The wayward policy poses challenges in the current crisis over Boko Haram’s abduction of hundreds of girls and young women. The administration’s reluctance to crack down on Boko Haram owes to its sympathies for the Islamist case against the Nigerian government—not, it should be stressed, for Boko Haram’s terrorist methods and extremism, but for the claim that the Nigerian government’s vigorous, forcible response to terrorism is what provokes terrorism.
This obviously does not promote an effective working relationship between the American and Nigerian governments. The administration is offering various forms of assistance, including dispatching the FBI—much as the FBI mobilized in Kenya and Tanzania after the U.S. embassies were bombed by al Qaeda in 1998. But American law-enforcement agencies have no jurisdiction to act on foreign soil without the indulgence of the host government.
If the Nigerian government harbors suspicions that the Obama administration is sympathetic to the government’s Islamist opposition, it will be very difficult for American government agencies to be effective in responding to the crisis.