Egypt, Democracy and Foreign Policy

One of the major points of speculation about the impact of the Egyptian uprising is over how a democratic government in Cairo will affect Egypt's foreign policy, in particular regarding Israel. A just-released Ifop poll of French opinion on the Afghanistan War (via Jean-Dominique Merchet) highlights a point I've been meaning to make: Democracies are not immune to unpopular foreign policy. According to the Ipof poll, 72 percent of French people oppose the country's involvement in the Afghanistan War. That's slightly higher than the two-thirds who opposed the war at the time that French President Nicolas Sarkozy decided to deploy roughly 1,000 additional French troops in 2007.

A quick glance at this Wikipedia page on public attitudes toward the war suggests that the majority of Germans, British and Dutch are all similarly opposed. And yet, French, British and German troops continue to fight in Afghanistan, while the Dutch, having removed their troops last year, are redeploying a training mission despite majority opposition to the move.

The reason that this is the case is that European governments have a broader interest in maintaining a close relationship with the U.S., and are willing to engage in very unpopular foreign policy initiatives in order to safeguard those broader shared interests. The key is in making sure that the costs incurred by those unpopular initiatives are not too onerous. For Afghanistan, that means minimizing European casualties to avoid further inflaming public opinion.

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