Where’s Jim Glassman? And was it enough for Sen. Coburn?

I’m told that Mark Twain once said that the trouble with history was that it repeats.  It is surprising how much the events surrounding our public diplomacy and overall political communications mirror the trauma of the same in the 1940s and 1950s.  Sixty years ago, the House and Senate decried the poor quality of our propaganda and outreach, some of which, while good intentioned, backfired.  Today, among other problems, Jim Glassman’s confirmation as Undersecretary of State for Public Diplomacy is being held up for the same reason. 

Frank Gaffney, Jr., writing in The Washington Times, lets the cat out of the bag on why Jim Glassman has yet to be confirmed in the nearly sixty days since his confirmation hearing.  What’s the hold up?  The good Senator (R) from Oklahoma, Tom Coburn, wants a promise of more VOA into Iran, among other things.

You don’t suppose the Senator’s hold had anything to do with the President’s recent interview with Radio Farda.  Maybe it did, maybe it didn’t.  Regardless, here’s Gaffney:

As it happens, Radio Farda and its official U.S. counterpart, the Voice of America’s Persian Service, have reportedly engaged in recent years in practices that have raised questions about whose side they were on. Whistle-blowers and independent monitors have repeatedly warned that these agencies broadcast into Iran programming that actually advances not the cause of freedom, but the agenda of the Iranian regime that President Bush has correctly decried. Improvements have been made at Radio Farda by Jeff Gedmin, the new and highly regarded head of RFE/RL, but concerns about program content persist.

Such concerns have outraged Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, the ranking Republican on the Homeland Security subcommittee charged with overseeing U.S. international broadcasts. A champion of transparency in government, Mr. Coburn has for years sought to obtain transcripts of all Farsi-language broadcasts from those charged with managing the relevant radio services: the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG).

Unfortunately, understandable frustration that successive commitments to provide such transparency have gone largely unfulfilled, due to the unfunded cost of transcribing many thousands of hours of programming, has had a most undesirable result. Mr. Coburn has put a hold on the nomination of James Glassman, the current BBG chairman, to become what amounts to America’s combatant commander in the War of Ideas.

Sen. Coburn’s concern has an eerie ring of familiarity if we return to the debates behind something originally called Public Law 402 (4mb PDF).  Sixty years ago, Congress wielded the budget axe when it didn’t like what it was seeing and hearing.  Today, it’s a lone Senator.  Sixty years ago, Smith-Mundt was passed to fix our information systems in a divisive Congress.  Today, we have empty reports and a lone Senator preventing the filling of a position that is quickly becoming more marginalized with each passing day out of necessity.  Ok, so history doesn’t repeat itself completely, but we’re not done yet. 

Senator Coburn knows that we need to fix our information program, but holding Glassman’s nomination hostage isn’t the solution.  The Senator wants more promises that things will change, but he’s looking for a tactical change when a strategic restructuring is required.  Mr Gaffney is right that we’re disarmed in the war of ideas, but putting Glassman in office won’t be the missing link Gaffney suggests ("America’s combatant commander in the War of Ideas").  There is much more required here that Senator Coburn, as a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee can do, steps that his predecessors sixty years ago took that have since been perverted and distorted to become not the tool of engagement but a major hindrance.  Move from the tactical to the strategic Senator Coburn and you’ll find you’ll have broad support. 

It goes without saying there’s more to come on this.

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3 thoughts on “Where’s Jim Glassman? And was it enough for Sen. Coburn?

  1. Good coverage. Translation is not that difficult or expensive when you can find a college student or two. Things can be much simpler than they are…..

  2. God bless Tom Coburn for doing what no one else in the US has the courage to do–clean out the Voice of America. If you think Jim Glassman is “America’s combatant commander in the War of Ideas,” then you are carrying the wrong person’s water. Just ask one of the many VOA employees who tried to warn Jim about the anti-US fakes at Voice of America. Instead of helping, Mr. Glassman has turned his back on us. My friends at Voice of America tell me that most of the people in charge of the Persian channel don’t even speak Farsi. We Iranians can spot a fake when we see it. Why can’t you?

  3. IranFreedomFighter, thanks for commenting. To start, I did not say Jim Glassman is “America’s combatant commander in the War of Ideas”, Gaffney did. The State Department is simply not resourced to empower Glassman or anyone else to take such a lead. Second, I agree that VOA needs an overhaul, as does the BBG, but I disagree that holding Glassman’s nomination hostage is the best path to achieve that end.More interesting is how this debate parallels those of sixty years ago. There were substantial charges of incompetence against the State Department and its ability to wage the war of ideas back then. After cutting the information budget, Congress responded with the Smith-Mundt Act. More on that shortly…

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