Broadcasting Board of Governors
Information War Lost: The Arab and Muslim World
A commentary by The Federalist
This is going to be tough, so take your antacid now.
What does it take?
What does it take to understand that this Western media concocted “Arab Spring” is a fantasy?
It is important for the American people to see things for what they are: two American embassies (Egypt and Yemen) and consulate (Libya) breached, anti-American demonstrations from the Middle East to Indonesia. Four Americans killed, including the American ambassador to Libya, Chris Stevens.
The American people are not always strong on history, including (and perhaps especially) Middle East history. We’re talking about two millennia of bloodletting in the region, broken down by tribal and religious affiliations, loyalties and zealotry. That’s TWO-THOUSAND YEARS. Do you see anything in events across the region that suggest this paradigm has been broken and that they are on a new path toward “freedom and democracy?”
What we are witness to is a changing of the guard – one form of repression being exchanged for another.
Vast numbers don’t like us and they are not about to like us any time soon. They’ve taken a hard turn toward more – not less – fundamentalism. It’s what they know. It’s what these extremists are comfortable with – fundamentalism and intolerance.
U.S. Government-funded broadcasting, other forms of communications and public diplomacy in the Arab and Muslim world should consider and respond to these realities.
They do not.
As events have demonstrated, these extremists will kill anyone not in conformance with their world view, anyone seen as a threat to their world view. Libya, Egypt, Yemen, Syria, Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Indonesia – do you see any positives going on across the breadth of the Arab and Muslim world?
And have you taken note how these demonstrations are well organized? It’s not a couple of people standing on a street corner. That indicates a variety of things, one of which is an underlying hatred toward the United States and people who know how to lead and focus anger and discontent.
And they were armed.
And that black flag seen being raised over the American embassy in Cairo. That’s a jihadist flag, similar to one seen in al-Qaeda videos.
We are not going to sugarcoat things. This is the reality.
How do you tell the families of the slain Americans that they didn’t die in vain? You can’t. They were casualties. They were specifically targeted. They are victims. They were murdered — they did not “pass away” as the initial sympathy and condemnation statement drafted by the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) international communications staff read. These senior executives need a major reality check.
The recent murders of U.S. diplomats represent the ultimate expression of a rejection of American ideals and principals. Of all the former journalists, international communications experts, public relations and public diplomacy specialists present at the Broadcasting Board of Governors open meeting in Washington, DC on September 13, 2020 — shortly after BBG members and International Broadcasting Bureau (IBB) Director Richard Lobo had met with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs Tara Sonenshine — only BBG Governor Ambassador Victor Ashe had the presence of mind to speak up and insist that “passing” in the BBG resolution be changed to “murder” — to call a spade a spade in reference to the horrific killing of Ambassador Stevens.
Most of the participants in the BBG meeting are responsible for the direction, the tone and to a large degree the content of U.S. international broadcasting. The Voice of America (VOA), the most important broadcasting entity managed by the BBG, reported recently that the Taliban in Afghanistan killed a dozen or so partying civilians because because the Taliban “disapproves” of dancing and singing. Another curious choice of words.
That kind of communications strategy is not encouraging news for Americans at home and abroad and U.S. international broadcasting audiences in the Arab and Muslim world. It sends a confusing message and emboldens extremists.
We’re not suggesting using inflammatory language in BBG resolutions — much less in Voice of America (VOA), Radio Sawa or Alhurra news — but “Passing” and “Disapproval”? Such expressions are more appropriate for describing the death of a grandmother or voicing parental concern over teenage behavior.
What we do know is that BBG senior executives who collect large bonuses are also responsible for laying off dozens of experienced VOA journalists who would have known how to communicate with audiences in the Middle East.
U.S. communications failures are compounded by security failures. News reports we’ve read did not mention the normal Marine guard detachment protecting the Libyan consulate. We contacted sources familiar with the situation. The State Department, under its own budgetary pressures, is relying upon contractor security detachments, some of which use local personnel. It appears the assailants knew the location of the secure room in the consulate, possibly an indication of an inside job. Seemingly, they knew who they were after and they knew where to look.
Sending a Marine special operations detachment to secure the site after the fact is no consolation for the families of the lost American diplomatic personnel.
And by the way, these weren’t the only attacks against a Western diplomatic mission in Libya. Recently, a convoy containing the British ambassador to Libya was targeted in an attack. The ambassador escaped unharmed. It didn’t make news – perhaps because the Western media wants to perpetuate the myth of the “Arab Spring.” Wear some flowers in your hair and do your kumbaya dance.
There are those who say that the vast majority of Arab and Muslim people in the region would not condone these attacks. Maybe that’s true. Maybe it’s not. We really don’t know. What we do know is that history is replete with examples of motivated and disciplined extremists taking control of countries and societies and bringing even greater nightmares. This scenario is far from over and may be rising to a new level of intensity.
And let’s not forget the people who produced the film that has flamed this violence. They must have known that their project would trigger a reaction in the Middle East. Perhaps that was an intended outcome. They are maintaining the cycle of hate.
No Message – No Resonance – No Credibility
Secretary of State Clinton now confronts the reality of the words of her Congressional testimony: “We are losing the information war.” She was talking about the Middle East. But as we have noted in previous commentaries, it really applies to the world as a whole. She will now have to preside over memorial services for the slain members of her diplomatic staff. That brings home the reality of events painfully and very fast.
As we see it, the situation now is: information war lost. And the people responsible for losing that information war sit fat and cozy collecting nice bonuses for their failures: the senior staff of the International Broadcasting Bureau (IBB) at the U.S. federal international broadcasting agency. The Broadcasting Board of Governors has been played like a bunch of naïve dreamers by the IBB staff with their “flim flam strategic plan.”
Since September 11, 2001 the BBG/IBB has had well over a decade to get its act together and formulate an effective broadcasting strategy to Arab publics.
As events have demonstrated, the agency has fallen flat on its face.
Here’s a brief rundown of that nose-dive trajectory:
Following the horrific events of September 11, 2001 the BBG/IBB decided to reinvent its broadcasts to the Middle East. The main event was to terminate the Voice of America (VOA) Arabic Service and replace it with Radio Sawa and Alhurra television, two grantee operations.
The ploy with Radio Sawa is to use pop music as a “hook,” an attempt to entice Arab publics, particularly Arab youth, to buy into the American world view. In short, the thinking was that by playing pop music to Arab youth, they would influence change to the existing paradigm. While not heavy with pop music, Alhurra television follows the same track – to change the dynamics on the “Arab street” and move the needle toward something more pro-American.
Neither has nor appears close to accomplishing their intended outcomes. Neither dominates the Arab/Middle East media. And neither has moved the needle of the “Arab street” toward a world view more in line with the United States. What do we see on the “Arab street?” Answer: more of the same old, same old – violence, bloodshed, the killing of Americans.
We’ve studied the photographs and video from Libya. It’s a scene that has repeated itself throughout the Middle East – a mob of Arab males assaulting American diplomatic facilities. Do you know what this represents?
Answer: it’s a form of a rite of passage and indoctrination for young Arab males. It’s called “Hate America 101,” a primer for similar acts or worse, a training ground for future jihadists and terrorists.
Let’s move over to Syria.
We need to make it plain – Syria is in the grip of sectarian violence and civil war. Forget all the talk about a “pro-democracy movement.” In simple terms, it is fundamentally an attempt to overthrow the existing power structure and replace it with another. Recently, the United Nations warned of possible war crimes by the Syrian opposition. That makes them no different than the Assad regime in Damascus. If you understand TWO THOUSAND YEARS of Middle East history, you should not be surprised.
Meanwhile, in Iraq – the Iraqi government is allowing an air bridge by the Iranian government to Syria (in support of the Assad government) overflying Iraqi airspace. The United States has made a (likely futile) gesture in the form of a request to the Iraqi government to inspect the cargo of Iranian aircraft. We see that request as going nowhere. Iraq is likely to be an Iranian satellite for the foreseeable future, and Iraqis have jumped on the bandwagon of recent anti-American demonstrations.
So let’s get down to the nitty-gritty:
American foreign policy in the Middle East is a debacle. American diplomatic posts have been overrun and sacked. Americans have been killed.
And last, but certainly not least, a costly U.S. Government broadcasting effort in the Middle East is largely ineffective as events demonstrate on a daily basis.
But the bad news doesn’t stop there.
One of the things the BBG/IBB has done is taken a giant step in a very wrong direction.
The BBG/IBB has moved toward advocacy. It has created a website devoted to “Middle East Voices” and a “faces of the fallen” feature, the latter devoted to people killed in sectarian violence.
The question is: whose side is the BBG/IBB on? Is the agency supporting Sunni or Shiite? Some people may not grasp the significance but you can best believe it is most certainly a big deal in the Middle East as would be the perceptions in that part of the world as to whose side the United States is on.
At the end of the day, the first consideration by American citizens – the people who pay for the salaries of the IBB and the rest of the U.S. Government international broadcasting infrastructure – is how many Americans are being killed by thugs, insurgents or terrorists? In our view, this feature wouldn’t have a whole lot of resonance with Americans after watching video from Libya showing the body of Ambassador Chris Stevens being carried out of the American consulate like a trophy to anti-Americanism. It’s been done before – along with videos of beheadings, hangings and other acts of gruesome Middle East atrocities.
What does it take?
Our sources inside the Cohen Building, the Washington headquarters of the Broadcasting Board of Governors, express a concern that senior agency executives responsible for broadcast program content to the Arab and Muslim world have gone “soft in the head” (our term), as demonstrated by their initial description of the brutal killing of Ambassador Stevens as “passing” rather than murder.
We recall what Senator John Kerry (D-MA) said shortly after the uprisings in Egypt began: “It is too early to do a democracy victory lap in the Middle East.”
We agree. We more than agree. We strongly agree. Events have made Senator Kerry’s observations clear and correct.
The United States Government cannot go “soft in the head” in the Middle East or elsewhere, whether it be in general policy or the broadcasts of the BBG/IBB.
There is a consequence for this approach – desperately trying to make the Arab and Muslim world like us. It is too easily interpreted as a sign of weakness. As we’ve said, TWO-THOUSAND YEARS of bloodletting and intolerance.
There is no substitute for American resolve in the face of violent extremism directed against American diplomats and citizens.
The White House says, “Make no mistake. Justice will be done.” Fine. But that requires action. These extremist elements aren’t deterred by words. They think they have the White House in a chokehold. A nuanced use of force is the order of the day. And it is the American people who will determine whether the White House lives up to the declaration that “Justice will be done.”
Too much of what we see and/or hear coming out of the BBG/IBB is conciliatory or weak-minded toward the extremists. Wrong messages create perceptions that now is the time to strike against U.S. overseas interests, that the United States is weak or ineffective in dealing with external threats. That has to change.
With regard to U.S. Government international broadcasting, the change that is required won’t come from within the BBG’s Cohen Building. In our view, senior agency officials have compromised the effectiveness of the agency’s mission and the national interests of the United States and its people. It’s time for the Congress and the administration to step up and reformulate U.S. Government international broadcasting –
Or end it and put American resources to better use in other ways.