The show must go on: American propaganda arm vows to hold the line in Afghanistan, but it's not yet clear what that line is

The US Agency for Global Media is “preparing for worst-case scenarios” as their journalists remain trapped in Taliban-controlled Afghanistan, but have put on a brave face, insisting they “won’t back down.” From what?

The US Agency for Global Media is “preparing for worst-case scenarios” as their journalists remain trapped in Taliban-controlled Afghanistan, but have put on a brave face, insisting they “won’t back down.” From what?

Rest assured, we will do anything in our power to protect [USAGM journalists],” acting CEO Kelu Chao vowed in a Sunday email to staff, as the Government Executive reported. The promise comes off as less than reassuring in light of video showing desperate Afghanis clinging to – and falling off of – the wings of aircraft fleeing Kabul. 

After all, it wasn’t the USAGM higher-ups who were stuck in a suddenly-hostile foreign country. Rank-and-file journalists – and the Afghan translators, drivers, and other functionaries who’d held their hands as they reported from the war-torn country – were the ones rushing for the exits.

Sure enough, one senior journalist with Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, a sister outlet of VoA, tweeted on Monday that he’d been left high and dry even as hordes of fellow journalists sought to interview him about the situation on the ground in Kabul.

While determined to “get the interview,” none of the 100 journalists who’d allegedly reached out to speak with Mustafa Sarwar were willing to actually stick their necks out to help him get out of Afghanistan.

While admitting the media organization has no real clue as to its goals in Afghanistan going forward, Chao insisted the USAGM will “not back down in our mission to inform, engage and connect Afghans in support of freedom and democracy.” However, the outlet already does most of its Afghanistan-related reporting out of Prague, and if the Taliban takeover is indeed putting its Kabul-based journalists “at extreme risk,” there would seem to be little reason to keep them there.

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But USAGM isn’t sure whether that is even the case. “No one knows ultimately what the Taliban’s approach to the media [is] going to be. They’re trying to present a different face right now,” RFE/RL president Jamie Fly admitted, pointing out that the Taliban hadn’t shut down RFE/RL and VoA transmitters “yet.”

I think a lot of people fear…that this is probably a charm offensive that could very well disappear.

We’re preparing for the worst-case scenarios and focused right now on just getting our people to secure locations where they can continue their work,” Fly said on Tuesday, seemingly bewildered that so far the Taliban wasn’t treating American journalists as his own organization treated some foreign correspondents at home. Indeed, aside from Twitter, US social media has already silenced the Taliban’s American-facing accounts.

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Given that 20 years of attempting to foist a uniquely twisted American form of “freedom and democracy” on the Afghan people has created the current catastrophe, it’s doubtful that a continuation of the status quo will be welcomed by the Taliban. And indeed, a spokesman questioned about the issue of women’s rights under Sharia law hit back by pointing out that US media – specifically Facebook – hasn’t exactly been a bastion of free speech for anyone whose opinions run counter to the official narrative. The US, they implied, has no business telling other governments how to do “freedom.”

But the Taliban has conspicuously not been lining up American journalists up against the wall and shooting them – as the CNN reporter famously described armed Afghani men behind her shouting “death to America” in a way that seemed “friendly.”

And one can hardly expect the truth about the US’ hasty exit from a propaganda organization run by the likes of Fly, a neocon bully who sees a Russian troll around every corner and a red under every bed. With the mien of a mincing cartoon supervillain, Fly once boasted that the mass censorship of American news sites critical of the establishment, which he proudly contributed to, was “just the beginning” of the purges to come.

Given that the Islamic fundamentalist group never wanted this war in the first place (they were willing to turn over Al-Qaeda head Osama Bin Laden to the US if Washington could provide proof of his culpability for the September 11 attacks), it’s unclear if the Taliban is ready to plunge headlong into another war. That's unless the US tries to roll its failed ground invasion into some kind of color revolution – after all, the constant bloviating about the plight of the Afghan women and children has NGO-bait written all over it.

But given the disastrous costs of this last war for the US – and the temptations that surely come with pouring thousands of Pentagon troops back into the country to “help evacuate” stranded citizens and allies – the Biden administration should avoid the siren call of its neocon members at all costs. No Cheney or Bush has ever cared about the fate of Afghan women and children – neither in 2001, nor in 2021. The sooner all American troops are out – including those fighting America's information war – the better.

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