US to Pull Troops from West Africa to Better Counter China, Russia

Photo: US Africa Command leader General Stephen Townsend overlooks Burkinabe soliders in Burkina Faso during a September visit.

By Mike Talavera

Recent reports indicate that US Secretary of Defense Mark Esper will soon order the pullout of US troops from West Africa as part of a greater redeployment of troops to fortify against the rising threats of China and Russia.

The exact number of troops to be withdrawn and the timeline of the exit will not be decided until January at the earliest, but the reduction of troops in West Africa to some degree is certain, to be followed by corresponding pullouts in US troop presence in Latin America and the Middle East.

US President Donald Trump certainly hopes that the news will boost polling for his 2020 reelection campaign as it seems to fulfill his promise of getting the US out of “endless wars.” The logic behind the maneuvers, however, signifies the opposite; a reassertion of US global hegemony and preparations for wars of greater consequence and magnitude.

Imperialism, the current and final stage of capitalism, compels nations to relentlessly repartition the world’s markets and resources in service to the accumulation and consolidation of capital. Since the attack on the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001, the US has used the pretext of “counterterrorism” to feverishly pursue this imperialist agenda. Having already established itself as the sole hegemonic superpower, it continues to extend its military forces and export finance capital across the globe, exemplified most disastrously in the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

Out of hundreds of thousands of US troops currently stationed abroad, several thousand are currently in West Africa, combating groups identified by the US State Department as “terrorists,” such as Boko Haram.

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US Special Forces operative trains Niger troops.

The plans to remove US troops from the region do not signal the defeat of these insurgents; on the contrary, a recent State Department report claimed that counterterrorism efforts were “struggling to contain” their West African adversaries. Instead, the withdrawal aligns with the Trump administration’s foreign policy of cutting military expenditures and demanding that US allies foot more of the bill in enforcing its global hegemony.

In West Africa, France is the one expected to shell out more to continue the subjugation of its former colonies. The US currently provides an estimated $45 million in assistance to French forces in Mali, Niger, and Burkina Faso, and has significant assets in the region like the $110 million drone base in Niger.

Offsetting the financial burden of imperialist occupation onto US allies is not exclusive to West Africa but has become the default policy everywhere. The degree to which European imperialist powers should contribute to defense spending in Ukraine was an underlying factor in the deliberations within Trump’s impeachment inquiry, and the restrained US response to attacks on Saudi Arabian oil fields this year show that even such key geopolitical players can no longer count on US imperialism to cut checks for military spending as generously as in the past.

The fact that US subordinates are being compelled to assume a greater share of imperialist enforcement has not stopped US imperialism from ramping up its own spending, with the Pentagon having its largest budget ever of $738 billion for next year. This colossal allowance, in conjunction with the shuffling of troops, is in part to brace for near-future uncertainties like increasing tensions with North Korea and Iran, but is primarily to continue long-term escalation exercises against China and Russia.

At an October press conference, Esper said that he had asked US senior military officials to see “where they can free up time, money, and manpower to put into our top priorities as chartered by the National Defense Strategy: China, No. 1; Russia, No. 2.”

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US Secretary of Defense Mark Esper at press conference

At a recent summit of the US-dominated North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), which has traditionally been counterposed to Russia (and the Soviet Union before it), made a similar about-face in acknowledging the growing weight of China’s economy and its actions globally.

Since Trump took office, the US has been engaged in a so-called “trade war” with China, with both sides imposing taxes on imports (tariffs) of each other’s goods. On the one hand, these measures are to negotiate better exchange rates and to open up China’s financial sector to US investment, and on the other hand they are to prevent Chinese cyber hacking and surveillance of US trade and technology secrets.

Despite the blind hopes of bourgeois economists, there is an irreconcilable contradiction at the heart of this trade dispute: the necessity of competition versus the necessity of monopoly. US bourgeois politicians fear that China will supplant US imperialism’s monopoly of certain industries, even as the Commerce Department stalls export control regulations to maximize trade and competition.

Trump’s recent announcement of a “Phase One” deal in the trade war can only provide temporary relief to the worsening antagonism between the US and China, one which can only culminate in war on some scale.

The shuffling of US troops indicates that US military leadership is aware of this inevitability. The US and China are not marching toward mutual destruction out of any particular malice for each other, but because there is no other path forward provided by imperialism. It is this inescapable outcome of disintegration between imperialists that predicts socialist revolution.