Reuters reported yesterday that “Nigerian forces invade last known stronghold of Boko Haram.. n an effort to finally defeat their six-year-old insurgency.”
Once nearly a fifth of Nigeria was controlled by Boko Haram. Today the rebel group has retreated to Nigeria’s vast undeveloped jungles.
Like al-Qaeda in the Levant and al-Shabaab in Somalia, organized government military operations, covert or otherwise, have firmly routed avowed terrorist groups in the last decade. Even ISIS has been stopped, although ISIS and the intertwined war in Syria remain the most problematic.
Terrorists can never be totally defeated: One individual with the right video program and a suicide belt constitutes a terrorist movement.
The last vestige of terrorism is protected by basic human rights. By this I mean that the “freedom” of one’s actions, much less the freedom to acquire deadly weaponry or the freedom to expound provocative speech, aren’t easily curtailed. Few societies – much less our own – ban citizens from obtaining weapons, for example.
Even fewer are successful in banning provocative speech, no matter how hard they try. Censorship in China is becoming progressively impossible.
There is nothing that a political leader can do that is more popular than suppressing terrorism, but to succeed many human rights have to be suppressed. Obama and Hollande’s covert war in Somalia is at least extra-legal if not illegal. Arbitrary drone assassinations which have been so instrumental in this war’s success are hardly humanitarian.
The U.S. wars in Afghanistan and Iraq blow to smithereens centuries of fairness in conflict. The Russian policy of years ago in Chechnya applied now to the Ukraine violates all sensibilities of human rights. China’s suppression of Tibet exceeds even its own universal suppression of all its citizens.
Yet that is where today there is the least on site terrorism: U.S., Russia and China.
Strong quasi-legal brute force absolutely suppresses terrorism.
Since the Nigerian presidential election which ousted the moderate pro-democracy president for a much tougher, conservative and Muslim former general, the Nigerian army has racked up success after success in defeating Boko Haram.
The Nigerian military has always been able to suppress Boko Haram, it just chose not to do so under the current out-going administration. Progressive democracy and conservative strong-arm government often actually run by the military is the ying and yang of Nigeria.
The ying is out. The yang is in. Boko Haram is being suppressed, and expect in due course that many other things will be suppressed in Nigeria, too: like freedom of speech in the media and public demonstrations.
But .. the mantra will be that Nigeria is now “at peace, again.”
Here’s the rub, folks. Each time terrorism is suppressed by force it returns more powerful. Terrorists learn by experience. The disaffected of the world who survive being eradicated learn new, more powerful ways to reemerge.
Force suppresses but cannot eliminate. A single highly refined ounce of uranium is infinitely more powerful than a pound of uranium ore.
That is what we are doing with terrorists, today. We are making them better and more powerful and entrenching antithetical restraints on our human rights to do so.
When will we ever learn?