'If domestic politics
forces the Dutch to
elsewhere might cite a
'listening to the
voters,' ' states a
leaked CIA memo.
The American Spark
'Public Apathy Enables Leaders To Ignore Voters' On Afghan War-
By Cliff Montgomery - Apr. 24th, 2010
Wikileaks recently made available an interesting CIA analysis written in March of this year. It reveals just how
governments work to shape issues in the minds of the people they claim to represent--and perhaps it also
shows what officials really think of us.
The study, classified as "Confidential/No Foreign Nationals," considers possible PR-strategies which might
strengthen public support in France and Germany for continuing their governments' strong contributions to the
war in Afghanistan.
Germany and France currently provide the 3rd and 4th largest troop detachments to that effort.
The CIA memo bluntly declares that "Public Apathy Enables Leaders To Ignore Voters," as "the Afghanistan
mission’s low public salience has allowed French and German leaders to disregard popular opposition and
steadily increase their troop contributions to the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF)."
The analysis "was prepared by the CIA Red Cell, which has been charged by the Director of Intelligence with
taking a pronounced 'out-of-the-box' approach that will provoke thought and offer an alternative viewpoint on
the full range of analytic issues," according to the text.
We quote some of the memo's findings below:
Afghanistan: Sustaining West European Support for the NATO-led Mission—Why Counting on Apathy
Might Not Be Enough
"The fall of the Dutch Government over its troop commitment to Afghanistan demonstrates the fragility of
European support for the NATO-led ISAF mission.
"Some NATO states, notably France and Germany, have counted on public apathy about Afghanistan to
increase their contributions to the mission, but indifference might turn into active hostility if spring and summer
fighting results in an upsurge in military or Afghan civilian casualties and if a Dutch-style debate spills over into
other states contributing troops.
"The Red Cell invited a CIA expert on strategic communication and analysis following public opinion at the
State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR) to consider information approaches that might
better link the Afghan mission to the priorities of French, German, and other Western European publics.
Public Apathy Enables Leaders To Ignore Voters. . .
"The Afghanistan mission’s low public salience has allowed French and German leaders to disregard popular
opposition and steadily increase their troop contributions to the International Security Assistance Force
(ISAF). Berlin and Paris currently maintain the third and fourth highest ISAF troop levels, despite the
opposition of 80 percent of German and French respondents to increased ISAF deployments, according to
INR polling in fall 2009.
• Only a fraction (0.1-1.3 percent) of French and German respondents identified 'Afghanistan' as the
most urgent issue facing their nation in an open-ended question, according to the same polling. These
publics ranked 'stabilizing Afghanistan' as among the lowest priorities for US and European leaders,
according to polls by the German Marshall Fund (GMF) over the past two years.
• According to INR polling in the fall of 2009, the view that the Afghanistan mission is a waste of
resources and 'not our problem' was cited as the most common reason for opposing ISAF by German
respondents and was the second most common reason by French respondents. But the 'not our
problem' sentiment also suggests that, so far, sending troops to Afghanistan is not yet on most voters’
. . . But Casualties Could Precipitate Backlash
"If some forecasts of a bloody summer in Afghanistan come to pass, passive French and German dislike of
their troop presence could turn into active and politically potent hostility.
"The tone of previous debate suggests that a spike in French or German casualties or in Afghan civilian
casualties could become a tipping point in converting passive opposition into active calls for immediate
"French and German commitments to NATO are a safeguard against a precipitous departure, but leaders
fearing a backlash ahead of spring regional elections might become unwilling to pay a political price for
increasing troop levels or extending deployments.
"If domestic politics forces the Dutch to depart, politicians elsewhere might cite a precedent for 'listening to the
"French and German leaders have over the past two years taken steps to preempt an upsurge of opposition
but their vulnerability may be higher now:
• To strengthen support, President Sarkozy called on the National Assembly—whose approval is not
required for ISAF—to affirm the French mission after the combat deaths of 10 soldiers in August 2008.
The government won the vote handily, defusing a potential crisis and giving Sarkozy cover to deploy
approximately 3,000 additional troops. Sarkozy, however, may now be more vulnerable to an upsurge in
casualties because his party faces key regional elections this March and the already low support for
ISAF has fallen by one-third since March 2009, according to INR polling in the fall of 2009.
• Political fallout from the German-ordered Kunduz airstrike in September 2009 which killed dozens of
Afghan civilians, demonstrated the potential pressure on the German Government when Afghanistan
issues come up on the public radar. Concern about the potential effects of Afghanistan issues on the
state-level election in North Rhine-Westphalia in May 2010 could make Chancellor Merkel—who has
shown an unwillingness to expend political capital on Afghanistan—more hesitant about increasing or
even sustaining Germany’s ISAF contributions.
Tailoring Messaging Could Forestall or At Least Contain Backlash
"Western European publics might be better prepared to tolerate a spring and summer of greater military and
civilian casualties if they perceive clear connections between outcomes in Afghanistan and their own priorities.
"A consistent and iterative strategic communication program across NATO troop contributors that taps into the
key concerns of specific Western European audiences could provide a buffer if today’s apathy becomes
tomorrow’s opposition to ISAF, giving politicians greater scope to support deployments to Afghanistan."
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