In France, the Mali intervention is more popular than gay marriage

January 16, 2013

French troops in armored vehicles are preparing for what seems like their first major engagement on the ground in Mali, according to reports from the Post's Edward Cody.

Although the French are not well known for supporting the use of armed force, three-quarters of the French public supports President Francois Hollande's decision to send troops to Mali, according to a poll released Tuesday by French polling firm BVA.

Issouf Sanogo/AFP/Getty Images
Issouf Sanogo/AFP/Getty Images

By comparison, two-thirds opposed military action in Libya in March of 2011, and the move is even more popular that Hollande's recent gay-marriage legalization proposal, which has a 60 percent backing.

That's an interesting increase, since in 2012 Hollande campaigned on a promise to bring home soldiers from Afghanistan. In 2001, only 55 percent of French respondents in another poll supported the participation of France in the U.S.-led intervention in Afghanistan.

The difference seems to be that the Mali mission has been sold to the public as both a humanitarian mission and a strategically necessary one. The French want to protect their former colony from the terrifying brutality of the Islamists who have imposed Sharia Law in Mali's northern region, and they also view it as a way to protect France from extremists.

“What the public opinion sees in general is Taliban-like jihadis who fight traditional African Islam and who implement physical punishments and death penalty,” Jean-François Daguzan, deputy director of the think tank Foundation for Strategic Research in France, told the Christian Science Monitor.

Meanwhile, the French government's interest in Mali seems to be as much about securing French political and business interests as it is about protecting Malians.

"In the long term, France has interests in securing resources in the Sahel - particularly oil and uranium, which the French energy company Areva has been extracting for decades in neighboring Nigeria," Katrin Sold of the German Council on Foreign Relations (DGAP) told the Deutsche Welle.

Hollande's quick decision-making on Mali has bolstered his image as a strong leader, contrary to his nickname, "Flanby," a type of flan dessert.

AP
AP

But as usually happens with wars, support for the intervention in Mali could wane if the conflict drags on, according to a statement by Eric Bonnet, polling director at BVA.

“One knows how these military interventions begin,” read a recent column in Le Monde. “One never knows how they end. Or rather, one knows that a lot of them have turned out very badly.”

 Correction: We worked a little too fast this morning. An earlier version of this post had a sentence that read: "Although the French are not well known for supporting the use of armed force, three-quarters of the French public supports President Francois Hollande's decision to send troops to France," which would be preposterous. Hollande, of course, sent troops to Mali.

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Max Fisher · January 16, 2013