Nigeria.” Presumably after the Nigerian government has tried and failed, armed forces from) the US and its monster-child NATO will invoke “responsibility 2 protect” [think Kosovo and Libya] and charge in, armed drones and all, to secure a permanent presence in this mineral rich country.

Sanity Takes A Back Seat

According to Glen Ford in the May 16, 2014 Black Agenda Report: 

The “humanitarian” US military occupation of Africa has been very successful thus far… The Chibok abductions (Nigerian school girls) have served the same foreign policy purposes as Joseph Kony sightings in central Africa…the superpower that financed the genocide of six million in the Congo claims to be a defender of teenage girls and human rights on the continent…”

Certainly the kidnapping of so many young people anywhere in the world outrages human sensibilities and well it should. Equally repugnant is the Boko Haram fundamentalist jihadist organization responsible for this horrific act. The US response, however, is fraught with half-truths, duplicity and willful ignorance. Since 1958 when western oil companies, Shell, Mobil, and Texaco, began collaborating with the Nigerian government to exploit vast oil and other mineral reserves predominantly in the South, Nigeria, north and south, has been on a collision course with catastrophe. It’s the same old story of income inequality: an economic powerhouse in Africa with annual GDP growth around 6% that has not trickled down to the masses. Over 70% of Nigerians live in poverty, much of it concentrated in the North, site of the kidnappings, where income disparities between the “haves” and “have nots” are particularly vast—and growing. In 2009, militancy in the South over oil profits filtered into the North amidst a growing government crackdown against Muslims. Add in the “structural adjustments” from those US controlled neo-liberal twins, the IMF and World Bank and the devastation was complete. Nigeria became the dumping ground for products made in the Global North, the US, Europe, Japan, and Australia. The local economy was crushed and millions of livelihoods were extinguished. From the perspectives of long-time Africa watchers and civil rights activists on the continent, US invocation of humanitarian concerns in funneling military arms and “advisors” to the Nigerian government cloaks the long held policy objective of every post World War II administration, updated with the creation of Africom in 2008, of closer involvement in Africa leading to the biggest prize of all – Open Door Africa.

Not quite the black and white picture the media, administration spokesmen and congressional firebrands have made out.

Selective Outrage

Compare outrage being whipped up by the media, the government, and think tanks of all stripes to the “outrageless” reaction to the deaths of hundreds of civilians, including girl children, in US drone strikes in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia, and Yemen. No podium thumping from the likes of McCain, Clinton, and the rest of the “humanitarian warriors.” No feminist cries of outrage in December, 2013 when a US done struck a wedding party in Yemen and according to a New York Times report killed “at least a half dozen innocent people…” Were some Al Qaeda affiliated people also present? Hard to say. What we do know is that 6 innocent people were cut down in what should have been a joyous occasion. This display of US lethal force came shortly after Nobel Laureate Obama proclaimed new limits on drone strikes beyond the Afghan theater: “before any strike is taken, there must be near-certainty that no civilians will be killed or injured—the highest standard we can set.” In line with Obama’s desire to “look forward, not backward,” outrages like lethal force against civilians (remember the “collateral murder” video?) war crimes at Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo, Bagram Air Force Base, CIA black sites and the US rendition program (continuing today) are considered victimless incidents.

A Time to Say No — More

How long are we going to go along with this display of selective outrage over the fate of the world’s innocents – civilians in the wrong place at the wrong time? The facts are stark when it comes to US-perpetuated outrages. Not kidnappings, atrocities to be sure, but death from which there is no reprieve. In 2009, one week before Obama accepted the Nobel Peace Prize, a cruise missile launched from a nuclear submarine landed in a small village in Yemen, obliterating most of it and killing 41 of its inhabitants, 21 children and 12 women. In 2007, contractors (translation: mercenaries) paid by the US fired on unarmed civilians in Nissour Square, Iraq. The score: 17 dead, 24 wounded. 0 held responsible. According to a study reported in 2012 by the wild-eyed liberals at Stanford and New York University, 49 innocent lives are sacrificed for every terrorist killed in Pakistan. So much for the “near certainty,” our Commander in Chief solemnly promised us was the “new” standard for drone strikes.

Wait, there’s more. At the end of April, 2014, the US finally solved the problem of murder by drone. They made it disappear. According to a report in The New York Times, “the Senate has quietly stripped a provision from an intelligence bill that would have required President Obama to make public each year the number of people killed or injured in targeted killing operations in Pakistan and other countries where the United States uses lethal force.” Finally, an answer to the age-old question – If a tree falls in the forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound? Taking into account that the current administration has only owned up to 4 deaths in its drone strike war, four Americans, including two children, selective sorrow seems to be official US policy. Consider: children kidnapped by the enemy are objects of world-wide sorrow, children killed by the Empire “should have [had] a far more responsible father,” (former Obama press secretary Robert Gibbs commenting on the murder of 16-year-old US citizen Abdulrahman al-Awlaki)

The Empire Takes a Stand

It’s not only the president whose rhetorical flim-flam hides the brutality and emptiness of US foreign policy (Terror Tuesday when the president metes out death sentences to those who piss him off is a good example), Congress, not to be outdone in the performance art category, got their mojo going with cheerleader Pelosi whipping up the troops “We join together to say to those girls held in captivity in Nigeria and around the world we will not abandon you; we will stand up for you until justice is done…” Later, on a voice vote, in an almost empty chamber both houses of Congress acting in rare bi-partisan amity passed not a bill putting back the money they took from food stamps to feed hungry children, not a bill to abolish the racquet in student loan programs and provide free higher education to all America’s children, not a bill to reverse the cruel and unusual punishment meted out to immigrant children via the Affordable Care Act which prohibits their families from receiving government subsidized health care or, even if they are able to, purchase it themselves from private health plans on state exchanges and not a bill to rescue the 2.8 million American children who live in “extreme” poverty (double the number of 18 years ago): 17% of White children, 35% of Black children and 31% of Hispanic and American Indian children,[i] but a Resolution.

Congress to the Rescue

The resolution “Condemning the abduction of female students by armed militants from the terrorist group known as Boko Haram in northeastern provinces of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.” was championed by the entire political spectrum from the right lunatic fringe all the way over to left-leaning liberals who never saw a bandwagon they wouldn’t jump on. Goes to show that Langston Hughes was right, the animal that should be chosen to represent liberals is not a donkey or an elephant but an ostrich (“The Return of Simple,” a weekly column in the Chicago Defender, 1943).

Thinking the Unthinkable

If 200 Muslim school children were kidnapped instead of 200 Christian children would there be a Robert Gibbs clone around to advise them to have more “responsible” parents?

(P.S. This article was written in 2014. Sadly so little has changed, it could have been written today. Something is wrong when nothing changes except the empty promises become emptier and the feel-good words less believable.)

[1] MLK Injustice Index 2013: Racism, Materialism and Militarism in the US, by Bill Quigley

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