The BBC has released a survey of public opinion in 31 countries on Iran’s nuclear program and how to confront it. Conducted after the release of the NIE, its findings are what one would expect. Support for tougher measures against Iran has dropped in all but four countries: Turkey, South Korea, Israel and China. And in only three countries was support for tougher measures higher than support for diplomacy or no action at all: Israel, South Korea, and the U.S.
Of all the swings in opinion across the world, it is the picture in Europe that gives most reasons to worry. German support for softer measures jumped from 48 to 61 percent of respondents. In Great Britain the swing was from 53 to 57 percent. In Spain it went from 49 to 54 percent. In Italy support for a softer approach shifted slightly, from 55 to 56 percent. In France it remained steady at 54 percent.
This means that all the European countries most involved diplomatically and economically in efforts to dissuade Iran from pursuing its uranium enrichment program are the ones where the public’s appetite for tougher action–never too strong in the first place–has shrunk considerably. Given intelligence assessments of how close Iran may be to the point of no return, this is bad news. Governments will find it hard to make a case for more sanctions, let alone the possibility of military action if sanctions fail. It leaves the burden of action on those countries where governments and people agree on the threat that Iran poses-the U.S. and Israel.
But it also raises a question about the failure of governments to educate their public to the strategic environment they confront or the success of influential media outlets to obfuscate it. The BBC’s commentary on its own poll is a case in point. The organization preferred to say that “the U.S. government says it still sees Iran as a significant danger, and Israel says it believes it is aiming to build nuclear weapons.” The fact is that the U.S and Israel are far from being the only ones concerned about the true nature of Iran’s nuclear aims. Former French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy denounced Iran’s nuclear activities as a cover for a “clandestine weapons program” two years ago. And as late as last week, the EU-3 (France, Germany and Great Britain) questioned Iran’s responses to the IAEA because of evidence-based concerns that Iran is studying “how to weaponize nuclear materials.”
And as shown by growing support for tougher sanctions in Turkey, Iran’s neighbor, and South Korea, a country threatened by its nuclear neighbor, there is still serious international belief in the threat posed by Iran’s enrichment aims. But the BBC prefers to suggest that Israel and the U.S. are disingenuous warmongers, that Iran’s program is presented by these two countries as a threat but is in fact harmless. No wonder that public opinion in Europe is shifting.