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Niger’s Big Pivot Away From America 

State of the Union: When the epitaph of the American republic will be written, the chain of causality will lead to some interesting conclusions. 


The most interesting couple of paragraphs about the latest Nigerien saga wasn’t about the country being a battleground for an emerging Sino–American competition in Africa. That much is guaranteed given out emerging multipolarity. It was this:

The last straw seems to have been a meeting between American and Nigerien officials last week. U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Molly Phee criticized a Nigerien deal to sell Iran uranium, growing Nigerien-Russian military ties, and Niger's failure to return to democracy…. After the meeting, [the Nigerien Col. Amadou] Abdramane went on television to condemn the “condescending attitude” of the Biden administration.


In the grand scheme of things, Niger isn’t existential or even very important for America, but the extension of Chinese influence in Africa isn’t something to be happy about, especially for realists. 

But, fundamentally, it is a relatively new American malaise, easy to cure, but impossible to do given the current elite. Republics and empires have collapsed due to various reasons, from overstretch, to insolvency, to great power war. But never in human history was a single famous, successful, and long-lasting empire or republic that had such incredibly mediocre bureaucracy so determined to promote a rotten ahistorical worldview, in such a ham-fisted way, for such a long term. It's pretty incredible, if you think about it. 

The biggest national security expansion happened under Presidents Bush and Obama, during the Global War on Terror; most of the people who got jobs in that period grew up under unipolarity, studying the same theories from the same professors, having the same credentials, and worldview. Bureaucracy has its own momentum and inertia, of course. But amplified to that is the fact that the American foreign policy is an echo-chamber where the worst people with the dumbest ideas often fail upward. It is more often than not a question of personnel over policy. 

And it all goes back to IR academia. For example, here’s a paper from 2008:

Fully half of female IR scholars devote between 6% and 25% of their introductory course to discussing constructivist arguments, while a little over one third of male IR scholars discuss this paradigm to the same extent. More than one third of women report spending between 6% and 25% of the class discussing feminism, whereas only one sixth of men spend a similar amount of time on the paradigm. It is interesting to note that women also give more class time to Marxism than do men—even though women and men are equally unlikely to identify themselves as Marxists (3% and 2%, respectively).... Higher percentages of women than men teach international organization (15%), human rights (7%), global development (6%), and environmental politics (6%). Although women made up only 23% of the sample, 40% of the respondents who said they teach courses on human rights were women; 34% of the respondents who teach global development were women; and 33% of the respondents who teach international organization were women. Significantly higher percentages of men teach US foreign policy (17%), international security (10%), and IR theory (6%).


It’s presumably far worse now. 

It is easy to over-analyze setbacks such as these. Were they due to some complex geopolitical maneuvering? Did Russia or China outplay us? The answer is no. They weren’t; they did not. It is actually remarkably simple. 

Most parts of Africa and Asia do not like unoriginal, bureaucratic, corpulent, middle-aged mediocrities lecturing them about human rights and liberal democracy. When the Chinese try to influence a continent, they fund roads and railways, and lend them millions, only to grab up land and real estate after. It’s refreshingly old fashioned, in a way. When the Russians try to influence, they simply provide security for the most brutal of warlords and help them promote order. In short, they do what we used to do. We have forgotten how to play the game. They have not. 

There was a famous video of an NGO, heavily funded by our taxpayers, teaching and ostensibly liberating Afghan women by showing them how a stained urinal is the ultimate example of superior Western art. One needs to see it to believe that it is not fake. Anyway, that won the hearts and minds of Afghans, for 20 years, until it stopped. Africa is a similar case. 

Once again, for the sake of ideological clarity—Niger isn’t existential for the USA. But that is irrelevant. This will not stop at Niger, because the root of the problem goes deeper. 

It is, as always, bad ideas based on faulty notions about human nature, a deep misunderstanding of local culture, and a tragic lack of amoral realism, that lead to repeated damages. Reality has a tendency, as Peter Hitchens once wrote, to slap your face. 


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