U.S. Agency For Global Media trapped in Afghanistan, a victim of years of mismanagement, chaos and a lack of clear purpose..
A commentary by The Federalist
Weeks have gone by.
The Afghanistan debacle is receding from public attention. No doubt the Biden administration is relieved not to see its self-inflicted disaster dominating the news cycle, particularly by major media outlets, which usually serve as apologists.
Yet periodically stories appear about the “businesslike” (administration word) Taliban. Most recently, this terrorist organization made news by beheading a female athlete.
If your business is blood-letting terrorism upon the Afghan people.
At the beginning of this fiasco, it has been estimated that upwards of 500 U.S. Agency For Global Media (USAGM) personnel and family members were trapped and left behind during the chaotic rout at the Karzai International Airport in Kabul.
Agency officials made a big verbal demonstration of “doing everything we can” to extricate its employees, contractors and dependents.
Little has been heard from the agency since except for an announcement that some of its personnel have been able to flee the country. Granted, the details of the extraction are best left off the radar lest they jeopardize those who remain inside Afghanistan. Still, the longer they remain inside Taliban-controlled territory, the bleaker the prospects for successful extrication. Keep in mind too it’s not just the Taliban one has to be worried about since the country is now a haven for equally barbaric terrorist organizations who would like to make a name for themselves by capturing and executing opponents of the terrorist emirate.
That’s where things stand as best as we know it.
In the meantime, …
We are given pause to reflect upon twenty or so years of agency broadcasts to Afghanistan in several languages including Pashto, Dari, Urdu (in neighboring Pakistan) and Farsi (in neighboring Iran).
Twenty years of these broadcasts accounts for the 500+ agency personnel and dependents throughout the country.
But what of those broadcasts?
We must wonder and question what was the content of the reporting coming out of the country particularly up-country and away from Kabul.
It would be simply astounding to believe that a sweeping Taliban victory materialized overnight.
This dominates our questioning of the program content of the broadcasts to Afghanistan and the reporting from Afghanistan by the entities of USAGM particularly the Voice of America (VOA).
Let us remember that VOA and the other entities of USAGM are not “independent news organizations,” as agency bureaucrats claim. That is a lie. It is a bald-faced lie. It is intended to confer what the bureaucrats think is some kind of credibility to what the agency does.
Simply put, USAGM is a government entity. It is funded by the United States Government through taxes paid by the American people. This includes both VOA and the so-called “grantees” like Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), Radio Free Asia (RFA) and others.
It’s a lie easily told because most Americans don’t know about the agency created decades ago, in a century ago, during the Cold War. And perhaps more dangerous, most Americans don’t care. Their day-to-day is consumed by higher priorities, particularly now in the face of self-inflicted crises created by the Biden administration: the unregulated influx of undocumented immigrants across the southern U.S. border, rampant crime in large American cities, inflation in the rising costs for energy, food and consumer goods. The list is long and getting longer.
Thus, out of sight and out of mind is USAGM: lording over a fantasy world of imagined and made-up impact and effectiveness.
Which brings us back to the central question: what exactly has the agency been broadcasting to and reporting from Afghanistan?
It is hard to imagine that among the 500+ employees, contractors and family members that no one saw the Taliban surge coming. This didn’t materialize overnight.
A large part of the question is to what extent did officials of the agency know about the strategic circumstances within the country: not just the senior officials of the agency but also the service chiefs of the language services. What were they telling the senior officials on the Third Floor of the Cohen Building and in turn what were these officials reporting to the White House over the twenty-year period of US involvement in Afghanistan?
We should remember that it was widely reported how the Biden administration mischaracterized the deteriorating situation on the ground.
Everything about the precipitous nature of the abandonment of the U.S. and allied mission to Afghanistan is senseless and irrational. No organization. No planning of any positive consequence. The administration tried to liken its evacuation from Kabul airport to the Berlin Airlift. There is no similarity. A more accurate comparison would be to the Dunkirk evacuation of a defeated British Expeditionary Army from France at the start of World War II. It may have been a seaborne operation, but the consequences and circumstances were quite the same.
Again, back to the broadcasts.
So, what is one to do? Congress should call for an investigation and hearings. This would be an immense task. Those involved would have to summon up thousands of pages of translated transcripts of USAGM program content. And that would also mean transcripts that are not edited or redacted in any way. It would also mean summoning witnesses from among agency officials directly involved in the broadcasts over twenty years time. It might also mean obtaining cables between the agency and the State Department over the same period since the State Department fundamentally oversees USAGM.
Last but not least:
Let us remember that USAGM has declared its mission to include “supporting freedom and democracy.”
How did that turn out in Afghanistan?
We know the answer:
It failed and it failed miserably.
“Supporting freedom and democracy” specifies an intended outcome. It is a political statement intended to garner support and funding from the Congress and whatever political administration inhabits the White House at any particular time.
As Afghanistan demonstrates, grand pronouncements from Washington bear negligible impact and effectiveness many miles away on the other side of the globe where there is little and more likely no connection to democratic principles. Yes, there may have been some liberating accomplishments for certain elements of Afghan society while the US and its allies maintained a presence in the country. But these accomplishments were fleeting absent the political will of the Afghan government to support core, fundamental changes in the way it governed and administered to the country.
And this fundamental failure has even larger consequences elsewhere, particularly in China.
If you don’t want to take our word for it, it would be informative to watch a recent “60 Minutes” interview with Robert Gates, a former CIA director and secretary of defense. His insights are worth anyone’s attention, particularly at about the 11:45 mark where he specifically talks about the notion of exporting freedom and democracy, which is what the USAGM mission has become:
It is beyond foolish to continue to allow the “over the rainbow” USAGM fantasyland to continue. It needs serious rethinking. In the face of Afghanistan and other developments it is absurd to believe the preposterous claims of huge audiences and mission success. In its effect, this posturing bluster has led to 500+ employees, contractors and dependents to be trapped somewhere inside Afghanistan: a glaring example of the hypocrisy of what this agency is today all about.