En France et en Allemagne, « l’apathie de l’opinion publique permet aux dirigeants de ne pas se soucier de leurs mandants » constate la CIA dans un mémorandum consacré à la perception du conflit en Afghanistan obtenu par le site Wikileaks. Bien que 80% des français et des allemands soient opposés à la guerre, le peu d’intérêt suscité par la question a permis aux responsables de ne pas tenir compte de cette opposition et d’envoyer des renforts, notent les rédacteurs de la « cellule rouge », chargée par Langley de fournir des propositions et des analyses novatrices. Mais l’agence rappelle le précédent des Pays Bas où la coalition au pouvoir a éclaté sur la question Afghane, et s’inquiète d’un possible revirement de l’opinion si les prochains combats durant l’été sont meurtriers. Il convient donc de préparer les opinions publiques à accepter des pertes, suggère le document, en établissant un lien entre l’expédition afghane et les préoccupations internes. L’importance accordée en France à la question des réfugiés, soulignée par la vague de protestation qui a accompagné la récente expulsion de douze afghans, fournit un premier axe de propagande : il faut persuader les français que l’OTAN vient en aide aux civils, en s’appuyant sur un sondage montrant que la majorité des afghans est favorable à la présence des troupes occidentales. Le document propose également d’insister sur les progrès réalisés dans l’éducation des femmes, qui seraient compromis par un retour des talibans. Le crédit dont jouit le président Obama en Europe pourrait également être mis à profit. Son implication directe permettrait de renforcer le soutien à l’intervention. Dernier axe, la CIA recommande de faire délivrer les messages favorables à l’ISAF par des femmes afghanes. Les allemandes et les françaises, plus opposées que les hommes à la guerre, y seraient alors plus sensibles.
This memo 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.
CIA Red Cell - Special Memorandum - 11 March 2010
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 Dutchstyle debate spills over into other states contributing troops. The Red Cell invited a CIA expert on strategic communication and analysts 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 for, sending troops to Afghanistan is not yet on most voters’ radar.
. . . 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 withdrawal.
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 voters.” 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.
French Focused On Civilians and Refugees. 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. Those who support ISAF in INR surveys from fall 2009 most frequently cited their perception that the mission helps Afghan civilians, while opponents most commonly argued that the mission hurts civilians. Contradicting the “ISAF does more harm than good” perception is clearly important, particularly for France’s Muslim minority :
• Highlighting Afghans’ broad support for ISAF could underscore the mission’s positive impact on civilians. About two-thirds of Afghans support the presence of ISAF forces in Afghanistan, according to a reliable ABC/BBC/ADR poll conducted in December 2009. According to INR polling in fall 2009, those French and German respondents who believed that the Afghan people oppose ISAF-48 percent and 52 percent, respectively-were more likely than others to oppose participation in the mission.
• 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. The prospect of the Taliban rolling back hard-won progress on girls’ education could provoke French indignation, become a rallying point for France’s largely secular public, and give voters a reason to support a good and necessary cause despite casualties.
• The media controversy generated by Paris’s decision to expel 12 Afghan refugees in late 2009 suggests that stories about the plight of Afghan refugees are likely to resonate with French audiences. The French government has already made combating Afghan human trafficking networks a priority and would probably support an information campaign that a NATO defeat in Afghanistan could precipitate a refugee crisis.
Appeals by President Obama and Afghan Women Might Gain Traction
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.1
• According to a GMF poll conducted in June 2009, about 90 percent of French and German respondents were confident in the President’s ability to handle foreign policies. The same poll revealed that 82 percent of French and 74 percent of German respondents were confident in the President’s ability to stabilize Afghanistan, although the subsequent wait for the US surge strategy may have eroded some of this confidence.
• The same poll also found that, when respondents were reminded that President Obama himself had asked for increased deployments to Afghanistan, their support for granting this request increased dramatically, from 4 to 15 percent among French respondents and from 7 to 13 percent among Germans. The total percentages may be small but they suggest significant sensitivity to disappointing a president seen as broadly in sync with European concerns.
Afghan women could serve as ideal messengers in humanizing the ISAF role in combating the Taliban because of women’s ability to speak personally and credibly about their experiences under the Taliban, their aspirations for the future, and their fears of a Taliban victory. Outreach initiatives that create media opportunities for Afghan women to share their stories with French, German, and other European women could help to overcome pervasive skepticism among women in Western Europe toward the ISAF mission.
• According to INR polling in the fall of 2009, French women are 8 percentage points less likely to support the mission than are men, and German women are 22 percentage points less likely to support the war than are men.
• Media events that feature testimonials by Afghan women would probably be most effective if broadcast on programs that have large and disproportionately female audiences.