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.”
Mr. Bush 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.
Interestingly, the 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.
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.
Frank Gaffney Jr. is the founder and president of the Center for Security Policy and author of War Footing: 10 Steps America Must Take to Prevail in the War for the Free World .
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