The USAGM contribution to the Afghan failure has been presided by U.S. Agency for Global Media and Voice of America (VOA) senior executives.

Cut and Run and Chaos – The USAGM Contribution to the Afghan Failure

A commentary by The Federalist

Despite other world pronouncements from the Biden administration, the optics on the ground speak to the utter chaos that exists in Afghanistan. This includes the leaders of the U.S. Agency for Global Media (USAGM) which once again has been taken over by longtime failed bureaucrats. The administration is seen to be in utter denial about how badly the situation is because of its precipitous execution of a withdrawal from Afghanistan. USAGM’s failed leaders did not bother to have a safe exit plan and did even less than the rest of the Biden administration. In its total denial, USAGM’s primary outlet, the Voice of America (VOA), started to spread the Taliban’s propaganda messages with such headlines as, “Taliban Vow to Respect Women’s Rights ‘Within Islamic Law’.” Safe in Washington, DC or taking August vacations, these USAGM executives and managers were apparently hoping that VOA reporters could remain in Afghanistan and their rebroadcasting operations within the country could continue under the Taliban. To think otherwise would require that they would have to cancel vacations and do something immediately. A USAGM executive reported with some satisfaction even as late as a few days ago that USAGM’s FM and AM transmitters were still operating in Afghanistan. It’s this kind of arrogance that explains why the USAGM leadership did not carry out a complete evacuation of USAGM staff and family members from Afghanistan when it was still safe to do.

Looking at the larger picture:

In the aftermath of 9/11, successive administrations, Democrat and Republican alike, have never fully explained the nature of the war on terror: asymmetrical warfare which requires the establishment of permanent, forward bases, within rapid striking distance of the terrorists who would endanger the security of the United States and our allies.

Merely defeating Al-Qaeda at the time was part of forward base thinking. To have struck Al-Qaeda and then vacated Afghanistan would have created a vacuum that would have been refilled with Al-Qaeda, ISIS and others to reconstitute themselves and resume their terrorist planning. From a national security standpoint forward base deployments make sense, coupled with technology capable of delivering targeted ordnance onto the enemy.

Where the United States drifted away from this strategy was when the US Government decided to embrace a policy of “nation building.” In short, the effort was to institute American-style governing principles to a country without any commonality with those principles.

Now, twenty years after 9/11, the American people have grown weary of all things Afghanistan. And worse, the Biden administration has embraced an ill-conceived, ramshackle abandonment of the country, putting US and Coalition citizens at grave risk and even longer-term danger to the vulnerable Afghan population under the Islamic extremism of the Taliban, their glorification of a Muslim past and draconian measures to subjugate and oppress.

In so many words, things are moving inexorably from bad to worse.

Along the way to this point, the US State Department created a program to “Counter Violent Extremism (CVE).” Not much has been heard about this program and to outward appearances, it has racked up few if any successes. The disintegration of US efforts in Afghanistan questions the credibility and effectiveness of this effort.

Having set some of the parameters of the big picture we can turn our attention to the US Agency for Global Media. It too has made its own contribution to this debacle unfolding in front of us.

Through much of the 21st century, this agency has suffered from a bureaucratic “personality disorder,” somewhat self-inflicted:

On the one hand, it has tried to portray itself as “an independent news organization,” something which it clearly is not and has never been. Labeling itself as such is nothing more than a mediocre attempt to gain some form of legitimacy with private news companies in the United States and elsewhere. If one gets past this self-serving and misleading declaration, one discovers that USAGM is an agency of the US Government, tied in many ways to the administration in power.

Worse, under Democrat appointees, it has embraced some of the worst characteristics of current media, becoming an advocate of a decidedly Leftist ideology in violation of the bipartisan VOA Charter.

But when it has been convenient for its career bureaucrats to do so, it has willingly embraced the “countering violent extremism” project of the State Department. This casts the agency’s leadership as unabashedly mercenary, trying to tailor its persona to wherever it thinks will lead it to some measure of funding and personal advancement.

And when it isn’t trying to hitch itself onto whatever higher level programs it thinks will serve its interests, it indulges itself in some “creativity” of its own.

Namely: the agency has adopted a “mission statement” created by its former administrative body, the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG). In creating its own overarching mission statement to cover all the entities under its domain, including the Voice of America (VOA) and others, it adopted language in the mission statement “supporting freedom and democracy.”

Big mistake.

“Freedom and democracy” are specific outcomes. What happens when these lofty outcomes fall short: in Afghanistan, China, Iran, Russia, Cuba and elsewhere in the face of governments with a different point of view? The answer is the agency’s credibility takes a hit. And right now, the credibility of the agency and this “mission” is laying stunned on the tarmac of Kabul International Airport and reverberating around the world.

US adversaries have been quick to jump on the situation describing the United States as an unreliable ally and likely to cut and run at a moments notice. If you are in South Korea, Taiwan and elsewhere, you have reason to be concerned, particularly when the Biden administration, and specifically Joe Biden as president, seem confused and ill-informed.

Overall, this puts USAGM in a hard place. And it is made even worse when USAGM officials, led by acting USAGM CEO Kelu Chao and acting VOA director Yolanda Lopez put out announcements that are disconnected from reality, particularly when they claim they are “doing everything they can” to extricate USAGM employees and/or contractors from the chaos on the ground in Afghanistan.

They are “doing everything they can” several weeks, if not several months too late.

Instead of getting VOA staff out of Afghanistan to save them from the Taliban’s revenge, acting VOA Director Yolanda Lopez was announcing in May a $2,000 grant to VOA reporters to produce a winning story about “Climate Change Resulting in Forcible Migration.” The deadline for submission was June 15, 2021. The entries were to be reviewed by the VOA programming Office. Perhaps in May, June, July and August, the USAGM and VOA leadership should have paid much more attention to “forcible migration” resulting from the Taliban’s advances in Afghanistan.

There is nothing more “forcible” than fleeing from the Taliban, but on August 17, 2021, the Voice of America was telling Afghan women with a straight face that “The Taliban vowed to respect women’s rights ‘within Islamic law’ and form an ‘inclusive Islamic’ government as the radical movement consolidates its hold over the war-torn country.”

If track record of current USAGM and VOA leaders is any indication, they will continue to put out announcements of “happy news” that is either meaningless (except for those employees fortunate to be able to retire) or of little significant impact. And some of the happy talk is just plain fantasy regarding program efforts.

While the Biden administration is taking a deserved hit in terms of the impact of its Afghanistan decision on broader global strategy, the impact on USAGM is no less significant.

We have said for years that the agency’s unilateral claims to its audience size does not hold up. Voice of America Polygraph.Info posts against Russia fake news have near zero likes after 4 years. And there is persistent talk that the VOA audience in China and disintegrated substantially. Similar indications come regarding VOA programming to Russia and Iran. In short, the agency is falling flat on its mission.

In any “what to do” review of the agency, its senior leadership should be sent packing.

But beyond that, the best interests of the agency are in reestablishing conformance with the VOA Charter (in VOA’s case) and get away from its own version of nation building by “supporting freedom and democracy.” The disaster in Afghanistan is likely to linger for an appreciable time. Continuing to hold onto this meaningless notion contrary to conditions on the ground does not serve the agency well and only allows for spending more American taxpayer money on a failed mission.

The Federalist

August 2021

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