France's "Ifop" polling organization last week provided some rare insights into the French people's ideas on military action. In an about-face from their allergic reaction to entering Iraq, 66% of French people now favor "the military coalition in Libya, notably comprising France, the UK, and the USA against Colonel Gaddafi's forces" – nearly a full 20% higher favorability rating than a Gallup poll of Americans on the same issue. It could just be that Americans do not see a good reason for getting involved, while the French do. But there may be some other factors at play.
Less than three weeks earlier, the same question had elicited a favorable response from only 36% of French – a figure that would have put them well below even American support. So what happened in the interim to win the French over so drastically? The French probably noticed that this war was thus far not resulting in mass military casualties caused by intervening coalition forces – at least not in quantities that might be considered "immoderate." The French are not averse to military intervention – particularly conducted for humanitarian reasons and putting an end to atrocities committed by dictators on their own people. Opposition to Gaddafi has been seen as so successful that the French would like to keep it going, s'il vous plait. Calls for another intervention in the Ivory Coast prompted President Sarkozy to assure people that similar measures are being assessed by NATO -- to stop a possible civil war led by the loyalists of ousted President Laurent Gbagbo. Sarkozy announced that, at the very least, heavy artillery had to be banned in rebel-dominated zones. If these tanks and pro-Gbagbo troublemakers do not budge, however, presumably something of a higher calling might have to dislodge them; and with the Ivory Coast falling under the French sphere of influence in Africa, the burden of doing anything significantly useful would likely fall to Sarkozy..
But questions remain with any of these humanitarian missions involving weapons: Can they be fully achieved without significant casualties? And can popularity for these efforts be sustained if the end-result requires some dying and killing to happen?
People nowadays get upset about even enemy casualties, as we saw when Saddam Hussein was hanged, despite all he had done to violate human rights in Iraq. People seem to want fantasy results without realistic repercussions. Further, the erosion of support for war, as it becomes less idealistic and more realistic, is not uniquely a French phenomenon: 76% of Americans supported Iraq the war at its outset; and 90%, heading into Afghanistan.
If footage starts coming in of even dead Gaddafi forces, one might see the erosion of support everywhere – especially in France where support is so significantly high. It is difficult to see how any humanitarian mission can end without the forcible removal of the threat. "Managing the situation" only appears to prolong the inevitable, as the West already learned when assuming, in the wake of the Iraq invasion, that Gaddafi would live out the rest of his days as a quirky but harmless muppet. What about when Gaddafi continues mowing down his people with tanks? What about leaving him in power only to have him round up people who have taken to the streets and then slaughter them in Libyan prisons?
While the latest official United Nations resolution does not specify an endgame, probably at the behest of Turkey and other autocrats in the region, who must be wondering which of them will be next, both Obama and Sarkozy have spoken of regime change. If this becomes the goal, the situation risks getting even messier and looking a lot less like the current "kinetic military action" video game described by Obama, in which coalition members bomb a few parked tanks and enemy jets, to compete with each other for the highest score.
More evidence that French support is limited to its current state of "humanitarian intervention" lies in "Ifop's" breakdown of the respondents' political leanings: 69% of the French collective "Left" supports the war -- even higher than the 66% favorability from the "Right." This could mean one, or both, of two things: Either the French "Left's" anti-war anxiety is assuaged by the notion of a Nobel Peace Prize winner dropping the bombs, or the French "Right" does not trust him not to somehow screw it up. No one in France thinks that Sarkozy is actually in charge of a war, so what you are seeing here is essentially the French opinion on Obama's competence as a military commander.
ironically, the French political breakdown, showing greater support on the "Left," is the exact opposite of the Gallup poll results in America, which show a 57% Republican approval for the Libyan intervention compared to a 51% favorability among Democrats. As Gallup concluded, this may suggest that Republicans support war in general, whereas Democrats just like Obama a lot – even when he is bombing things. It could be argued that the Republican support would be much higher if one of their own were running the show.
When polling science like this starts revealing the French "Left" as more supportive of a war than the American "Right," it is hard not to wonder what the rules of engagement could be that would allow one both to maintain political correctness and win a war.