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Should US rescue Nigerian girls? No:We can't take on evil everywhere

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Here’s a three-part test to determine when the U.S. should go abroad in search of monsters to destroy.

* Are U.S. citizens or interests threatened? In Nigeria, the answer is pretty clear: No. While the kidnapping of girls is horrific and shocks the conscience, America will be no less secure if we simply do nothing against Boko Haram.

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* Is the event so shocking to the conscience that U.S. intervention is warranted? Here, your mileage may vary. My own level of

intervention-worthy shock is genocide, basically. It’s why the United States would’ve been justified in a Rwanda intervention 20 years ago; why the basis for intervening in Syria was somewhat iffy a year ago, but still in the realm of possibility. But it’s why Nigeria’s kidnapping, awful and evil as it is, doesn’t qualify.

* What are the chances of blowback against the United States? Don’t be fooled by hawkish triumphalists: There is almost no such thing as “surgical” and “precise” military action, such as those undertaken by drones or special forces. It often ends up much messier and more deadly on the ground than is portrayed.

An example: Yemen. The United States has been conducting an increasingly unpopular drone campaign there for years against al-Qaeda-affiliated militants; in recent weeks, the war has escalated, with terrorists attempting — and failing — to kidnap U.S. intelligence officials, who had to shoot their way out of a Yemeni barber shop. Once you start a war, you don’t choose when it ends.

A U.S. intervention against Boko Haram wouldn’t make America safer; it would probably make us less safe. The U.S. cannot and should not try to eliminate evil in the world. The people and parents of Nigeria have our good wishes — but this is their fight.

Joel Mathis is associate editor for Philadelphia Magazine. He can be reached at joelmmathis@gmail.com

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