I’ve written before about a lack of professionalism and aimlessness that afflicts American government broadcasting into Iran. Alas, at Voice of America, it seems that the situation has gone from bad to worse. Its director Ramin Asgard, a veteran of the Foreign Service, appears to have embraced the State Department’s mentality that Voice of America should be a tool with which to build bridges toward the Islamic Republic of Iran, rather than use information to try to undermine the regime or shed light on its dark corners, something that was the basis of the Voice of America mission during the Cold War.
I had criticized Asgard before for a posting on the Voice of America (VOA) website in which a staff member he supervised wrote in a news report that American neoconservatives hate Iranians, something which is ridiculous, false, and unprofessional. Asgard neither apologized nor corrected the report; he has increasingly embraced the National Iranian American Council, a group whose founder wrote in a chat room that everything he does, he does for Iran.
In recent weeks, Asgard has systematically fired many of the Voice of America broadcasters and commentators who took a more dubious line toward the Islamic Republic. The result has been chaos in the newsroom, something which now the Islamic Republic’s press has picked up and gloats about. Kayhan, the newspaper most closely affiliated with the Supreme Leader, has gone so far as to predict who Asgard will next fire for criticizing Tehran.
Every coherent strategy should follow the so-called DIME paradigm: It should have Diplomatic, Informational, Military, and Economic components, each of which should be undertaken in conjunction with the other rather than in any artificial sequence. (Military doesn’t mean bombing; it can mean preparing for containment, or at least preparing for any action of last resort.) I have attended panels in which VOA or Radio Free Europe officials have argued that self-criticism builds credulity and equated editorial guidance—or adherence to an overarching strategy—as equivalent to censorship. Clearly, the Obama administration and, frankly the Bush and Clinton administrations before it, has not had any comprehensive or coherent strategy.
Given that the results of Asgard’s tenure are now clear, perhaps it’s time for the Congress to demand explanations and input: What is the purpose of VOA Persian? Why is the service blighted by so much chaos that authorities in Tehran now gloat? What is Asgard’s philosophy and what does he understand VOA’s purpose and goals to be? More broadly, perhaps the State Department can explain whether the goal of American diplomacy should be rapprochement with the Islamic Republic or, eventually, enabling the Iranian people to take matters into their own hands and, on their own, finally win freedom from their own internal oppressors.