In Niger … Echoes of “The Quiet American”

French colonial troops surrender to Vietnamese at Dien Bien Phu, 1954. Niger is facing off against same French colonialism today
French colonial troops surrender to Vietnamese at Dien Bien Phu, 1954. Niger is facing off against same French colonialism today. | Photo:

By Julia Wright

Almost seventy years ago, on November 20th, 1953, the French colonial army entrenched itself in the village of Dien Bien Phu in the North of Vietnam. It was encircled by the valiant Vietnamese freedom fighters headed by General Giap and when Spring arrived – the defeat of the French was inevitable.

Historians of the French empire all concur that the French defeat in Indochina was traumatic to the French colonial mindset.

In a little known anecdote, recounted by Maxime Tandonnet, the biographer of Georges Bidault who was French Foreign Affairs Minister at the time, the latter met up with State Secretary Foster Dulles and Anthony Eden on April 24th 1954 to convince both of them to bring support to the retreating French army. George Bidault’s question to the American Secretary of State : would the Americans be willing to bomb the ” Vietminh ” in order to give the French army a chance to come out from under?

The USA’s official response was : No. As for Eden, he was in favor of an internationalization of peace not of war. According to Bidault, his wife and a source close to them, however, in private, Dulles is said to have whispered to Bidault : ” Do you want two nuclear bombs ?”. Bidault says he was shocked.

Whether the bomb offer is accurate or not – the diplomatic hypocrisy between an old decadent empire and an aspiring one rings true – so true that we can hear echoes of it today in the cat and mouse game between Washington and Paris over their stakes in the Sahel.

But back to the milestone French defeat in Indochina. Those who read “The Quiet American” by Graham Greene or saw the excellent film made of the book with Michael Caine – follow the covert course of betrayal and under the radar ops used back then by the Foster Dulles / CIA folks to fill in the vacuum left by the French subsequent to their withering defeat in Indochina. This was the beginning of the infamous involvement of the U.S. in Vietnam. And interestingly, the climax of the novel is an atrocious bombing orchestrated by the U.S. under a quiet operation which consisted in getting the raw materials of the bomb into the targeted city covertly.

Greene’s choice of “The Quiet American” as a title for his book charting the American take over from the French speaks volumes. Back then as today in Niger, the State Department working with the CIA preferred “quiet i.e. covert ” warfare the better to explode its bombs.

Today, after Macron’s loud bragging that France would never leave Niger, the U.S. has said officially they are not supportive – what the U.S. has said in private is another kettle of fish … or bombs.

Today, after Macron stated time and time again that he supports military intervention of ECOWAS in Niger, the European Union has finally said it disapproves.

Today, after the birth of the federation between Niger, Mali and Burkina Faso with the support of other African states such as Guinea and Algeria, France’s warmongering policy has found itself increasingly isolated.

Still up till 48 hours ago, Macron was still adamant : his  government would not withdraw the 1500 soldiers stationed at three military bases across Niger – nor would he recall the French ambassador.

It took several days of a sit-in by a crowd of thousands of Nigeriens around the main French military base to spell a Dien Bien Phu type defeat in the offing.

To save face, defeated Macron has delegated the negotiation of the withdrawal of “some” of the French troops in Niger to the French Ministry of Defense and that Ministry is presenting it as the very normal necessity to reduce the number of soldiers given less cooperation with the new Nigerien “illegitimate” government in the fight against terrorism.

But the sense of burning defeat is there – as it was the hallmark of the disgrace at Dien Bien Phu after which the French army was never the same again, moved closer to neo nazism giving birth to Le Penism and the ultra rightists who dug their heels in Algeria and were even ready to organize a pro colonial coup d’etat in Paris to maintain Algeria as a French colony.

The French were defeated in Algeria as well. And the U.S. in Vietnam …

However today, turning their back to history,  the U.S. neocons are hawkishly albeit “quietly” watching and getting ready to move in to fill the vacuum left by France.

(c) Julia Wright. September 6 2023. All Rights

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