Why’s US Media Talking About Nigerien General Moussa Barmou All of a Sudden?

Americans are suddenly learning more about Barmou because the US is likely exploring the possibility of employing this trusted pre-coup partner as a bridge with Niger in the hope that he convinces his superiors to agree to a “negotiated solution”. If the Latin American model for corralling populist sentiment is replicated by the US in Niger, albeit accounting for “Francafrique’s” coup-prone conditions, then this modified method might eventually be weaponized across the entire region.  

From Bazoum To Barmou

American media’s narrative about last month’s regime change in Niger has conspicuously shifted since Acting Deputy Secretary of State Victoria Nuland’s trip to Niamey last week. Prior to then, most information products aggressively supported Nigerian-led ECOWAS’ threatened invasion aimed at reinstalled ousted leader Mohamed Bazoum. Ever since she revealed that the US is “pushing for a negotiated solution”, however, attention has turned towards General Moussa Barmou.

NBC News’ Report

The Wall Street Journal began the trend two days after her visit in a paywalled article here, but it wasn’t until NBC News’ piece on Monday headlined “Blindsided: Hours before the coup in Niger, U.S. diplomats said the country was stable” that the public at large was introduced to him. Its subtitle about how “An American-trained general whom U.S. military officials considered a close ally backed the overthrow of the country’s democratically elected president” was a reference to Barmou. Here’s what they reported:

“U.S. military officials believed that the head of the Nigerien Special Forces, Gen. Moussa Salaou Barmou, their close ally, was going along with the other military leaders to keep the peace. They noted that in a video showing the coup leaders on the first day, Barmou was in the back of the group with his head down and his face mostly hidden.

Less than two weeks later, Barmou met with a U.S. delegation in Niamey, led by acting Deputy Secretary of State Victoria Nuland, and expressed support for the coup and delivered a sobering message: If any outside military force tried to interfere in Niger, the coup leaders would kill President Bazoum. ‘That was crushing,’ said a U.S. military official who has worked with Barmou in recent years. ‘We were holding out hope with him.’

Not only had Barmou worked with top U.S. military leaders for years, but he was also trained by the U.S. military and attended the prestigious National Defense University in Washington, D.C.  Last week, sitting across from U.S. officials who had come to trust him, Barmou refused to release Bazoum, calling him illegitimate and insisting that the coup leaders had the popular support of the Nigerien people. Nuland later said the conversations were ‘quite difficult.’”

The unnamed US military source who said that “We were holding out hope with him” spilled the beans about the way in which their country intended to control Niger by proxy. The Pentagon thought that cultivating the chief of that country’s special forces would be sufficient for preventing a coup, but Barmou decided to go along with it because he knew better than they did how genuinely popular it was. His “defection” from American proxy to patriot ensured this surprise regime change’s success.

Politico’s Report

The next US media report of relevance was published the day later by Politico and was about how “The U.S. spent years training Nigerien soldiers. Then they overthrew their government.” It builds upon Barmou’s biography that was introduced by NBC News and can therefore be conceptualized as the second step of an ongoing information campaign intended to inform Americans more about him. Here’s what they had to say about this top Nigerien military official:

“Brig. Gen Moussa Barmou, the American-trained commander of the Nigerien special operations forces, beamed as he embraced a senior U.S. general visiting the country’s $100 million, Washington-funded drone base in June. Six weeks later, Barmou helped oust Niger’s democratically elected president.

Retired Maj. Gen. J. Marcus Hicks, who served as the commander of U.S. Special Operations Forces Africa from 2017 to 2019, says he was instantly impressed by Barmou. The Nigerien general speaks perfect English, and attended multiple English language and military training courses at bases in the United States over nearly two decades, including at Fort Benning, Georgia, and the National Defense University.

Hicks and Barmou developed a friendship. They had many long conversations over dinner about the influx of extremists into Niger, and how difficult it was for Barmou to see his country deteriorate in recent years, said Hicks. ‘He’s the kind of guy that gives you hope for the future of the country, so that makes this doubly disappointing,’ said Hicks. It was ‘disheartening and disturbing’ to learn that Barmou was involved in the coup.

As its neighbors fell like dominos to military coups over the last two years, Niger — and Barmou himself — remained the last bastion of hope for the U.S. military partnership in the region. He ‘was a good partner, a trusted partner,’ said a U.S. official familiar with the U.S.-Niger military relationship. ‘But local dynamics, local politics, just trump whatever the international community may or may not want.’

It’s not clear whether Barmou was initially involved in plotting the coup, which is believed to have been spearheaded by Gen. Abdourahamane Tchiani, the head of Bazoum’s presidential guard. Tchiani and his men reportedly took the president captive because Tchiani believed he was going to be pushed out of his job. But soon after, Nigerien military leaders including Barmou endorsed the putsch.”

Politico’s piece serves to raise maximum awareness of just how much the Pentagon trusted Barmou, which humanizes him in the eyes of their targeted audience, who likely hitherto thought that he was either a greedy wannabe despot or a pro-Russian anti-Western ideologue. Upon learning that he was America’s closest ally in Niger, they’ll be more inclined to support Nuland’s diplomatic efforts to resolve the crisis via some sort of compromise than back the use of force at the risk of sparking a regional war.

Le Figaro’s Report

NBC News and Politico’s back-to-back pieces about Barmou were published a week after Nuland returned from Niger, which gave the US’ permanent policymaking bureaucracies enough time to decide their next move. During that time, an unnamed diplomatic source told Le Figaro in an article published on Sunday the day before NBC News’ that they feared the US might backstab France. According to them, the US could tacitly recognize the interim military-led government if they get to retain their bases.

The next day on Monday, which coincided with the release of NBC News’ report about Barmou that was conceptualized in this analysis as the first step of an ongoing information campaign intended to inform Americans more about him, the US publicly balked at the ECOWAS invasion scenario. State Department principal deputy spokesman Vedant Patel said that “military intervention should be a last resort”, thus extending credence to Le Figaro’s report after its diplomatic source correctly foresaw the US’ new stance.

From “Francafrique” To “Amerafrique”

This sequence of events suggests that the US might offer Niger’s interim military-led government a deal whereby they’d tacitly recognize these new authorities and order ECOWAS to call off its invasion in exchange for that country retaining its bases and declining to embrace Russia/Wagner as explained here. In this scenario, the US’ backtracking on its prior demands to reinstall Bazoum could be attributed to its trust of Barmou’s assessment that the coup truly channeled the will of the Nigerien people.

NBC News and Politico’s pieces also included information about Niger’s importance for the US’ African strategy, which preconditions the public to expect that the White House could resort to the national security exception for not cutting off military aid to that post-coup state per its domestic legal obligation. In that event, the US would seamlessly replace France’s traditional security role there while preventing the emergence of a void that could have otherwise been filled by Russia/Wagner.

If post-coup Niger successfully transitions from France’s “sphere of influence” in Africa (“Francafrique”) to America’s (“Amerafrique”), then the US might weaponize the model that it opportunistically improvised after the latest surprising turn of events to export it to other former French colonies. Those that experience a grassroots surge of anti-French sentiment might also undergo coups by former US-trained military leaders, who’d then negotiate similar deals as the previously mentioned one.

The US could offer to replace France’s scandalous security role in their countries together with preventing an ECOWAS invasion in exchange for their new interim military-led governments offering it a share of the previously French-dominated market and declining to embrace Russia/Wagner. In this way, the US could manage revolutionary trends in the region and actually benefit from them if it replicates the model that it’s presently experimenting with in Niger via Barmou’s envisaged bridge role.

This insight answers the question of why US media is talking about him all of a sudden in the week after Nuland’s trip to Niamey. They’re warming average Americans up to the scenario of Barmou functioning as a bridge between their countries after the coup. Since he chose to go along with the regime change instead of stop it, the US’ new hope is that he’ll convince his superiors to accept the deal that was described, which could then form the basis for a model that might later be exported across the region.

The Latin American Precedent

The US would prefer for France to manage Africa on the West’s behalf per the “Lead From Behind” stratagem of “burden-sharing” in the New Cold War, but if its military-strategic withdrawal is inevitable due to rising anti-imperialist trends, then it’s better for America to replace its role than Russia/Wagner. To that end, it might soon support anti-French coups by US-trained military leaders in order to corral populist sentiment in a geostrategically safe direction that avoids creating space for its rivals.

This is similar to what it’s recently begun doing in Latin America after the Democrats started supporting leftist-liberal movements like those in Brazil, Chile, and Colombia, which led to Lula’s PT becoming the posterchild of this so-called “compatible left” project, in order to not lose control of regional processes. It’s precisely this precedent that’s arguably influencing the formulation of America’s new “bait-and-switch” approach towards seemingly inevitable socio-political changes in “Franceafrique” as well.

Concluding Thoughts

Circling back to the lede, Americans are suddenly learning more about Barmou because the US is likely exploring the possibility of employing this trusted pre-coup partner as a bridge with Niger in the hope that he convinces his superiors to agree to a “negotiated solution”. If the Latin American model for corralling populist sentiment is replicated by the US in Niger, albeit accounting for “Francafrique’s” coup-prone conditions, then this modified method might eventually be weaponized across the entire region.  

By Andrew Korybko
Source: Andrew Korybko

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