Congress Should Stop Using Taxpayer Money to Fund Radio Free Europe's Attacks on Our Allies | Commentary

Add Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty to the list of grievances about Congress’ and the administration’s use of America’s precious tax income. RFE/RL, together with Voice of America, cost American tax payers $750 million annually. Yet instead of the “objective news, analysis and discussion of domestic and regional issues crucial to successful democratic and free-market transformations,” it attacks allied nations that espouse these values.

The White House-appointed board of RFE/RL was termed “dysfunctional” by an inspector general. It called it hobbled by outright conflicts of interest and “a degree of hostility that renders its deliberative process ineffectual.” Yet there is no record of Congress taking action; and the reporting shows Congress’s attention is sorely needed.

Take Azerbaijan.

Here is what we know about Azerbaijan:

• Building an inclusive, tolerant society is a priority of Azerbaijan’s policy.

• Through the Ministry of Education, Azerbaijan joins international conventions on education, and establishes fruitful cooperation with international organizations.

• One of the first nations to join the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative, a major effort to bring transparency to global trade. The nation’s sovereign fund, the State Oil Fund, is widely recognized as one of most well-managed in the world.

• A proven friend of the American people that offered unconditional assistance to the U.S. within hours of 9/11, sent troops to Kosovo, Iraq and Afghanistan and is a crucial player with NATO operations in Afghanistan.

Azerbaijan was the first Muslim-majority country built on Western principles. It existed for 23 months and was invaded by and incorporated into the Soviet Union. During the collapse of the Soviet Union, Armenia, with materials and manpower from the Soviet Army, invaded the Nagorno-Karabakh region of Azerbaijan, occupied it, and it remains occupied by Armenia today. Moscow’s involvement in the conflict resulted in calls for independence, culminating in Black January, a massacre of pro-independence and anti-Kremlin demonstrators in Azerbaijan by the Soviet Army. Subsequently, the modern Republic of Azerbaijan emerged in 1991.

Since then, Azerbaijan remains open to women, to the West, and to minority religions. The people of Azerbaijan are better off today than they were 20 years ago, and polls show they believe they will be better off tomorrow.

Yet, RFE/RL projects an inaccurate and biased view. Congress would do well to note that between July 1 and Aug. 5, RFE/RL published 30 articles and videos about Azerbaijan. Not one celebrates Azerbaijan’s accomplishments. Instead, headlines such as, “Azeris Jailed for Life as ‘Iran Spies’” grace the website. No mention of pluralism, civil society, national and regional development, alliances with the U.S. and Israel.

Recently, Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., expressed how fortunate the U.S. is to have a stable ally in the Caspian region with a consistent track record of cooperation. He called it “encouraging” that Azerbaijan emerged from decades of communist rule on a path toward economic prosperity and freedom. The members of Congress expressing the same sentiments is long and distinguished — members that must pay attention to RFE/RL.

Yet Congress lets RFE/RL publish what it wants, further harming the U.S. in the international arena, at a time when the U.S. is engaged in air strikes in Iraq and strained relationships in the Middle East. RFE/RL is our voice to these nations; we are speaking against ourselves.

Congress must take action to control its own radio station/website before we strain a much-needed relationship with Azerbaijan and send wrong messages to our enemies. In contrast to attacks on Azerbaijan, there is nothing of consequence under the Armenian section. Azerbaijan and Armenia, increasing at odds over Azerbaijan’s region of Nagorno-Karabakh has been covered, but that is about it.

Armenia’s best friends are arguably the U.S.’s most challenging adversaries: Russia and Iran. The country has been given multiple opportunities to turn toward the EU and the West, but it hasn’t. And it’s likely to happen now that Armenia’s President Serj Sarkissian abruptly abandoned talks with the EU and pledged to join Putin’s Customs Union.

Where is RFE/RL’s pressure against America’s adversary, Armenia?

I remind Congress that RFE/RL was established as an American propaganda machine, chiefly against the Soviets and their satellites. That was fine — it worked. Now Congress keeps it running, but its reporting reflects that it has lost sight of its purpose.

In a time when the U.S. is recovering from an economic downturn, American taxpayers would be justified in taking a hard look at the millions Congress is allocating to RFE/RL. It would behoove Congress to bring RFE/RL back to its core goals.

Maayan Jaffe has been a journalist for 19 years. She is a former breaking news editor for The Jerusalem Post, former editor-in-chief of the Baltimore Jewish Times, and current senior writer/editor for Netsmart.