Hillary Clinton, we now know, strongly opposed placing Boko Haram on the State Department’s official list of foreign terrorist organizations. According to Josh Rogin, the Justice Department (including the FBI), the CIA, and more than a dozen senators and congressmen wanted Boko Haram designated a foreign terrorist organization, but Clinton successfully resisted. Boko Haram wasn’t so designated until late this year, after Clinton had left Foggy Bottom.
Now that Boko Haram is holding more than 200 Nigerian girls, forcing some to convert to Islam and threatening to make sex slaves out of others, Clinton takes a different view of this outfit. Recently she tweeted: “Access to education is a basic right & an unconscionable reason to target innocent girls. We must stand up to terrorism.” (emphasis added)
But why didn’t Clinton stand up to Boko Haram’s terrorism by designating it a foreign terrorist organization when she was in power?
The answer is not lack of awareness that Boko Haram is, in fact, such an organization. As Tom Joscelyn reminds us, during congressional testimony in January 2013, just before she stepped down as Secretary of State, Tom Cotton asked Clinton whether various jihadists in Africa should be considered al Qaeda. She responded:
Whether they call themselves al Qaeda or Boko Haram or Ansar al Sharia, they are all part of the same global jihadist movement.
Exactly. And for exactly that reason, Clinton should have agreed to have Boko Haram designated as such.
So again, why didn’t she? The evidence, as Joscelyn shows, has been there all along. Although a group need not be directly tied to al Qaeda to be an international terrorist organization, files recovered from Osama bin Laden’s residence during the May 2011 raid document al Qaeda’s dealings, through bin Laden himself, with Boko Haram, according to Joscelyn. He cites the Washington Post (April 27, 2012) and the Guardian (April 29, 2012).
The explanation for Clinton’s resistance lies primarily in the Obama administration’s studious attempt to define international terrorism down to the point that President Obama can declare something like victory. Because this fiction undermines our fight against an enemy that is growing stronger, not weaker, I have called this “Obama’s most dangerous lie.”
Michael Hirsh of Politico reports that, according to U.S. officials he spoke with, the failure to designate Boko Haram a terrorist organization was “partly rooted in a larger effort by the Obama administration to narrowly define al Qaeda and deemphasize the rise of its new affiliates, especially in Africa.” Hirsh added that this same effort helps explain the Obama administration’s failure to identify the enemy who was in Benghazi on September 11, 2012.
The parallel to Benghazi is striking. Clinton tried to characterize the attack as the outgrowth of a demonstration prompted by a video in part because she didn’t want to disturb Team Obama’s narrative that al Qaeda was a fading force and the war against terrorism was being won. She declined to designate Boko Haram as an international terrorist organization for essentially the same reason.
I’ll say this for Hillary Clinton: as Secretary of State she was a team player. But so was Al Gore as Vice President. And he was playing on a better team.