Ed Driscoll

America’s Moral Compass

“Does the U.S. have a responsibility to act in Nigeria?” That’s the question asked by Jonah Goldberg in his latest column. “If — and this is a big if — the United States could dispatch a swarm of heretofore secret super-drones to find and kill every member of the Nigerian terrorist group Boko Haram, would you be in favor of doing it?”

Unfortunately, it’s not that easy. We don’t have such drones — yet. There is no button to press that would cleanly and safely rescue those girls and put the terrorists out of Nigeria’s misery. We can no more wish that drones will solve the problem of Boko Haram than expect Twitter hashtags to solve it. The only methods available to us involve all sorts of risks, to American lives, American interests, and — also important — to Nigerian lives and interests.

Concerns about these risks are wholly legitimate and largely persuasive.

But it’s worth pointing out that such objections to U.S. intervention are pragmatic ones, drawing from a complicated cost-benefit calculation. Only fools refuse to weigh costs and benefits. But cost-benefit analysis is different from moral analysis.

Read the whole thing.

Having the first lady photographed frowning severely while holding a piece of paper with a hashtag written on it seems worse than doing nothing. Silence is ambiguous and can be taken to mean that the US is a big nation with a lot on its plate domestically and internationally. The ridiculous hashtag photo sends the message to the Middle East and elsewhere around the world that as Osama believed, the US is once again a paper tiger. Or as Mark Steyn recently wrote, in a piece headlined #BringBackOurBalls:

It is hard not to have total contempt for a political culture that thinks the picture at right is a useful contribution to rescuing 276 schoolgirls kidnapped by jihadist savages in Nigeria. Yet some pajama boy at the White House evidently felt getting the First Lady to pose with this week’s Hashtag of Western Impotence would reflect well upon the Administration. The horrible thing is they may be right: Michelle showed she cared – on social media! – and that’s all that matters, isn’t it?

Just as the last floppo hashtag, #WeStandWithUkraine, didn’t actually involve standing with Ukraine, so #BringBackOurGirls doesn’t require bringing back our girls. There are only a half-dozen special forces around the planet capable of doing that without getting most or all of the hostages killed: the British, the French, the Americans, Israelis, Germans, Aussies, maybe a couple of others. So, unless something of that nature is being lined up, those schoolgirls are headed into slavery, and the wretched pleading passivity of Mrs Obama’s hashtag is just a form of moral preening.

But then what isn’t? The blogger Daniel Payne wrote this week that “modern liberalism, at its core, is an ideology of talking, not doing“. He was musing on a press release for some or other “Day of Action” that is, as usual, a day of inaction:

Diverse grassroots groups are organizing and participating in events such as walks, rallies and concerts and calling on government to reduce climate pollution, transition off fossil fuels and commit to a clean energy future.

It’s that easy! You go to a concert and someone “calls on government” to do something, and the world gets fixed.

There’s something slightly weird about taking a hashtag – which on the Internet at least has a functional purpose – and getting a big black felt marker and writing it on a piece of cardboard and holding it up, as if somehow the comforting props of social media can be extended beyond the computer and out into the real world. Maybe the talismanic hashtag never required a computer in the first place. Maybe way back during the Don Pacifico showdown all Lord Palmerston had to do was tell the Greeks #BringBackOurJew.

On the other hand, at least one member of Obama’s Palace Guard is quick to rally around the concept:

On Tuesday’s “Hardball” on MSNBC, Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson lashed out at conservative pundits, including author and conservative commentator Ann Coulter, fellow Washington Post columnist George Will and Fox News senior political analyst Brit Hume for mocking the #BringBackOurGirls Twitter campaign employed by the White House.

“Look, these people are idiots, OK,” Robinson said. “No, they don’t understand how the world works today. You know, Boko Haram, they are checking their Twitter accounts. They are seeing what’s happening on social media and what’s happening worldwide. And George Will obviously doesn’t understand that. Brit Hume doesn’t understand that. They’re sitting there in their studios saying, ‘These darned kids!’ But, it’s just crazy. It’s ignorant at a certain point.”

Considering that the name “Boko Haram” translates as “Western education is sin,” and are looking to do to Nigeria what the Taliban did to Afghanistan* do you really think that they’re sitting around “checking their Twitter accounts” and “seeing what’s happening on social media and what’s happening worldwide?”

Worse, in his heart of hearts, does Eugene Robinson actually believe that?

* Dinesh D’Souza’s ants vs. termites analogy seems particularly appropriate here.