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Boko Haram’s kidnappings & the art of blaming Hillary Clinton

By J Brooks Spector 16 May 2014

In the midst of the agonies of the kidnappings of over two hundred Nigerian school girls, America’s right-wing critics have ¬divined that the whole thing was Hillary Clinton’s fault, even though she’d been out of office for months before the incident began. J. BROOKS SPECTOR looks into this and shakes his head with wonder and astonishment.

Unbelievably, in the midst of the real terrors of the Boko Haram mass kidnapping in Nigeria, some in Washington are trying to manufacture a tale that says the real culprit in none other than – wait for it – a drum roll and the envelope please – former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. While it is unlikely this kind of bizarre scandalmongering will actually stick, it is indicative of the lengths some are prepared to go to soften up Clinton’s presumed run for the Democratic Party nomination for the presidency in 2016, even before it formally begins.

In previous days, Republicans – especially Congressman Darryl Issa – have worked hard to make the case that somehow, some way, the deaths in Benghazi at that temporary US Consulate facility nearly two years ago, were Hillary Clinton’s responsibility (or her boss’s). So far, their Captain Ahab-esque obsessions have ranged far across the map. They have made a whole litany of charges.  Variously, she was at fault for personally failing to arrange for a major security upgrade at the temporary consulate facility. Or she participated in holding back any military reaction to the events as they were happening. And somehow, Svengali-like, she shaped the briefing notes given to administration spokespersons in the immediate wake of the events such that they elided around labelling the event as a terror attack, instead pointing to it as the result of that anti-Moslem video – the one that did spark violent protests in Cairo.

Republican forces in the House of Representatives are now gearing up for yet another committee that will re-examine this tragedy, all over again, one more time. This is despite there have already been several congressional investigations, as well as a special administration investigation led by highly respected retired admiral and a near-legendary diplomat. In all of this, no one has found anything even approaching culpability on Clinton’s part. In fact, several State Department officials have already been held responsible for failing to take due cognizance of security concerns for the Benghazi office.

Sometimes it is hard to accept the fact that bad things do happen, but they do. Benghazi was not the first time an ambassador has died in the service of the country. There is, after all, a wall covered with stars in the State Department entry foyer to remember the many diplomats who have died during their overseas assignments over the years.

But this time around, Republicans are seeking to find a way to pin the shape of the message US UN Ambassador Susan Rice delivered on television appearances immediately after Benghazi on both Clinton and Obama. The intention behind this newest committee will be to charge the Clinton State Department and the White House massaged this message as a ploy to deflect attention on the events in Benghazi away from the government just as the 2012 election was approaching.

As the exasperated Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen wrote the other day, yes, “Four Americans, including Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens, died in the 2012 attack in Benghazi, Libya — two from mortar fire and Stevens and another man from smoke inhalation. These deaths are a serious matter, for which bureaucratic blame already has been assessed. No one can possibly think the Obama administration knew the attack was coming and let it happen. There is no proof of that. Similarly, no one can still think the White House put the brakes on a rescue attempt by the U.S. military. Again, there is no proof of that.

“So what is Benghazi? Beats me, I am tempted to say. But I recognize it as a transparent Republican attempt to provide the party’s base with grist for its fantasy mill. Is it possible the Obama administration fudged the nature of the attack, refusing to apply the term ‘terrorist’? Yes, of course. Did the White House spin-meisters put their hands all over it? Could be. But is any of this so momentous that it has required 13 public hearings and now a select House committee that will delve and delve feverishly — for what?…. I know that what I am seeing looks both petty and mean. House Speaker John Boehner talks about Benghazi with synthetic solemnity. Fox News dissects it, parsing White House talking points with the ferocious intensity of a hunting dog pointing at prey. Benghazi, Benghazi, Benghazi. It will show… It will prove… It will expose… What? What the hell are you talking about?” Not too much, it would seem.”

But while these feverish claims will, almost certainly, effectively lead nowhere, other than to spend money, make some breathless bulletins on Fox News TV, and plow the same ground that has already been tilled to a fare-thee-well, they will be just perfect for furious, lectern-pounding as the US’ mid-term election rolls around in a few months’ time. Oh, right, we almost forgot about that little bit of partisan political theatre, now didn’t we? Cue the light bulb turning on.

But even if Benghazi-rattling doesn’t stick to Democratic candidates generally (and to Hillary Clinton specifically as she begins to summon up the energy to take one final charge at the presidential nomination two years’ hence), Republicans fearful of her likely candidacy seem to have turned to yet another charge, just in case. Okay, so far, this one comes from the odder corners of the Republican-right-wing-echo-chamber’s closet, but one can be pretty certain it will be repeated for some time yet as yet another faux demonstration of Clinton’s unsuitability for the White House.

The charge now being tossed about the horrific kidnappings by Boko Haram of more than two hundred young women from boarding schools in northern Nigeria is that the whole thing is somehow Hillary Clinton’s fault. Really. Nope, we’re not making this up. Now to be fair, mainstream, serious, actual adult Republicans haven’t yet jumped into this particular clown car in any numbers, but camp followers have – and they, in turn, can help influence the larger climate.

For example, on Fox News TV last week, political talk show host Elisabeth Hasselbeck blamed the attack on Clinton’s failure to put Boko Haram on the US Government’s foreign terrorist organization list during her tenure as secretary of state. Hasselbeck said, that doing so “perhaps could have saved these girls earlier.” And naturally Rush Limbaugh chimed in that Clinton had declined to designate the group as a terrorist body because its members are black. Then, Fox’s Megyn Kelly tossed out the line Clinton had failed to put the group on the list because it would have “angered them,” as one of the guests on her show claimed Clinton had given Boko Haram a “green light.” Seriously, now, do these people all get a briefing memo and their talking points at the beginning of each week from some secret coven?

Meanwhile, Republican Congressman Mike Rogers, chair of the House’s Intelligence Oversight Committee, among others, has taken to arguing that the broad Twitter campaign on the kidnappings, #BringBackOurGirls, was evidence of a toothless Obama-Clinton foreign policy. Rogers ridiculed Michelle Obama for participating in the campaign, sneering that she was trying “to fight Boko Haram with hashtags.” And former Congressman Allen West, never one to avoid this kind of stir-the-pot stuff, argued that focusing on the kidnappings was a “wag the dog” plan by the Obama administration to distract from the impending Benghazi, Libya investigation. Gosh, isn’t the former secretary a target there too?

Muddying the waters somewhat, former House speaker Newt Gingrich then called for congressional hearings on this issue – giving Clinton opponents chances to garner a few more headlines as they burrowed into whether Clinton had suffered a brain injury, as Republican operative Karl Rove has charged, or whether she was even behind the recent Monica Lewinsky article in Vanity Fair, per a whisper from Lynne Cheney, the veteran political animal and spouse of Darth Vader. It is fair to note that blaming Hillary Clinton for Boko Haram has not yet turned into a full court press in the manner of how Republicans are playing the Benghazi conspiracy story, but it does give a blueprint as to how a scandal like this one is actually manufactured.

Or, as Dana Milbank wrote in the Post the other day, Republicans “found their opening in a decision by the State Department not to put the group on its list of foreign terrorist organizations after Boko Haram bombed UN headquarters in Abuja in 2011. The FBI, the CIA and various lawmakers argued for its inclusion, but Nigeria’s government, which Boko Haram is trying to topple, argued against it, as did academic experts on Nigeria. John Campbell, U.S. ambassador to Nigeria during the George W. Bush administration [and a highly regarded scholar on West Africa], told Fox’s Chris Wallace on Sunday that, ‘along with a good many other Nigerian experts at the time, we all opposed designation.’

“Opponents figured the designation would elevate the prestige of Boko Haram, which was essentially a domestic Nigerian organization. Instead, Clinton in 2012 put three of the group’s leaders on a list of foreign terrorists. After Boko Haram killed more than 160 civilians in Benisheik, Nigeria, in September 2013, Clinton’s successor, John Kerry, finally put the group on the terror list — and Boko Haram’s brazen attacks continued unimpeded.

“The blame-Hillary effort began, as these things often do, with a report by a mainstream journalist. After Clinton tweeted about the ‘unconscionable’ abductions and said ‘we must stand up to terrorism,’ Josh Rogin posted an article May 7 in the Daily Beast quoting an anonymous ‘former senior U.S. official’ accusing Clinton of ‘gross hypocrisy’ because she hadn’t put Boko Haram on the list. From there, conservatives were off to the races. Glenn Beck’s the Blaze picked up Rogin’s report, highlighting the anonymous quote. The Daily Caller went with the headline ‘Secretary Hillary — Now Decrying “Terrorism” — Refused to Call Boko Haram a Terror Group.’ National Review and others joined in. ‘Now word is because we did not place them on the terror list,’ said Fox News’s Steve Doocy the morning after Rogin’s report appeared, ‘it’s going to be harder to go after them. And who exactly made sure that they were not placed on the terror list? Hillary Clinton.’ ”

With this wild horse now having bolted from the barn, Texas Republican Congressman Louie Gohmert quoted Rogin and Fox both, claiming Clinton had “protected” terrorists, in a speech in Congress. In that speech, Gohmert charged, “What happened here is obvious, although the commentariat is loath to connect the dots. Ms. Clinton, like the Obama administration more broadly, believes that appeasing Islamists … promotes peace and stability.”

Whichever way the Boko Haram kidnapping saga ends, the scandalmongers may have some grist for their particular mill. If Nigerian military forces – aided by Americans, British, Israeli, and Chinese specialized search and rescue personnel – successfully liberate the captives, Clinton opponents have an already-prepared brief to say it would have happened more easily, or never even happened at all, if only the Clinton State Department had been tougher on terrorists in the first case. And, equally, if things go badly, those same critics will charge the fault really lies with those terrorist-loving Clintonites. Lose-lose.

And we’re not even going to get into the kinds of charges that have been flying about on social media from the wilder reaches of leftist politics. Over in that universe, there has been a sluice of charges (sometimes based on breathless, fact-light Nigerian newspaper reports) that Boko Haram was actually established by the US, funded with secret Saudi Arabian money, and designed to so destabilize Nigeria and the rest of West Africa that American military forces can capture all that oil for their own nefarious goals.

This crisis, of course, is not primarily about the wilder regions of American conspiracy theory politics – left or right. The real story, of course, is the one about the kidnapped girls. And that story, in turn, fits into the larger, on-going, religiously-fuelled violence of northern Nigeria and all those long-standing rivalries and systemic instabilities in Nigeria’s political system that – in part – continue to pit northern Moslems against Christian southerners. But however the kidnapping saga ends, and whatever tragedies are eventually visited upon the girls and their families, the tragedy is going to be drawn into America’s domestic political battles as well. DM

Photo: Hillary Clinton, former US Secretary of State, speaks during an event about the establishment of the U.S. Global Development Lab, a program designed to use science, innovation and partnerships for the development work done by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), in New York City, New York, USA, 03 April 2014. EPA/JUSTIN LANE.

Read more:

  • Rep. Rogers suggests administration needs tougher foreign policy than #bringbackourgirls at Fox News;
  • Birth of a scandal blaming Hillary Clinton for Nigerian kidnappings, a column by Dana Milbank in the Washington Post
  • The GOP’s Benghazi hangup is baffling, a column by Richard Cohen in the Washington Post;
  • What Media Is Missing In Its Rush To Tie Hillary Clinton To Kidnapped Nigerian Girls at Mediamatters.org
  • Hundreds of Nigerian Girls Are Missing. Fox News Blames Hillary Clinton at Slate
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