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A War To Reverse The French Government’s Descent Into Unpopularity Hell

Normally, the media would have given it priority: French President François Hollande and Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault have become more unpopular than ever before. But the poll was shoved into the background by France’s bombing campaign in Mali—which released an avalanche of positive comments and support from all sides, at least in France. With impeccable timing.

In a poll conducted on Friday and Saturday just before the Mali intervention, only 39% of the respondents had a positive opinion of Hollande, a new low, a plunge of 19 percentage points in seven months. A brief uptick in November had been a mirage. By contrast, Nicolas Sarkozy, during the same period in his term (January 2008), was still riding high with an approval rating of 54%.

And poor Ayrault. He never even had an uptick. His ratings have gone straight to hell. Only the speed has varied from poll to poll. After seven months of watching his handiwork, only 35% of the French still have a positive opinion of him—down 21 percentage points since he took office. His predecessor, François Fillon, had never sunk this low.

“This raises the question of Jean-Marc Ayrault’s legitimacy,” explained the Institute LH2, which had conducted the poll. Even on the left, the “presidential and governmental action is not convincing....” He would soon have to be sacked.

Suddenly the intervention in Mali. It was triggered when jihadists, who’d taken over parts of northern Mali, started rolling south towards Mopti, the second largest city. It has an airport, and a paved highway to Bamako, the capital, about 400 miles to the south. Mopti would have been the staging point for taking Bamako. So the French started bombing jihadist positions and convoys.

It has monopolized French media with talking heads and voices of all stripes, and with a tsunami of articles, overflowing with support for the operations.

Just before 11 p.m. Monday night, Ayrault emerged from a meeting at the Hôtel Matignon, his official residence, where he’d briefed ranking Members of Parliament. Steely-voiced, he told his compatriots: “Faced with the threat of terrorism, the government’s commitment will not weaken. I welcome the support shown by all political forces.”

Every detail was suddenly important. Hollande left for Abu-Dhabi and Dubai, but even while traveling, he’d make decisions. Nigerian troops were on their way to Mali and would be there next week. Algeria, which borders Mali along the northern edge, vowed to close its borders, as did Mali’s other neighbors. According to witnesses, about 30 French armored vehicles entered Mali from the Ivorian border town Pôgô.

Tuareg rebels, who took control of the northern territory of Azawad early last year and declared its independence, only to be sidelined or run off by jihadists, had their own announcement: they offered to support the French. “We’re ready to help, we are already involved in the fight against terrorism,” said a representative of their National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA).

All day, there was similarly exciting stuff to talk about—and the much maligned Prime Minister may have finally found his footing. Even Marine Le Pen, head of the right-wing National Front, who has relentlessly hammered away at the government, and who berated both the Hollande and Sarkozy governments for minimizing the “mounting Islamic fundamentalism in France,” well, even she grudgingly called Hollande’s decision “legitimate.”

There were a few holdouts, however. Jean-Luc Mélenchon, left-wing firebrand and 4th in last year’s presidential elections, grumbled: “The UN mandate stipulated that this was an African problem to be resolved by Africans.” Not known for mincing words, he added, “They’re grown-ups, they have real countries, but yet again we find ourselves going back to our old bad habits of intervening here and there on the continent. We haven’t learned a single lesson.” And he asked, “Which of the wars over the last 20 years that had to be undertaken with urgency, and that would have solved a problem, actually succeeded?”

On the right, Dominique de Villepin, career diplomat, Prime Minister under Jacques Chirac, and archenemy of Sarkozy, penned an editorial that acknowledged the critical situation Mali found itself in when jihadists began rolling south, but... “Let’s not give in to the reflex of war for the sake of war,” he wrote. “The obvious haste, the déjà-vu of the arguments of the ‘war against terrorism’” worried him. “Let’s learn a lesson from a decade of lost wars, in Afghanistan, in Iraq, in Libya.”

Wars, he went on, “promote separatism, failed states, the iron law of armed militias.” He doubted that this war would lead to success; its goals were ill-defined, and France was fighting without a solid Malian partner. Pointing at the coups that had ousted the president in March and the prime minister in December, at the collapse of the divided army, and at the general failure of the state, he asked, “Who will support us?”

But for the moment, these concerns don’t matter. France has found a theme behind which to unite. To heck with the unemployment fiasco, the declining private sector, the collapsing auto industry. A breath of fresh air for the government. To be followed by a major jump in approval ratings. And Ayrault might cling to his job for a while longer.

Yet, the auto industry is at risk. “Volkswagen has chosen to wipe out PSA Peugeot Citroën,” said a source in Hollande’s entourage. But now there’s a plan, a desperate, misbegotten, taxpayer-funded deal. Read.... Secret French Plan In the European War Of The Automakers.

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Reader Comments (8)

I have to admit the timing is a should we say odd seeing the situation in Mali has been going on for well over several months. But if you look at Europe's history over the last ten years military intervention is not their strong suit, unless the US is leading the charge. That is not going to happen with BHO and his band of merry men running things in DC. That said France has a history of intervention in it's ex colonies.
Sadly Europe has been slow to see the creeping danger of Islamists in Europe and the world. I think out of all the people in Europe the French have taken the threat seriously, but even that is pretty relative by the standards of Europe. At least it's not the hand wringing you see from the Germans or the Brits and others hoping it will go away. I'm not a fan of present French President, but I'm not French, but I think better late then never. Instead of waiting for the Islamists to take a stab at Algeria after digesting Mali.
January 14, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterA Dodgy Bloke
"Ter---ists" are more the work of the CIA than Muslim 'radicals'. We are using them to make things happen at just the time we want it too. The above is a perfect example. The Us has meddled in most of the countries of the world for the last 100+ years. After WW2, there would have mostly been peace in the world has it not been for the CIA, that sales arm of the Military Industrial Complex. The Greedy pursuit of profit caused those wars, not ideology or types of government. We have supported some of the worse dictators in history because it provided more profits to the MIC.
January 14, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterMakati1
So basically this is France´s, Vietnam? This was the real reason for the U.S war with Vietnam in the late 60´s a time a great political/social unrest in the US. If the war was just as unpopular we´ll just fake the impossible (moon landings) which in a sense united America. Amazing isn´t it that the last U.S. moon landing coincided with the end of the Vietnam war & the first moon landing coincided with the start of the Vietnam war!
January 15, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterHardcore Uproar
Wars are just shortterm fixes. The Western homecrowd not has to stomach to sit out a war and the Western governments not one to win them.
Especially these kind of wars. Most of the time treat of violence is enough to restore some sort of normality. Idiots like here you simply have to take out (clean if you can, otherwise if you must) and as said they simply donot have the stomach for that. And not properly winning leads most of the time to a bigger mess than the one you started with.
January 15, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterRik
As part of my overland trip through Africa some time back, covering 25 or so countries on the continent, I took a "bus" from Bamako to Mopti. Mopti was one of the few towns I essentially fled. Maybe things have gotten better in the years since (until recently). It was between seasons, and I must have been the only white guy there. I'd already been through a good part of Africa and was prepared, but not nearly enough. I was nothing but a wallet with legs.

As I was trying to figure out how to get to Timbuktu - two options: catching a ride on one of the cargo boats or on a 4x4 - I was besieged by aggressive people trying to get my money, what little I had, by hook or crook.

On the other hand, I had a lot of good experiences in Mali elsewhere (mixed in with scary ones). Back then, it was a tough poor place, and I have the impression that it hasn't changed all that much. But one thing I never expected to see was Islamic fundamentalism. All Malians I met were Muslims. They were also animists, and proud of it. But there is no room in fundamentalism for animist elements.
January 15, 2013 | Registered CommenterWolf Richter
Is not it what you see in many cultures. They have probably started as animist, got missionised but because of relative remoteness not too fanatik. Civilisation hits in. And when the 'worldreligion' is not that 'Japanese' like at the end it pushes the animist religion away (at least at the surface). Islam hardly allows people to have 2 religions or believe-systems or what ever you want to call them. You see it in a lot of the Buddhist countries as well but more frendly and they often end up with a mix. Some local Christian churches are also having animist characteristics.

NA you have large groups of people moving further South because of the lack of water and simply escaping poverty at least for a bit. People in the North are more Arab or mixed Arab probably (my guess it is everywhere else there) and probably Muslim originally as well. Mechanism not that different all over the larger Sahara I would expect. The fighters here are also people from the North of the country.
And the fundamentalists do try actively to influence people. You hear those noises from everywhere. Last I spoke to a guy who had been in Surinam recently apparently since there is an iman from some ME country women wear nihabs. Before you would not have guessed from the people in the street that there were muslims around.
Indonesia eg has really changed as well.
January 15, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterRik
Rik - Interesting!
I got my Malian visa at the consulate in Mauritania. Mauritania is a strict Muslim country, and a bit oppressive in that sense (no women in restaurants, etc.). But at the Malian consulate, the woman consular officer, dressed in her colorful Malian garb and not veiled was flirting with Malian guys around her, and they were all laughing and carrying on.... A breath of fresh air! That was my first impression of Mali, and it was great.
January 16, 2013 | Registered CommenterWolf Richter
Piece of the wold that makes you worry. Here the African culture bumps into the Arab-Muslim one and it is basically from the Atlantic to the Indian Ocean. By climatechange, agricultural mismanagement, overpopulation/breeding and missionary ideas the North is moving South and if not physically moving it is doing so politically.
Looks like a new front is developing. Not all will end badly , but a lot of them will. Sudan, Ethiopia (partly), Chad, Ivory Coast (also partly), Nigeria and now Mali all have considerable problems because of this. And not much really is solved.
Looks a bit like 16th-17th century Europe. Combined with huge population explosion (some at 4% a year) in basically the desert with unless there is stuff in the ground no potential to feed the own population it is a very explosive mix. Niger was on the present US population if I am correct in something like 2100. With no real means for development. hardly sustainable they call that nowadays.
January 18, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterRik

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