Friday, March 28, 2008
In the War of Ideas: Disarmed in Persian? [Steve Schippert]
While we are increasingly being told that we must begin direct talks with the Iranian regime, consider an item from earlier this week, something I had missed from Frank Gaffney and the Center for Security Policy. It strikes me that we have failed thus far at talking directly to the Iranian people through our two primary tools, VOA and Radio Farda. We might figure out how to get that right before ceding an inch to the Iranian regime (and holding a public dialogue and increasing diplomatic ties would be ceding much more than an inch to the epicenter of international terrorism).
Interestingly, the instrument Mr. Bush chose for this salvo [address to the Iranian people this past weekend] in the battlefront known as the War of Ideas was Radio Farda. That Farsi-language network receives financial support from the U.S. government under the sponsorship of "surrogate" broadcast services Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty.
As it happens, Radio Farda and its official U.S. counterpart, the Voice of America's Persian Service, have reportedly engaged in recent years in practices that have raised questions about whose side they were on. Whistle-blowers and independent monitors have repeatedly warned that these agencies broadcast into Iran programming that actually advances not the cause of freedom, but the agenda of the Iranian regime that President Bush has correctly decried. Improvements have been made at Radio Farda by Jeff Gedmin, the new and highly regarded head of RFE/RL, but concerns about program content persist.
Such concerns have outraged Senator Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, the ranking Republican on the Homeland Security subcommittee charged with overseeing U.S. international broadcasts. A champion of transparency in government, Sen. Coburn has for years sought to obtain transcripts of all Farsi-language broadcasts from those charged with managing the relevant radio services: the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG).
Unfortunately, understandable frustration that successive commitments to provide such transparency have gone largely unfulfilled, due to the unfunded cost of transcribing many thousands of hours of programming, has had a most undesirable result. Sen. Coburn has put a hold on the nomination of James Glassman, the current BBG chairman, to become what amounts to America's combatant commander in the War of Ideas.
It is a powerful indictment of the sorry state of the Nation's organizing for and conduct of information operations and other forms of political warfare that this role has been conferred by statute upon the Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy. But, until the law is changed, that position is the focal point for all such U.S. government efforts – including the authorization of those that might be carried out by the Department of Defense and the Central Intelligence Agency.
The effect of denying Senate confirmation to Jim Glassman – an accomplished man of ideas with considerable experience with journalism, broadcasting and public policy – is appalling. It allows caretaker State Department bureaucrats to preside over, and generally to impede, the execution of all government information campaigns in the so-called War on Terror. We are engaging in unilateral disarmament on what is, arguably, one of the most critical battlefields of all: the need to counter today's totalitarian ideology, Islamofascism, emanating from Iran, Saudi Arabia and their respective proxies elsewhere around the world.
I do not know much about James Glassman and his delayed confirmation. But I do know that many whom I respect, including Frank Gaffney and Michael Ledeen, have criticized Radio Farda sharply, leaving the impression that it fails in its task of informing the Iranian people of news and events otherwise blocked from their eyes and ears by the mullah regime.
And when you consider that this is about the only thing we are actively doing for the Iranian people, whom President Bush declares we will not forget, we had better get it right, and fast. In fact, the time for getting it right was decades ago. We have now put ourselves in a race against time that tilts towards the messianic terror-supporting Iranian regime and away from us and the Iranian people.
For a bit of interesting background on Radio Farda, consider the following from Ken Timmerman.
America’s enemies are very eager for us to get it wrong. And the Islamic Republic of Iran is a sophisticated enemy. Their intelligence services were trained by the KGB at the height of the Cold War. We should never forget that.
The Soviets mastered the use of “active measures,” aimed at planting disinformatzia and bogus stories to discredit the enemy, and maskirovka, strategic deception. They taught those techniques to the Islamist intelligence service in the early 1980s. Iran’s conspiracy-minded clerics and spymasters turned out to be star pupils.
Bill Clinton and Madeleine Albright fell for Iran’s strategic deception campaigns repeatedly. So did the Europeans, who believed all during the 1990s they could engage in “constructive engagement” with a regime whose sole goal was to acquire European technology to build better missiles and nuclear weapons.
Today, the Washington Post is falling for it, too. They are following the lead of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, which in 1997 allowed a newly-created “surrogate” Radio Free Iran to be transformed into “Radio Khatami.” (Known officially as Radio Farda (“Tomorrow”), the radio got its nickname because of its sycophantic treatment of Rafsanjani’s “reformist” successor, Hojjat-ol eslam Mohammad Khatami.)
Consider also this, again from Timmerman, on Farda and broadcasting as part of a plan to empower the Iranian people to defeat the regime that keeps its jackboot on their throats:
Broadcasting must be an integral part of any comprehensive political plan to challenge the legitimacy of the Iranian regime and promote non-violent regime change. However, none of the $300 million fund should go to expanding the Persian language service of Voice of America or Radio Farda, the Persian service of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. Both have failed utterly to live up to the goal for which they were established.
Rather than communicate an American viewpoint during Iran’s proxy war against Israel this past summer, for example, VOA television sent reporters to Beirut to interview top Hezbollah leaders – the same Hezbollah leaders Iranian state television was treating as rock stars.
As for Radio Farda (“Tomorrow”), established to be a “surrogate” for the free media Iranians could not access inside their own country, it became a laughing stock by championing Iran’s failed reformist president, Mohammad Khatami.
Since Ahmadinejad took over as president in 2005, Radio Farda has adopted the “music-first” model of Westwood One and become simply irrelevant. Both are a waste of U.S. taxpayer dollars and should be downsized or eliminated altogether.
Instead, funding should be provided to private Iranian broadcasters who understand the political thirst of their compatriots and know how to package a compelling message in a professional format. The allotment of the broadcasting budget should be determined by the Executive Committee, with a preference to pluralism and professionalism.
Americans largely wrote the book on broadcasting, marketing, and effective public relations. Yet, in such an absolutely critical arena, we are failing miserably in all these things with Radio Farda and VOA in Iran. As a result, we are continuing to fail the Iranian people.
Instead of opening a dialogue and developing ties with the Iranian regime, we should try opening a dialogue (beginning with an effective VOA and Radio Farda) and developing ties with the Iranian people before admitting defeat and legitimizing a regime that is the nexus of international terrorism.
Is there something about the regime that we are misunderstanding? Would closer ties and more talks diminish its penchant for terrorism as a means of furthering the revolution that is its entire reason for being? Or are they really just pragmatists and realists in wolf's clothing, begging for U.S. trade and diplomacy in exchange for their violence? Perhaps only our own pragmatists and realists know the answer. (That answer for them usually begins with "status quo," a logical construct within the Middle Eastern context that most of us thought 9/11 had signaled the failure and end of.)
Readers and policy makers can feel free to write and correct me if I am wrong, but the states of the European Union have been holding direct talks with the Iranians for some time. How's that working out?
At the end of the day, the core issue regarding the revolutionary Iranian regime is its status as the nexus of international terrorism - supporting and growing terrorist organizations and networks across religious and ethnic divides. America is no more the cause for that terrorism than any modest alterations in our policies to appease them could be the solution.
To presume otherwise is both naive and arrogant.
03/28 09:42 AMShare