America says it cares about those kidnapped girls, but their real interest in Nigeria lies beyond them

nigeria, kidnapped girlsThe United States has a two-faced policy when it comes to the notion of human rights and other international abuses. After reading the heartbreaking reports of the kidnapping of hundreds of schoolgirls by the terrorist group Boko Haram in Nigeria, I have been connecting some rather interesting dots that many media outlets have not been analyzing.

While the tragedy of the kidnapping is indeed severe, there is a different angle to this that many in the American media have been ignoring. When it comes to the plight of the girls, I sympathize wholeheartedly. Yet, the United States government in the long run doesn’t necessarily care about the fate of these girls. What we do care about is the maintenance of our influence and military reach in Nigeria.

Many might wonder what exactly geopolitics has to do with a humanitarian mission to rescue the kidnapped girls? It has a lot to do with it actually. In Nigeria’s case, geopolitics is a huge reason why we are so concerned about events in Nigeria and other countries in Africa.

American interests extend to many countries across Africa, Nigeria being one of them. The US Military has built a solid relationship with the Nigerian Military, including advisors, weapons, and training tactics. One of the main relationship points (militarily) between the US and Nigeria is the curbing of Islamic Extremist groups in Nigeria, and across Africa. Western economic interests are also very strong in Nigeria, and elsewhere.

Now, American interests and the kidnapping of the schoolgirls is not directly connected, but more or less are byproducts of each other. Nigeria, being a fractionalized state between Muslim and Christian regions, is held together by a mainly autocratic government and heavy military establishment. Nigeria has a very bad human rights record, and has had a bad reputation for decades. Nigeria was run mainly by military regimes up until fairly recently, many of which were backed by the United States.

Even today, Nigeria is not a hub of political and social freedoms. Nigeria, and Uganda, have passed heavy anti-homosexuality laws in their respective countries. While the US has responded to these laws, human rights groups say that the responses have not gone far enough. For example, the military relationship is completely unaffected by the human rights situation.

The US has in fact beefed up its forces in Africa in the past few years, mainly to aid in counter-terrorism, but has also been useful in securing new allies and arms clients for the military-industrial complex, as well as lucrative economic deals for American and Western companies. Many analysts believe that countries like Nigeria, no matter how oppressive, will not be heavily sanctioned because Washington does not want to jeopardize its growing position in Africa. This is not unusual for US policy, but it truly reveals just how two-faced that policy is.

nigeria, gay protestsThe United States has often held double-standards on human rights when it comes to its clients and allies. Throughout the Cold War the US trumpeted democracy and denounced the totalitarianism of the Soviet Union and Eastern Bloc, but in practice supported many brutally undemocratic and often totalitarian-esque regimes in the developing world. The justification of supporting dictatorships while officially advocating democracy was, and still is, claimed to be driven by a “realist” outlook of foreign policy.

Today, for example, we denounce Russia for defying international norms in Ukraine and use this to label its behavior as wrong enough to throw the kitchen sink at it. Talk of sanctions and full isolation from the world, everything short of all-out war if Russia does not back away from its actions in Ukraine. Russia is lauded as an undemocratic criminal state, unworthy of any respect or close relationship due to its unruly behavior.

Yet anyone who believes that American policy is consistent in this regard, think again. Take Saudi Arabia for example. The Saudis are America’s number one ally in the Middle East after Israel. Our support for the Saudis has been unwavering, and obviously oil revenue has much to do with that. Yet, Saudi Arabia is a near totalitarian theocracy that, in many cases, is worse than what exists in Iran. Human rights abuses are terribly disregarded by the Saudi Monarchy, especially for women under their Sharia system. Yet, in spite of this, we still maintain strong ties with Saudi Arabia.

What might any of the past couple of paragraphs have to do with the issues in Nigeria? Everything! Remember, we are protesting a horrible human rights atrocity in defense of a nation with long histories of human rights abuses. Nigeria today still has questionable rights abuses, especially toward the LGBT community. Yet, we are still funding them and maintaining strong ties with them. The same is also true for other countries, both past and present.

While everyone is appalled at the kidnapping of the schoolgirls in Nigeria, and we should all desire to do everything possible to see them freed, there are other motives at work here. The US wants to ensure its position in Africa cannot be compromised, so all of the blunders and abuses of nations like Nigeria will not be seriously challenged. If the US sends forces to help free the girls, just understand that our interests in Nigeria run deeper than humanitarianism.

The US picks and chooses which nations are to be criticized and which ones are not. We need a friendly Nigeria and Saudi Arabia, so we do not criticize their abuses. If a nation like Iran, Russia, or Venezuela does something out of sync with American policy interests, then it immediately becomes a gross violation of international law and human rights. Nigeria is not a unique case. /but, it does reveal the stark reality of just how flawed American policy perceptions are. If America sends troops or material anywhere, just know that an ulterior motive always rests within range of discovery.

11 COMMENTS

  1. ‘US’ is our gov’t. Our gov’t is acting on that which a majority of citizens have interest in right now, and that is to save those girls.

    Why would you draw any conclusions beyond this and to scorn your own nation’s government?
    Why? Ratings, selling papers, and selling advertising with irresponsible “reporting.”

    Your work here is the type of impulsive “reporting” that is rampant in the US media these days. You suggest to know something that the rest of us do not. You offer this under an appearance of some media scoop. Guess what? You are not some “oracle” of political matters. You know nothing more than the rest of us do. We are not dumb.

    We know our US gov’t was in this country -and others- long before these girls were kidnapped. We know our gov’t is working within foreign affairs around the globe.
    We know there are many differing motivations for this.

    If you and any one of us do not like what our government is doing, then do something about that beyond irresponsible and sensationalist “reporting.”

    Your views here -as you and so many other “news” reports work to sell us on them- only breeds more scorn, skepticism, pessimism, and paranoia from US citizens and of our own government.
    This onslaught of speculatory sensationalistic journalism leads citizen-readers toward feeling helpless and then toward becoming apathetic in shaping our own democracy.

    Also, your “reporting” here would tell readers outside this country to be suspicious of the US-your own nation of citizenship. Is this in our nation good interests? No.

    If you want a real story as some kind of true “inside scoop” it must be done from a boots-on-the-ground journalistic approach or through good-source-based writing, not speculation.

    I reiterate: If you or any one of us do not like what our government is doing in foreign affairs, then work in an effort to change things.

    Right now, US citizens want the girls back.

    • Where do I start here? First of all, if you think I wrote this article out of desire for ratings, clearly you are unfamiliar with the way a site like ours operates. Secondly, there is nothing I have written in the article that is not public knowledge. I didn’t state anything here that is not verified. I am not merely speculating on what our actions have been, which in turn gives insight into intention.

      Of course we care about the fate of those girls, and I never indicated otherwise. The American People care deeply, yet you fail to understand the central premise to foreign policy. All nations have self-interests. While the act of freeing the girls may not be a direct result of a foreign policy decision by the US, the fact is we do have a geopolitical interest in Nigeria and that fact is we have been supporting the current status-quo in the nation. Nigeria is an important ally for American interests in Africa, and it would not be wise to see Nigeria torn and humiliated by acts of groups like Boko Haram.

      Incidents of violence and mayhem occur across many wartorn African states. How many violent kidnappings, murders, rapes, pillaging and so on occur in the Congo? Thousands, millions? How many of us are willing to send in Seal Team Six to stop the violence, very few comparatively. For whatever reason, our policy makers do not consider them as important. What I am pointing out is that we have double standards in regards to foreign policy decisions. So we will rescue the girls, great. What happens when Seal Team Six leaves? What of the rest of Nigeria? What of other schools? Should Seal Team Six go in with intention of only rescuing the girls, or should it also try and destroy Boko Haram? This of course would change the nature of said intervention.

      Your notion that somehow the US government serves the opinion of its people, especially in aspects of foreign policy, is very interesting. I suppose then that Pentagon really listened to the people who desired to get out of Vietnam, or those who said not to invade Iraq, or those said not to get involved in Libya and who are not saying to stay out of Syria? American policy makers do not always follow the directives of popular opinion, and in many ways act contrary to it. Most Americans are not in favor of maintaining a global empire of bases and military presences in every corner of the globe. And conservatives wonder why government is so big?

      Clearly you seem to lack the understanding of US roles in the world over the past few decades. My article (which by the way does not have an extensive international audience) doesn’t need to make international readers suspicious of the US military. They already are for the most part, and it has nothing to do with sensational journalism. I think American policy, such as a war in Iraq that killed 1 million Iraqis and 4,000 Americans, and illegal drone campaigns have done that better than I ever could. Those acts alone would make foreigners suspicious, let alone our extensive history of regime change and support of unsavory dictators to rule as proxy. This isn’t just my opinion. This is information publicly available.

      In closing, nothing I have mentioned here is “sensational” journalism. Are you reading from the 19th century? What you have stated are observations that have been mentioned and critiqued by many others. I don’t see how pointing out the double standards of US foreign policy is sensational. These are not new observations, and criticizing me and the article for merely reporting verified criticisms of US policy does not seem to make much sense. These are not unsubstantiated events that I have pointed out. This is not a blanket criticism of the government, but rather is just pointing out our rather sticky predicament in a nation that has a national tragedy on its hands.

  2. I am hardly the person one would accuse of “parroting the same arguments I hear US policy makers say.” Hardly.

    It might be helpful if you read the remarks of others with a bit more care and it would undoubtedly be helpful if you read those remarks with a sensitivity to, uh, “nuance.”

    The first paragraph of your response leaves much to be desired, including an understanding of my primary point. You seem to think that we have a single “policy” relative to Saudi domestic policy and Russian foreign policy. We don’t. Domestic policy and foreign policy are two different animals, as I noted in my comment. And “nuance” has nothing to do with that distinction.

    Had you read carefully, you would have noted the absence of any disagreement per the fact that the foreign policy of the U.S.—or, any country—evidences its share of what, depending on degree, can be termed inconsistency or can be termed hypocrisy. Hence, “nuance” does become a factor when we start talking about “degree.” The terms we use are relative and contextual and, thus, “nuanced.” I am more than sure that I am, at times, inconsistent. But seldom do those times fall off the cliff into hypocrisy. Important words they are and often indicative of the maturity of an argument or a position: Degree; Relative; Contextual; Nuanced.

    Relative to your second paragraph, you might note that I offered very clear examples of equivalencies in which American hypocrisy was indefensible.

    My notation of your hyperbole does not go to you “pointing out the flaws.” It goes to language and phraseology that is over-the-top.

    I made no excuses for anyone in my comment. I pointed out what I believe to be a false equivalency in your argument and the implications of that for your general thesis.

    And, were I you, I wouldn’t make the statement that “Nuance is just a cover word for double standard” around people who think seriously about these or any other matters.

    • Once again, what I am reading are things I have heard state department officials say many times. “Nuance”, in policy lingo, essentially means double standard.

      You seem to be confused as to how foreign policy is represented. There is no “foreign domestic policy.” Any influence we wave over domestic actions in other countries is “foreign policy”, there is no separate office for “domestic foreign affairs.” Influencing a nations domestic policy is done by our foreign policy. There is no separation between influencing a nations geopolitical and domestic issues. The same policy fits together.

      Also you seem to have this notion that we are unable to influence a nations domestic policy, which we are fully able. We have huge leverage over the Saudis, so why not use it to change their behavior? What makes Saudi Arabia so special that it requires a “nuance” that nations like Iran or Russia do not deserve?

      Of course cases should be examined one by one, yet funny enough it’s always the regimes we like that require a “nuance” while nations we don’t like are horrible aggressors that must be put in their place. That is the point of the article, which you clearly missed.

      The points of Saudi Arabia and Russia are minor pieces to the whole spectrum of double standards we hold. Nigeria is the main point. Are we going to slap sanctions on Nigeria for their human rights abuses? Of course not, because they are our friends. Are we going to sanction Israel for its use of white phosphorus in Gaza? Nope. Nuance, remember.

      America and its allies can and will break international laws and human rights, which we call nuance and realism. Brezinsky’s Grand Chessboard. Yet if any nation we disapprove of does the same, well then they are inherently bad and must be dealt with in the harshest manner.

      These issues are not isolated, as you present. Why will we use our power to punish Iran or Russia, but not Saudi Arabia. I think you know the answer, but you seem too willing to accept American policy explanations at face value, rather than the shadowy mess it is.

      • Though I seldom reply to replies per my own comments (it doesn’t bother me if people disagree with my perspectives, but it does bother me to have them misrepresented), I do have to respond to your apparent inability/unwillingness to understand what I mean by establishing a distinction between “foreign policy” and “domestic policy.”

        If you will, as I earlier suggested, read my comments more carefully, you will note that I am talking about Russian “foreign policy” and Saudi “domestic policy.” Just as our “foreign policies” are distinct from our “domestic policies,” so are those of every country.

        You are trying to conflate the American response to Russian “foreign policy” with the American response to Saudi “domestic policy.” By definition, that is a false equivalency. I know of no other way to say that more clearly. That is my way of saying that I am most certainly not confused as to how “foreign policy” is, uh, “represented.” The way we respond to another country’s “foreign policy” is just quite simply—and, logically—different from the way we respond to its “domestic policy.” They are two different beasts.

        I have no need to defend my use of the word “nuance” any longer. I made my point and am confident in it.

        Your presumption that I don’t think we are able to effect change in the domestic policies of other countries in baseless. Nowhere do I say anything that would lead one to assume or presume that. I think that to be a very nuanced and careful undertaking and, when we have tried such in the past it has often led to sometimes accurate charges of cultural arrogance, moral imperialism and worse.

        I admit to being stunned at your unwillingness to see how nuanced and nuanced and nuanced international affairs actually are. You clearly have a functioning cerebral cortex. You use polysyllabic words and compound sentences. I’m going to have to assume that you are still young enough to see things in black-and-white terms; as I wrote earlier, understanding and respecting nuance is an exercise in maturity.

        I think this is a good time to say that perhaps we can agree to disagree.

        • Very well. Your rather dismissive attitude is what I hear a lot from American foreign policy types. I understand the complexity of the world, and if I recall never once advocated any puritanical approach that had to be sacrosanct. Our government is the one that sports that unitary view, and promotes it as gospel, and I merely attempted to point out the flaws of the different aspects of foreign policies to different countries. All I can say I’ve heard it all before. Maybe I am to naive to merely point out the fact that our policies can be grossly hypocritcal in several aspects of policy. I am always told I have to be nuanced towards bad regimes that we fund and like, and yet somehow I have to be a fighter for democracy when it comes for nations we do not like. I understand that that’s what it is, but does no one else recognize how blatant some of the divergences are? Perhaps that makes me naive, oh well.

          Agree to disagree.

  3. While there is little doubt about U.S. foreign policy having a distinctly utilitarian and self-interested tone, welcome to the real world. That is, always has been and always will be a matter of degree. I have no interest in justifying it or putting an imprimatur on it, but to imagine any country would engage any other without regard for its own self-interest is to signal that one has set up his/her tent on the other side of the looking glass. Again, degree.

    I find your conflation of the U.S. response to Russia’s incursion into Ukraine with the dynamics of the U.S. relationship with the Saudis to be a false equivalency. One simply cannot draw a credible analogy between two issues that differ as much as these—apples aren’t oranges and vice versa.

    The Ukrainian issue goes not to Russian anti-democratic practices at home but to its disrespect for the borders of a sovereign country, its crossing of those borders by both military and para-military forces and uncertainty as to its ultimate geopolitical designs. Its actions in Ukraine represent a very real threat to the security of NATO allies and, by extension, to the U.S. The response of the U.S. and other NATO nations is generated not by Russia’s “unruly behavior” at home but by its “unruly behavior” in eastern Europe. Quite frankly, Russia’s domestic issues have had no bearing on the U.S./NATO response to their activities in Ukraine.

    The Saudi issue that you raise has nothing to do with its foreign policy but with its domestic policy. While your hyperbole is distracting, Saudi domestic practices are undoubtedly at odds with American democratic ideals—a fact that would be generative of a long discussion per the interaction of geography, history, culture and religion (and has been generative of innumerable Ph.D dissertations). However, to find an equivalence between Russian foreign policy and Saudi domestic policy would require one to possess an NBA-level wingspan. And to then use American responses to these two differing issues in order to advance a thesis about U.S. hypocrisy in its foreign relations is an even farther reach.

    At bottom, I don’t disagree with your general thesis—though it is somewhat overwrought and lacks any hint of nuance. However, there are much better examples—equivalencies—you might have utilized. Think South America in the 50’s and 60’s. Think Cuba before Castro. Think Vietnam.

    • You seem to be parroting the same arguments I hear US policy makers say. We can’t call the policy hypocrisy, because of “nuance.” Russia acts undemocratic and we denounce them. Saudis act that way, we have to be “nuanced.”

      While I understand the differences, the hypocrisy of American policy is ver evident in both cases. We support regimes in our favor, and act against those who are not. I don’t expect the US to gain consistency, but pointing out the flaws does not somehow invoke hyperbole.

      While I appreciate your desire for a balance in understanding, you are essentially making the same excuses that US policy makers generate in defense of a two faced foreign policy. Saudi Arabia is different because they are our allies. Nuance is just a cover word for double standard.

    • Rusty – what exactly is the intent of your comments? Did you miss the point of the entire story or are you just being provocative? I understood your point in your first comment and I’m not sure if you or the writer is right on the accuracy of “policy” but I’ll just set that aside and just ponder that there are 300 kidnapped girls in Nigeria and that the author’s point is that this happens in a lot of other places but for some reason it is making 24 hours news here in the U.S.? I have to ask why when these problems exist in so many places that most of us whether individually or as a nation ignore.

    • Title
      “Two faced policy.”

      The US was in Nigeria previous to the kidnapping. Hence, this aid effort has not been used as a guise to prompt entrance into Nigeria, and despite any other foreign aid motivation in being there.

      These issues are separate. We have been asked to aid with recovery of these girls. The fact that our country is helping Nigeria to do this shows an action which the majority of our citizens support. Therefore, our government is doing as we-the majority-would have them do in this case.

      I do not disagree there are mixed motivations in foreign policy. However, to imply the US went into Nigeria via the “excuse” to save the girls is not accurate.

      Side note:
      You have implied our gov’t is corrupt. This infers change is needed. You make no suggestion toward change and toward empowering citizens to engage in our own democracy. Journalism is to be held at a higher standard than you have here.

      • Once again, you clearly are not familiar with the notion of foreign policy. The point of this article was focus on the very specific issues at hand in Nigeria, not a broad manifesto on how to have a populist change of government. I have used other articles of mine on this site for that purpose.

        I in fact made the point in the article that we already had interests in Nigeria, as well as personnel. The point I am making is that we are not there for purely altruistic reasons. It boggles my mind why certain people can’t wrap their heads around the fact that the US is a nation made up of humans, not angels, and our policies to the world are directed by our interests, not emotions. The fact is that many nations suffer issues like what is happening in Nigeria, yet we are not going to send humanitarian missions to every nation with these issues. We pick and choose which nations deserve our attention and which ones do not.

        Where were we in Rwanda, or Congo? How about Sri Lanka, El Salvador, or what happened in Darfur? We choose not to intervene there because it either runs contrary to our interests or we simply have no interests there. Does this mean the body counts and tragedies were any less severe? Not at all. So girls in Congo are not worthy of missions to save them, while Nigerian girls are?

        Also, again, the notion that the Pentagon operates its policy based fully on the will of the American people is a little strange, if you pay attention to events. Washington ignores the will of the people on many fronts, and always has. There is nothing irresponsible about point out the double standards of US policy in a nation we are trying to drum “humanitarian” support for. If we truly cared about the situation in Nigeria, why did we spend most of its history propping up Military Dictatorships, rather than funding democratic alternatives? Why is much of our presence and aid there military rather than social? These are not new questions, and I am not the only one who asks them.

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