By Alan W. Dowd
Borrowing a page from its Cold War playbook, Washington has launched new radio and television stations to help wage the global campaign against terror. Like Radio Free Europe, Radio Liberty and TV Marti, which beamed uncensored, pro-democratic news and information into the communist bloc, the US-backed Middle East Television Network is now broadcasting western-oriented news programs throughout much of the Muslim world. Aiming to counter Al Jazeera, the new network is called “Al Hurra,” which means Free One.
According to Harold Pachios, who heads a special US commission on public diplomacy, “the United States needs its own voice in the Arabic language.” He adds that, “The new network will provide a steady diet of the truth, backed by the American tradition of journalism, to open the Arab world to freedom and democracy.”
President George W. Bush helped christen Al Hurra by taping an interview expressly for the network, during which he laid out US plans to bring freedom to the Middle East, restated his support for a Palestinian state, and highlighted the coalition’s progress in Iraq. Excerpts of the interview were published by The New York Times.
Al Hurra, which has an annual budget of $62 million, serves as the TV complement to Radio Sawa, which was launched in 2002. Within weeks of going on-air, Radio Sawa became the most-listened-to station in several Middle Eastern countries.
In yet another sign of the administration’s commitment to transforming the Middle East, Bush will ask America’s European allies this summer to sign on to a wide-ranging plan to democratize and liberalize the same region that spawned Yasser Arafat, Ayatollah Khomeni, Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden.
Dubbed the “Greater Middle East Initiative,” the effort would bind the EU and US in pressuring Middle Eastern governments to embrace political, economic and social-policy reforms. In exchange, those governments that take the path of reform would receive more aid, lucrative trade opportunities and new military and diplomatic contacts.
The GMEI calls to mind Bush’s Millennium Challenge Corporation, which was put forward in early 2003 and promises to revolutionize US foreign aid by making assistance dependent upon a country’s fiscal policy, protection of civil liberties, commitment to deregulation, and openness to trade and investment. (See Under the Radar, March 2003.)
Floated through diplomatic channels over the last several months, the plan could be officially unveiled during a NATO-EU gathering or the G-8 summit next month, as the Washington Post has reported.
Of course, where there are carrots, there are also sticks. And thanks to a new agreement between Liberia and the United States, Washington will be using the big stick of the US Navy more proactively to protect the high seas and America’s coastlines from terrorist attack.
Under the agreement, the US Navy is authorized to board Liberian-flagged vessels that are suspected of hauling weapons of mass destruction or their precursors or delivery vehicles. Liberian shipping is being singled out because Liberia has the second-largest ship registry on earth. Weapons proliferators, terrorists, and other modern-day pirates have been known to use Liberian shipping to move their men and material. As the Wall Street Journal and other newspapers have reported, al Qaeda is believed to have more than a dozen ships at sea and moves its armada under a number of different flags to conceal crews, manifests, destinations and ports of origin.
The new US-Liberian accord is seen as an important part of the Proliferation Security Initiative, which was created in 2003 to improve how the US and its allies track suspicious shipping, interdict weapons transfers and disrupt maritime terrorism. The PSI has already scored successes intercepting North Korean and Libyan vessels. Liberia joins several NATO nations and Australia in supporting the PSI, which Bush has vowed to “extend…as broadly as possible to keep the world’s most destructive weapons away from our shores and out of the hands of our common enemies.” (See Under the Radar, December 2003.)
With Washington roiling over prewar intelligence lapses in Iraq, the Pentagon has announced plans to start using Army Green Berets as spies, in addition to their many other roles. Some might even be deployed in US embassies and disguised as American diplomats, as detailed in a report by Rowan Scarborough of The Washington Times.
The Pentagon’s goal is to improve the amount—and enhance the quality—of what intelligence agencies and military officials call “actionable intelligence” against terrorists and other “high value targets.” (Saddam Hussein was a high value target, as is Osama bin Laden.)
In other words, the main mission of these specially trained Green Berets would probably not be to infiltrate a foreign government and ascertain if secret weapons are hidden, although that’s a mission which certainly would have been helpful in Iraq. Instead, Green Beret spies would carry out many of the functions that CIA assets performed in the Afghanistan campaign, such as making contact with pro-US forces, performing reconnaissance and surveillance, building a rapport with locals, and paving the way for other Green Berets and Special Operations forces to move against a particular target. By bringing all of these functions under the Green Berets’ purview, it could improve the speed and effectiveness of their missions.
Published monthly in the American Legion Magazine, Under the Radar provides a snapshot of current challenges in international politics, U.S. foreign policy and national security.