On March 19, President Bush spoke directly to an audience that may
prove to be among America's most important allies in the War for the
Free World: the Iranian people. He did so by associating himself and
his country with their long-denied aspiration for freedom — an
aspiration that continues to be suppressed, in his words, by "a regime
that says they have elections but they get to decide who's on the
ballot, which is not a free and fair election."
added, "The people of Iran can rest assured that the United States —
whether I'm president or [it's] the next president — will strongly
support their desires to live in a free society." What happens in the
next eight months may determine whether these words amount to empty
rhetoric, or a real program for undermining the Iranian mullahocracy
that survives a presidential transition.
instrument Mr. Bush chose for this salvo 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.
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.
have outraged Sen. 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, Mr.
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).
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. Mr. 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
undersecretary 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 Defense Department and the Central Intelligence Agency.
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.
Readers of this column know that matters on this score are made much
worse by the success of influence operations being waged against our
government at the hands of admirers of Islamism. For example, the last
undersecretary of state for public diplomacy, Karen Hughes, described a
beneficiary of a $20 million grant to Georgetown University from a
Saudi prince, Professor John Esposito, as her "guru" and paid court to
a Muslim Brotherhood front organization, the Islamic Society of North
A similar penetration of the Defense
Department by that same Brotherhood front seemingly will result
tomorrow in the cashiering of the Pentagon's pre-eminent expert on
Islamofascism, Stephen Coughlin, at the hands of another ISNA admirer
still serving in the office of Deputy Secretary Gordon England: Hisham
Under the circumstances, what is probably needed is a
complete redo — the reconstitution of a separate agency charged with
devising and executing America's international information operations.
Dismantling the entity that performed this function during the Cold
War, the U.S. Information Agency, was just one of the precipitous and
strategically portentous mistakes made in the heady days following the
tearing down of the Berlin Wall. The ranking Republican on the House
Foreign Affairs Committee, Florida Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, is among
those on Capitol Hill said to be considering legislation to rectify
In the meantime, we need to make the best of the
present, substantially dysfunctional and inadequately transparent
arrangement. That will more likely be achieved by the confirmation
without further delay of Jim Glassman than by allowing the clock to run
out on the remaining months of the Bush administration without strong
leadership in the key State Department post. The latter course would be
an invitation to further incoherence and potentially devastating
setbacks in the War of Ideas for the duration of the Bush presidency,
and a lost opportunity to shape the next president's approach to waging