The U.N. General Assembly has, by a vote of 137-12 (with 17 abstentions), condemned Bashar al-Assad and his relentless killing of the Syrian opposition which has gone on for nearly a year. The news was on page 12 of The New York Times which tells you just how significant the paper’s editors thought the resolution to be. The gifted reporter, Rick Gladstone, told us just about everything you would want to know. But there was a stand-off between the article itself, telling us that the tally “signified the deep anger and frustration at the United Nations over its inability to halt a conflict that has left thousands of Syrians dead,” and a sub-head which informed that there was “chastisement but no muscle…” So what else is new? Do I need to go over the dozens of locales where regimes have organized the murder of thousands and hundreds of thousands of their inhabitants without the U.N. doing a thing but issue a negotiated resolution without resolve and without force? By the way, I spoke with a friend who had been in the G.A. hall during the proceedings and he said, “There was no fury, just business as usual.”
A Times photo accompanying the article pictures two elegant-looking women representing the non-existent state of Palestine—yes, it also has a place at the General Assembly—and I wondered what they were thinking about Syria, their most steadfast ally, and its slaying of so many of their fellow Arabs.
The Obama administration came into office pledging to revivify—revivify from what?— the moral and political standing of the United Nations. This, too, is one of the great self-deceptions of the president and his crowd, in this particular crowd Susan Rice and Hillary Clinton, who thought that somehow the president’s tranquilizing words and theirs would bring honesty and reason to Russia, to China, to African tyrants and, their biggest bet, to the intersecting orbits of Arab states and Islamofascist mullahs.
I take nothing away from the president and his leadership in our struggle—and, yes, it has been a struggle—against Al Qaeda. The much-deserved killing of Osama bin Laden (and the throwing him into the sea, as well, to meet the creatures of the deep) disrupted many of the routines of the Muslim underground which, however, is still supported by many Muslim charities aboveground. But Al Qaeda is not a monocratic organization. It has many brains and works through many hands. Al Qaeda in Syria or Iraq has nothing to do with Al Qaeda in Nigeria, although, as we know from Umar Farouk Abdulmutallah’s nutsy career, the hands of terror stretch from the Gulf of Guinea in East Africa to Yemen off the Gulf of Aden atop the Indian Ocean.
In fact, Nigeria—with about 160 million people, roughly divided between Christians and Muslims—is probably Al Qaeda’s most important battle zone, although there is no world command structure. Or, for that matter, central treasury. The Nigerian branch, if that is what we can call it, is Boko Haram, which is more a monstrous sect than an armed camp. But it does have soldiers, well-armed soldiers, who can fight real battles. A recent editorial in The Guardian put it this way: “Boko Haram’s gruesome rise has pried open crevices where ethnic, religious and socioeconomic fault lines intersect.” This editorial followed by a day an interview with one of the group’s leaders which made clear that the stakes are life or death. Anybody who doesn’t practice shari’a law, including Christians, will be killed. Now, it is true that Boko Haram does not speak for all of the country’s Muslims. But it speaks for enough of them to frighten the Christians and the others who pray in mosques but don’t quite see Islam in the same light.
Maybe the United States is looking seriously at what it can do in Nigeria to avoid an apocalypse. But maybe it is not. After all, how many hours does the president have in one day? If nobody in America is looking, be sure that someone in China is: Nigeria does have the world’s tenth largest oil reserves. Has that made it rich? Not at all. Although baby-faced Umar Farouk’s father is one of Nigeria’s wealthiest men. By the way, the A.P. reported on Sunday that five Christians were killed in a church bombing. These killings are by now routine. You don’t have to bother reading about this one: There’ll be a monstrous death happening soon.
Goodluck Jonathan is the name of Nigeria’s president. Bad luck is what its fate is likely to be.
Martin Peretz is editor-in-chief emeritus of The New Republic.