A secret CIA report, brought to light last month by Wikileaks, reveals the cynical battle plans for the "war of perception" being waged over public opinion in Europe about NATO's war in Afghanistan. The four-page document is well worth reading, mainly to see exactly how cyncial the powers-that-be are when assessing the public.
The report's subheadings tell the story: 'Public Apathy Enables Leaders To Ignore Voters ... But Casulaties Could Precipitate Backlash', 'Tailoring Messaging Could Forestall of At Least Contain Backlash', 'Appeals by President Obama and Afghan Women Might Gain Traction'.
This last point, the plight of Afghan women, was emphasized as a means of encouraging the French people's reluctance to call for their troops to be brought home (especially in the event that the toll of French casualties increases, threatening the aforementioned apathy).
"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...
"Media events that feature testimonials by Afghan women would probably be most effective if broadcast on programs that have large and disproportionately female audiences."
The CIA report warns that women in Europe have thus far failed to grasp the feminist nature of NATO's war: "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."
Unfortunately for the CIA and for the French government, Malalai Joya had just visited Paris in early February for the launch of the French edition of her political memoir, Au nom de mon peuple, which I worked on as co-writer. I'm pleased to report that on her recent European speaking tour she also launched our book in the Netherlands and Italy. The Spanish version is forthcoming shortly.
Although her French visit lasted only a few days, Joya received relatively broad media coverage. Joya speaks "personally and credibly" about her experience under the Taliban, since she worked as a teacher at underground schools for girls during those years; she also speaks in uncompromising language about the continuing domination of anti-women warlords and fundamentalists, and about the devastating toll of the war on Afghan civilians. For NATO, she's a very inconvenient woman, speaking an inconvenient truth.
Whether the French public moves from apathy to outrage about their country's role in Afghanistan remains to be seen. With the recent collapse of the Dutch government over the issue of the Afghan War, the stakes in this "war of perception" have never been higher.