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Should US rescue Nigerian girls? No: emotion shouldn't drive foreign policy

Just a few years ago, recall, President Obama was saying “al-Qaeda is on the run” and that the terrorist umbrella organization was “on the path to defeat” in Iraq and Afghanistan. He noted emerging threats in Africa and the Arabian peninsula, however.

Turns out, al-Qaeda is doing just fine. Boko Haram — whose name translates, more or less, to “Western education for girls is forbidden” — is an al-Qaeda satellite. This group that few Americans knew about until recently has been terrorizing Nigerians in general, and Christians in particular, for years.

The group is well-funded and well-

organized. The Nigerian government’s effort to suppress it has largely failed. U.S. law prevents the president from providing direct military aid to Nigeria, because government forces are almost as bad as Boko Haram.

Instead, we’re flying drones and aircraft over an area “roughly the size of New England,” looking for nearly 300 girls who deserve better than what they’re getting right now.

Sen. McCain’s recommendation isn’t serious. It’s cheap posturing. He knows as well as anyone that we don’t simply drop four or six SEALs into the wilderness and expect them to emerge in a few weeks, mission accomplished.

The war on terrorism has stretched our special forces to their limit. Their operations rely on extensive logistical support and communications.

We wouldn’t simply be putting a few “boots on the ground” in Nigeria. It would be hundreds, perhaps thousands.

And for what? Americans’ hearts break at the thought of those girls, snatched at gunpoint from their classrooms, being held captive by thugs beholden to a medieval ideology. But emotional appeals cannot be the basis of U.S. foreign policy. And half-measures may be worse than no measures at all.

What McCain proposes would be the Republican flip-side of “leading from behind.” Just send in special forces and hope for the best. Failure is not an option because it’s not even a consideration. Neither is wiping Boko Haram from the face of the earth.

Ben Boychuk is associate editor of the Manhattan Institute’s City Journal. He can be reached at