Online Opinion Outpost: May 20

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The Online Opinion Outpost features opinions and commentary on the latest hot topics from national news sources. As much as you love hearing from The Universe, we thought you might like to hear from journalists around the nation. 

Boko Haram & Clinton

Dana Milbank, Washington Post

The nascent effort to pin blame for Boko Haram on (Hillary) Clinton is still far from a full-blown Benghazi conspiracy theory. But it’s worth examining, because it shows how a scandal is born.

(Conservatives) found their opening in a decision by the State Department not to put the group on its list of foreign terrorist organizations after Boko Haram bombed U.N. headquarters in Abuja in 2011. The FBI, the CIA and various lawmakers argued for its inclusion, but Nigeria’s government, which Boko Haram is trying to topple, argued against it, as did academic experts on Nigeria.

Opponents figured the designation would elevate the prestige of Boko Haram, which was essentially a domestic Nigerian organization. Instead, Clinton in 2012 put three of the group’s leaders on a list of foreign terrorists. After Boko Haram killed more than 160 civilians in Benisheik, Nigeria, in September 2013, Clinton’s successor, John Kerry, finally put the group on the terror list — and Boko Haram’s brazen attacks continued unimpeded.

After Clinton tweeted about the “unconscionable” abductions and said “we must stand up to terrorism,” Josh Rogin posted an article May 7 in the Daily Beast quoting an anonymous “former senior U.S. official” accusing Clinton of “gross hypocrisy” because she hadn’t put Boko Haram on the list.

Newt Gingrich, CNN

Hillary Clinton’s leadership as secretary of state regarding the Nigerian terrorist group Boko Haram could become at least as serious an issue as her decisions surrounding the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi.

Daily Beast reporter Josh Rogin revealed details about (Clinton’s) time as secretary of state that raise significant questions about her broader record on issues of terrorism.

Rogin reported that from 2011 through early 2013 the Clinton State Department repeatedly rejected efforts to designate Boko Haram as a terrorist organization. In recent weeks, the group has exploded onto the world stage by kidnapping more than 250 girls at a Nigerian boarding school.

Rogin reports that some U.S. officials, and possibly the Nigerian government, opposed the listing because, among other reasons, they thought it might give the group more publicity. But this is a fairly weak rationale. For one thing, Boko Haram seems to have managed the publicity part on its own. And despite designating three individuals associated with Boko Haram as terrorists in June 2012, by refusing to list the organization, the State Department was denying the FBI, CIA and Justice Department the tools they were seeking to use against the group as a whole and anyone linked to it.

Go beyond critical thinking on campus

Michael S. Roth, New York Times

Our best college students are very good at being critical. In fact being smart, for many,  means being critical.

Once outside the university, these students may try to score points by displaying the critical prowess for which they were rewarded in school, but those points often come at their own expense. As debunkers, they contribute to a cultural climate that has little tolerance for finding or making meaning. But this cynicism is no achievement.

Liberal education in America has long been characterized by the intertwining of two traditions: of critical inquiry in pursuit of truth and exuberant performance in pursuit of excellence. In the last half-century, though, emphasis on inquiry has become dominant, and it has often been reduced to the ability to expose error and undermine belief.

Of course critical reflection is fundamental to teaching and scholarship, but fetishizing disbelief as a sign of intelligence has contributed to depleting our cultural resources. Creative work depends upon commitment, the energy of participation and the ability to become absorbed in works of literature, art and science. That type of absorption is becoming an endangered species of cultural life, as our nonstop, increasingly fractured technological existence wears down our receptive capacities.

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