I fear that Tocqueville is rolling around in his grave

The Economist‘s Democracy in America blog takes me to task for this post on the French/European response to sending more troops to Afghanistan:  [Drezner] then notes a small "to be sure": fewer than 5% of voters in France, Germany, Italy and Britain support sending more troops to Afghanistan too. That pretty decisively handcuffs those goverments. ...

By , a professor of international politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University.

The Economist's Democracy in America blog takes me to task for this post on the French/European response to sending more troops to Afghanistan: 

[Drezner] then notes a small "to be sure": fewer than 5% of voters in France, Germany, Italy and Britain support sending more troops to Afghanistan too. That pretty decisively handcuffs those goverments. Why not call the Germans or Brits "passive-aggressive-y"?  Because it wouldn't fit the American stereotype of Gallic limp-wristedness.

Two quick responses.  First, the alleged constraint of public opinion (see below) did not cause either the British or German defense ministers to categorically rule out sending more troops to Afghanistan the day after Barack Obama was sworn in.  I focused on France because the French defense minister spoke up on this at an interesting juncture. 

The Economist‘s Democracy in America blog takes me to task for this post on the French/European response to sending more troops to Afghanistan: 

[Drezner] then notes a small "to be sure": fewer than 5% of voters in France, Germany, Italy and Britain support sending more troops to Afghanistan too. That pretty decisively handcuffs those goverments. Why not call the Germans or Brits "passive-aggressive-y"?  Because it wouldn’t fit the American stereotype of Gallic limp-wristedness.

Two quick responses.  First, the alleged constraint of public opinion (see below) did not cause either the British or German defense ministers to categorically rule out sending more troops to Afghanistan the day after Barack Obama was sworn in.  I focused on France because the French defense minister spoke up on this at an interesting juncture. 

Second, the Economist‘s blogger did not read precisely what I wrote, nor did s/he apparently click through to the FT story to which I linked.  I wrote, "Less than five percent of those polled believed that European countries should send troops to Afghanistan as a gesture of solidarity with Obama. (emphasis added)"  If you look at the poll, however, a significant fraction of respondents (though not a majority or a plurality) were comfortable with the idea of sending more troops "if warranted by conditions in Afghanistan."  Furthermore, this support is stronger in France than it is in either Germany or the UK, which suggests that the French government faces a lesser constraint than policymakers in Berlin or London. 

I firmly believe that public opinion should play an important role in dictating the foreign policy of a democracy — including France.  But these opinion polls are not quite the binding constraint that the Economist suggests.  Furthermore, it seems only polite to wait and see what Obama will say on Afghanistan before issuing a firm "Non!"

Daniel W. Drezner is a professor of international politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, where he is the co-director of the Russia and Eurasia Program. Twitter: @dandrezner

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