Public diplomacy: Too hard or too soft?
When it comes to confronting the radical jihadists, the American Left says we are not using enough diplomacy. Even so, some on the Left are attempting to scuttle the remnants of Radio Free Europe (RFE), Radio Liberty (RL) and the Voice of America (VOA), the very kinds of organizations that have been some of our most effective forms of public diplomacy.
Before the Clinton Administration cashed the “peace dividend,” those organizations had an overall budget of $230 million. Now, they have to make do with only $77 million.
Radio Free Europe, Radio Liberty and the Voice of America all played a role in the demise of the Soviet Union. Ironically, their success is also the cause of the reduced state we find them in today. Radio Free Europe was aimed, primarily, at Poland and the Balkan nations overrun by the Red Army at the end of World War II and held captive. Radio Liberty was beamed into the Soviet Union itself.
The Voice of America was designed to explain American foreign policy and to reflect life in America, warts-and-all, to a world eager to learn about the world’s most successful and longest-lasting representative democracy.
All this is of more than passing interesting to this observer and to my wife who was, at one time, a stringer for the Voice of America. Her two most notable assignments were to interview Jehan Sadat, the widow of assassinated Egyptian President, Anwar el-Sadat, and Russell Means, the founder of the American Indian Movement (AIM).
The interview of Mrs. Sadat took place, oddly enough, in Seoul, South Korea. Mrs. Sadat took the occasion to urge more freedom for women in the Muslim world.
Russell Means, interviewed in Washington, D.C., told how the communist regime of then Nicaraguan dictator, Daniel Ortega, was committing genocide against the Mosquito Indians. That interview and others, prompted a furious Jane Fonda and her followers on the Left to withdraw their, hitherto, generous funding for the American Indian Movement.
At zenith of the Cold War, we spent considerable effort to protect the identity of the émigrés who fled the communists to broadcast in dozens of languages for Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty. Otherwise, the KGB would have killed more of them than it did.
As a junior intelligence officer, your faithful correspondent was sometimes tasked to account for some of the émigrés. Once a month, I would be blind folded and taken, via a maze of stairwells and elevators, to one of the RFE or RL (I never knew which) broadcast studios.
My task was to peer through a tiny window through which I could see the émigrés inside their broadcast carrels. On command, they would stand up so I could count them and match them with a roster of their code names. That was done so they could be paid their monthly salaries.
After all were present or accounted for, I was again blind folded and led through what seemed like a different set of stairwells and elevators and back to an unmarked staff car. Under extreme torture, I could not have revealed where I had been taken.
Today, the RFE and RL broadcast in 28 languages from Prague. Now, the concentration is on Russia, Belarus, Central Asia and, through Radio Farda, on Iran. But money is not the only challenge faced by RFE/RL/Radio Farda and the Voice of America. They are caught between the American Left and the American Right.
The American Left does not want the balanced format pioneered by the Voice of America. The leftist, blame-America-first crowd wants all warts. Conversely, the American Right wants fewer blemishes on the portrayal of life in America.
The nine-person Broadcast Board of Governors (eight appointed by the U.S. President) that controls broadcast content is conflicted by these pressures. Thus, the outcome of the presidential election will have a bearing on how America is portrayed to people around the world many of whom are listening clandestinely, and at great personal risk.
Syndicated columnist and featured commentator for USA Today, William Hamilton, is a Distinguished Graduate of the U.S. Naval War College and a former research fellow at the U.S. Military History Institute of the U.S. Army War College. He is a member of the Association of Former Intelligence Officers. He is also the co-author of The Grand Conspiracy and The Panama Conspiracy – two thrillers about terrorism directed against the United States.
©2008. William Hamilton.