The U.S. Agency for Global Media presents the Voice of America Fantasyland in the VOA Acting Director’s statement that she is “disappointed and saddened” by the Taliban’s shutting down VOA in Afghanistan. A journalistic news organization should not have been surprised by anything Islamist terrorists do, and yet the VOA management allowed hundreds of its local employees and their family members to be stranded under the Taliban’s rule.
A Commentary by The Federalist
The Voice of America Fantasyland in Afghanistan
Tumbling through the rabbit hole that is the Cohen Building.
A recent Voice of America (VOA) press release declared,
Voice of America Denounces Taliban’s Order to Remove VOA’s Programs from TV Broadcasts in Afghanistan
Okay. So, the agency is unhappy with the Taliban.
But then the agency takes a plunge into the deep end of its divorce from reality and sound journalistic analysis:
“We ask the Taliban to reconsider this troubling and unfortunate decision,” said Acting VOA Director Yolanda Lόpez.
“The content restrictions that the Taliban are attempting to impose are antithetical to freedom of expression that the people of Afghanistan deserve,” said Lόpez, adding that “while we are disappointed and saddened by the Taliban’s orders to our television affiliate partners in the country, our commitment to providing factual information to the people of Afghanistan is one that the Voice of America will continue on television, radio, and the internet on www.pashtovoa.com and www.darivoa.com, as well as on social media.”
Apparently, Ms. Lopez has lost sight of the fact that the United States cut and ran from Afghanistan. Not only that, BUT the VOA ALSO appears to have left hundreds of contractors, Green Card holders, and their dependents behind when the Biden administration executed a chaotic departure from the country.
This is a key point because it makes Ms. Lopez look profoundly naive.
In short, the United States left Afghanistan to the Taliban and other Islamist terrorists. The fate of the people left behind by the agency is unknown and possibly may never be known to the fullest extent.
Ms. Lopez further plays the role of a naive journalist by declaring,
“…while we are disappointed and saddened by the Taliban’s orders to our television affiliate partners in the country, our commitment to providing factual information to the people of Afghanistan is one that the Voice of American will continue on television, radio, and the internet on www.pastovoa.com and www.darivoa.com, as well as on social media.”
You have got to be kidding. But apparently, she isn’t.
This is not a realistic assessment. The agency is being shut down and cut off in Afghanistan by the Taliban. How can Ms. Lopez be surprised, “disappointed,” “saddened”? What did she expect would happen? Ms. Lopez seems to make good on Einstein’s definition of futility: thinking, doing, and saying the same thing over again, expecting a different result.
But there is no different result, other than one with negative consequences for the agency. Essentially, as far as VOA programs inside Afghanistan are concerned, they are as good as gone except for those who will risk harsh punishment to find them. With the rigid, draconian regime established by the Taliban, one should expect that there would be severe penalties for accessing VOA online, listening to VOA radio, or viewing VOA satellite programs. Radio listening may be the safest but never perfectly safe.
And how are the programs going to be accessible in the first place? The Taliban – and whoever may be providing them assistance – will not stop with television stations carrying VOA programs. Expect the same with regard to internal radio and the internet within the country.
There must not be enough air circulation inside the Cohen Building. It appears that senior agency officials have a major difficulty in facing up to reality.
True, the agency may be able to reach Afghan speakers of Pashto and Dari outside of Afghanistan and a few technically savvy and brave individuals inside the country. But in Afghanistan under the Taliban, any mass audience is good as gone.
This leads to a question: what exactly do Ms. Lopez and the rest of the USAGM and VOA management inside the Cohen Building expect to accomplish under the circumstances? Restoring US credibility with the Afghan people? The US Government effectively abandoned the Afghan people to a dark future. The VOA and USAGM management failed to evacuate their own employees in a prompt and safe manner. Such actions as we witnessed in Afghanistan as the US withdrawal do not inspire confidence in any messaging the agency may be engaged in.
The only likely scenario coming out of all this nonsense is the agency running up to Capitol Hill asking lawmakers to continue spending millions of US taxpayer dollars on a failed mission. And those millions will likely turn into billions of dollars over time as the agency continues to pursue its failed mission. We expect the same thing with regard to programs to Russia. In so many words, another failed mission. Putin’s invasion of Ukraine has put Russia on the fast track to be isolated from the rest of the world for years – possibly decades – to come, unless the agency buys into the notion of regime change which President Biden almost predictably stumbled into with extemporaneous remarks he inserted into a prepared speech.
As with Afghanistan, VOA has been broadcasting to Russia for decades, even longer in fact than the Afghan experience. Has it resulted in any material change in Russian behavior?
It sure has! It’s gone from bad to worse. It’s gone from bad to worse in Afghanistan. The then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was right when she said already in 2013 that the agency in charge of US international broadcasting was “practically defunct.” It still is, even worse than before.
Suggesting regime change anywhere is a dicey proposition. Like it or not, people wherever they are like to be in charge of their own destiny. In cases like Russia and Afghanistan, they don’t necessarily want outsiders telling them what to do, what to think, what kind of government works best for them.
The US Agency for Global Media is in a bad place. Failures on the scale of Afghanistan and Russia blow gigantic holes into the agency’s idea of “being in support of freedom and democracy.” The agency is ineffective and lacks the impact to blunt the rise of autocratic or authoritarian regimes.
In short, perpetuating “business as usual” inside the Cohen Building is not a strategy. It is an exercise in creating a Fantasyland.
Let’s also remember that this agency has been described as the worst agency in the Federal Government in terms of employee morale and employee engagement. What should be added to that is, the most scandal-ridden agency in the Federal Government as an embedded, self-aggrandizing refuge of bureaucrats have been allowed to thrive and continue what is nothing short of a gross deception on the American people.
Senior officials at the highest level of US Government need to produce a better idea…hard to do when they are rocked back and forth by a rolling series of crises, both foreign and domestic. But what needs to be done and what will be done are two vastly different matters and this agency has demonstrated it for years: layering misinformation and disinformation about imagined successes and being a “fantastic leadership team,” as remarked by former VOA director Amanda Bennett. Anyone making this kind of observation, given the agency’s record under her previous tenure at the Voice of America, is seriously deficient in managerial acumen.
Being nominated for the post of agency CEO, can anyone reasonably expect things to get better with Bennett’s outlook?
Not likely in the remotest sense.