Our strategy is ‘counting on apathy’?

From WikiLeaks, I submit to you this document purporting to be a memo from the CIA about generating support for the Afghan mission in Western Europe.

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.

Observations about France:

Focusing on a message that ISAF benefits Afghan civilians and citing examples of concrete gains could limit and perhaps even reverse opposition to the mission. Such tailored messages could tap into acute French concern for civilians and refugees.

Conversely, messaging that dramatizes the potential adverse consequences of an ISAF defeat for Afghan civilians could leverage French (and other European) guilt for abandoning them.

And Germany:

Some German opposition to ISAF might be muted by proof of progress on the ground, warnings about the potential consequences for Germany of a defeat, and reassurances that Germany is a valued partner in a necessary NATO-led mission.

Sounds like there’s a plan to gear up the fear machine there:

Messages that dramatize the consequences of a NATO defeat for specific German interests could counter the widely held perception that Afghanistan is not Germany’s problem. For example, messages that illustrate how a defeat in Afghanistan could heighten Germany’s exposure to terrorism, opium, and refugees might help to make the war more salient to skeptics.

I guess a good indicator of U.S. worries about French and German commitments may be having the President making some trips and direct appeals:

The confidence of the French and German publics in President Obama’s ability to handle foreign affairs in general and Afghanistan in particular suggest that they would be receptive to his direct affirmation of their importance to the ISAF mission—and sensitive to direct expressions of disappointment in allies who do not help.

One wonders at just what kind of straws the writers were grasping at here.  What is the basis of their prediction that a personal appeal from President Obama might turn things around with the European public?

A one year old poll that showed that when Obama directly asked for increased participation from Europe, support among the French and Germans for such a policy rose ‘dramatically’ (so long as you define dramatically as support rising from 4% to 13% or 7% to 15% respectively).

Obama’s a great public speaker, he’s not a miracle worker.  It’s unlikely Europeans are going to be more receptive today to the message of more or longer deployments to Afghanistan than they were a year ago.  Short of proving he’s the son of Jor-El, counting on him to single handedly turn around public opinion about Afghanistan is going to be a bit of a stretch.

Maybe apathy is the best bet after all.


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