September 11, 2001 : Attack on America
Representative Lantos' Statement on Fighting Terrorism Before the House International Relations Committee; October 19, 2001

10 October 2001

Representative Lantos' Statement on Fighting Terrorism

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

The U.S.-led international military campaign launched Sunday against Osama bin Laden, his al-Qaeda network and his Taliban protectors represents the first step in a long, difficult and costly struggle against terrorism. If September 11th was Pearl Harbor, October 7th was D-Day -- the beginning of the end of international terrorism. Our forceful counterattack demonstrates that the terrorist acts of last month have not paralyzed us they have galvanized us.

Winning the war against terrorism will require more than military might, however. It will also require that, among other diplomatic and economic initiatives, we launch a concerted campaign to win over the people of Afghanistan and others around the world who are subjected to a daily barrage of misinformation and hate. The war against terrorism will be fought in the air, on the land, on the seas -- and in the airwaves.

In many respects, however, the United States and our allies are losing the battle of the airwaves. We are literally being out-gunned, out-manned, and out-maneuvered on the public information battlefield. For years, the Taliban has showered Afghanistan with their hateful propaganda via Radio Shariat. These insidious messages echo throughout the Middle East and South Asia as fringe organizations and mainstream media alike spread their anti-American venom. The mass riots we see in the streets of Indonesia, Pakistan and other nations is proof positive that we are losing this aspect of the war.

Of course, the broadcasting of hate is not new. From Goebels' Nazi propaganda machine to the hate radio broadcasts in Rwanda during the Tutsi genocide, repressive regimes have used misinformation campaigns to terrorize, manipulate, and provoke civilian populations. Osama bin Laden himself has taken a page from this playbook, manipulating Arab media to further his evil ends.

It is time the United States strike back by strengthening and intensifying our public diplomacy efforts. As a teenager living in Hungary during the Second World War, I recall fondly the inspirational and liberating broadcasts of the Voice of America, and can testify personally to the dramatic effect these radio programs had in providing hope to a captive people. With the proper commitment of resources and energy, public diplomacy works.

But since the end of the Cold War, the United States has woefully neglected our public diplomacy efforts. International information and, broadcasting budgets have been vitiated over the years, and the merger of USIA and the State Department may have further complicated our public diplomacy efforts. After nearly a decade of neglect, we are today suffering the consequences of chronically underfunded, public diplomacy.

The amount the United States currently spends on international broadcasting is a paltry and shameful sum. Today, we are spending little more than $400 million per year. By comparison, the BBC Worldservice --broadcasting on behalf of a country one fifth the size of ours -- receives almost the same amount in public financial support. And to truly put things in perspective, if Americans are willing to spend $2.2 billion for chewing gum and $75 billion for cigarettes each year, as we currently do, then surely we can afford to spend significantly more on international broadcasting.

It his high time this Congress and the Administration took public diplomacy seriously. Last month, the Congress appropriated $40 billion in emergency funds for waging the war on terrorism. Today I call upon President to allocate from these new funds whatever is required to dramatically increase U.S. broadcasting in Afghanistan and throughout the Arab and Muslims worlds. We must not shortchange this vital account and rob the State Department and our broadcasting agencies of the resources they need to carry out this important fight. The time for bold, decisive action on this crucial front of the war on terrorism is now.

Some Members have proposed the creation of a "Radio Free Afghanistan", a concept I support. But establishing a new broadcasting service from scratch will take time.

As we build infrastructure, listenership, and credibility for a Radio Free Afghanistan, we must expand upon the current capabilities of Voice of America and RFE/RL, which have made important inroads into Afghanistan especially. Some polls indicate that up to 80% of Afghan males listen to VOA's Pashtun, Farsi and Urdu services. We must build upon this success - not abandon it for a new, service that will take months, perhaps years, to establish.

Public diplomacy entails more than broadcasting, however. We must also increase cultural and educational exchanges with the Middle East and, South Asia, and also promote educational programming to Afghanistan, Pakistan and other countries that lack access to basic education.

As I have said before, the war on terrorism is like no other America has ever waged, and will require all that we as a people can muster. Public diplomacy is one arrow in America's quiver in this war. It is time we use it.

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