Few Americans paid attention these last two weeks when certain elements of the military in the African nation of Niger led a coup that deposed the rule of democratically-elected President Mohamed Bazoum. They should however, because what happens in Niger could have a profound impact on both (a) how the United States (and the West in general) is perceived in much of the world and (b) in the military/strategic position of the United States in a very important part of the world. This could manifest itself negatively in the near future, as the evil is circling and moving closer.
Niger is a very poor country located in West Africa just north of Africa’s most populous country, Nigeria. If you draw a line from west to east across that part of Africa, you would see that almost every country, from Guinea in the West to Sudan in the East, has experienced a coup d’etat in the last two years. https://www.nytimes.com/2023/07/29/world/africa/africa-coups-niger.html
While Niger is poor, it has the potential to be very wealthy, given its vast resources of uranium and oil. However, Niger also has been the scene of an Islamic insurgency that has completely destabilized the region and upended the economic system. https://www.msn.com/en-us/news/world/niger-awaits-west-african-blocs-response-after-junta-rejects-ultimatum/ar-AA1eTUEL. It also has been a staunch ally of the United States. Indeed the Americans worked with President Bazoum to establish large drone bases in the capital of Niamey and the northern city of Agadez. The United States also has 1,100 troops stationed in Niger.
Bazoum himself was a rarity – a democratically elected leader in that part of the world. He won what is generally considered a free and democratic election in a runoff election in February 2021 and assumed office in April 2021. Since then, he has planted himself and the country firmly in the camp of Western nations. He promised to fight the ISIS insurgency that has threatened both his country and neighboring Mali, and to assist Nigeria in its defense.
Bazoum, however, had a longstanding dispute with the commander of the nation’s Presidential Guard, General Omar Tchiani. When Bazoum took steps to guard against a potential coup by making certain personnel changes, Tchiani made his move, and approximately 700 soldiers disarmed security officials and walked into Bazoum’s residence. https://www.msn.com/en-us/news/world/how-the-us-fumbled-nigers-coup-and-gave-russia-an-opening/ar-AA1eNIaD. Bazoum fled to a safe room at his palace and telephoned for help.
Both the French and the Americans had warned Bazoum about the danger to him posed by the guard and the jihadists, but neither country took any action in response to the threat. When the coup came, the Biden Administration again was caught with its pants down. Despite Niger’s importance, President Biden did not have an ambassador present on the scene. The Administration waited eight months to nominate a new ambassador after the previous one left, only to have that appointment held up by Senator Rand Paul (R. KY.) who abused his Senatorial power by putting a hold on State Department appointees until the White House releases some intelligence that Senator Paul believes will shed light on the origins of Covid-19. Senator Paul’s gambit and the Biden Administration’s bumbling left the United States completely unprepared when the moment of truth came for a hugely important American ally.
It is this American incompetence and indifference, layered onto other missteps like the botched withdrawal from Afghanistan, that has American allies like Israel worried. “This is your strong ally, your reliable ally, you have invested a lot and then there is a coup without any reason,” noted Niger’s ambassador to Washington. “it’s nice to be friends of the West, but it may not be helpful when the time comes.”
Given recent events, that time may be coming for Israel. Iran continues undaunted to try to destroy the Jewish State. The Biden Administration, having failed in trying to reach a new nuclear deal with the mullahs, does little. The Saudis already have gone their own way, and Biden’s own Democratic Party now seems less reliable following the ascendancy of anti-Israel Congresspeople like Ilhan Omar, Rashid Tlaib and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez into key positions. Further, Biden himself has noted that due to the immense arming of Ukraine which the United States has performed, some of America’s weapon systems now may be in short supply. https://www.wsj.com/articles/american-munitions-shortage-ukraine-joe-biden-pentagon-defense-military-congress-4e6d6576.
Not surprisingly, Russia’s Vladimir Putin was quick to take advantage. The junta quickly appealed to the Russians for help, and the leader of the Russian Wagner Group who last month staged an aborted coup against Putin, Yevgeny, Prigozhin, welcomed the insurrection. Russia now has a toehold in Africa stretching across that belt, which will limit the West’s freedom of movement should further hostilities in adjacent regions break out.
With Iran being one of Russia’s lifelines due to sanctions placed upon Russia by the West after the Ukraine invasion, Russia is unlikely to try to forcefully limit Iran or its allies should they attack Israel. Israelis will fight like demons for their survival, but in the end success or failure may depend on what Israel is provided to fight with. American bungling in West Africa over the last two weeks must make Jerusalem less confident that Washington both will stand behind Israel in its hour of need, or even if it has the capability to do so. Further, it is now an open question if President Biden, like Richard Nixon did in 1973, will have both the courage and the ability to resupply Israel when military stocks are low. As Barack Obama found out with his Syrian red line that was crossed with no repercussions, failure to act in the face of aggression can have a lasting, and often negative, impact.