Before its April 5 release of the video that’s currently making it famous, the site Wikileaks unearthed a classified CIA report (pdf download) titled “Sustaining West European Support for the NATO-Led Mission – Why Counting on Apathy Might Not be Enough” that describes potential strategies for persuading NATO allies to maintain their troop levels in Afghanistan. Thanks to the Obama administration’s misguided determination to escalate our troop presence, the pressure has begun climbing to find ways to persuade foreign governments to increase or maintain their presence there. The memo indicates the administration’s resolve in pushing its Afghanistan policy abroad and is an astonishingly revealing look at the often shady ways that policy is sold.
The memo takes a cynical view of domestic concerns in allied countries about placing more troops abroad, arguing that “public apathy” and indifference in these countries works to the advantage of US strategic interests. It also highlights different areas of policy that could be used as “pressure points” for France and Germany. Emphasis mine:
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.
The report makes its intentions clear from the start by citing the recent fall of the Dutch government from power as a precedent it wanted to avoid. Last month, after a prolonged debate over a decision to delay troop withdrawal from Afghanistan, the ruling Christian Democratic Coalition fell from power when its second largest constituent party quit in protest. With respect to the consequences of events in the Netherlands for the rest of Europe, the report argues that “if domestic politics forces the Dutch to depart, politicians elsewhere might cite a precedent for ‘listening to the voters.’” (Frightening!) The contributions of NATO allies are responsible for about half of the troop presence in Afghanistan, but this number has threatened to decline as military and civilian casualties in the country have climbed and the war has lost popular support across the alliance.
Among the most eye-catching and indignation inducing qualities of the report is its appraisal of political apathy. It makes the argument that it is precisely the lack of public interest in Afghanistan in France and Germany that has enabled these countries to maintain the two largest troop contributions in Afghanistan short of the US and the United Kingdom, in spite of the 80% of the population in both countries who oppose the occupation. Indeed, the report laments the potential for a political backlash next summer should “forecasts for a bloody summer” come true, and proffers several recommendations for “tailoring messaging” with respect to the war in order to help manage public opinion. With regards to the French, for example, the report recommends focusing on issues concerning civilians and refugees and to make the argument that the mission is doing more good than harm. The report also suggests that Barack Obama use himself as a propaganda tool, in order to exploit popular confidence in his conduct of foreign policy throughout Europe.
But here’s the real kicker: The CIA argues that Afghan women should be used to sell the occupation because they can speak more credibly and can help win over women in Europe.
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.
But such a scheme would be a smokescreen and frankly, outrageous. As we have argued before, the occupation — in support of an Afghan government proving not to be a friend to women — only places women and their families in harm’s way and takes away precious resources that could be allocated to help advance women’s rights in Afghanistan. The CIA will be able to find women to bolster the pro-war narrative, and it will be akin to frequent media reports that many scientists question global warming. That won’t change the fact that the war is not helping women.
All told, the Wikileaks staff say it best: “The memo is an recipe [sic] for the targeted manipulation of public opinion in two NATO ally countries, written by the CIA.” It reveals the utter disregard held for popular consensus in the conduct of relations with our allies. Not only does this advance the pro-occupation agenda abroad, it is dangerous for another reason – because it speaks to the resolve and determination of US leaders to extend the duration and the magnitude of the Afghan occupation. If opposition from 80% of France and Germany isn’t enough to persuade the administration to reevaluate the supporting tenets of our policy in Afghanistan, what will, short of escalating catastrophe?
And of course, where is the CIA memo on how to sell the war to Americans?