- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 16, 2006

Public diplomacy in the Middle East

Helle Dale’s premise in her column (“Spreading the word,” Op-Ed, Wednesday) is a false one. Far from “lacking in strategic vision,” the Broadcasting Board of Governors had the foresight to recognize the importance of the Middle East as a target audience well before September 11.

The concept of Radio Sawa, an Arab-language pop music and news station funded by the U.S. government, was presented to the board in January 2001 and did not have to be invented from scratch when the war on terror began.

This was followed by Al Hurra television, which celebrated its second anniversary this week. The vision of the board to develop a strong broadcast presence in the Middle East has been realized with combined radio and TV audiences for Middle East broadcasting climbing from $1.6 million in 2000 to $35.7 million in 2005 and with ever-expanding use of our Web sites.

The column is right in one aspect: Despite recent increases, we are still living within budget constraints for fiscal 2007. The Bush administration and Congress have increased the broadcasting budget by nearly 45 percent since September 11, wiping out a 40 percent cut in funding during the 1990s.

However, the cost of strengthening our television services to countries targeted in the war on terror has forced us to make some painful choices in our proposed budget for fiscal 2007. One of them is to reduce English programming that has the lowest listening audience while keeping those, such as Special English (tutorial), English to Africa and English on the Internet that continue to increase their appeal.

The alternative is to shortchange services vital to the war on terror. Every member of the board regrets these reductions, but the board is unanimous in agreeing the priorities reflected in the budget represent the best allocation of funds.

KENNETH Y. TOMLINSON

Chairman

Broadcasting Board of Governors

Washington

A tepid response

As the Tuesday editorial (“Are Europeans going wobbly?”) notes, Europeans are once again showing incredible weakness in dealing with Islamist challenges both abroad and in their own midst.

Claiming that editorial cartoons published in a Danish newspaper offend the prophet, Muslims around the world have embarked on a weeks-long display of violence. In response to Islamic bullying, Franco Frattini, the European Union commissioner for freedom and security, offers a (typically European?) and milquetoast “solution” that would have the European Commission serve as a “political facilitator” in helping journalists and their editors impose self-censorship to appease Islamic fundamentalists, or as the editorial put it, “pretend that moral cowardice is actually social responsibility.”

But we know from experience that the cartoons are only the latest example of things that have the potential to offend the prophet Muhammad. Consider: women driving cars, women improperly covered, alcohol and the failure of Western governments to permit Muslims living in the West to practice (read impose) Islamic sharia law and many others.

All of these topics would be out of bounds for criticism if Mr. Frattini had his way. If the weeks of mayhem should have taught anything, it is that the standard European response of apologize and retreat will not work.

ROBERT BERRY

Montgomery Village

The dangers of a ‘living wage’

The D.C. Council’s Way to Work Act, a misguided effort that will impoverish the District’s destitute and plunge the city further into chaos, has torn a few pages straight from the Soviet playbook (“Maryland adds dollar to minimum wage,” Business, Jan. 18). Why stop at a “living wage” for employees of certain city contractors of $11.75 per hour? Why not $117.50 an hour? $1,175 an hour?

The reason, of course, is that the higher you force wages, the fewer people who will be employed. Ah, but $11.75 isn’t very high, you say. Right, for you, dear reader. However, whether you like it or not, there are people in this world who are not worth hiring at $11.75 an hour. Maybe they have no skills. Maybe they have trouble waking up in the morning. The point is that, if you mandate a wage of $11.75, the businesses of the city will not suck it up and share the wealth. They will simply move the jobs out of the District or never open the business at all.

Tragically, the victims of a “living” wage are precisely those among us who most need the jobs. You will not harm the K Street lobbyists or the Georgetown lawyers. No, this improvised economic destruction will squarely hit those on the bottom rung of the ladder. Well, they’re on the bottom rung today, but with the $11.75 pulling that bottom rung out from under them, they’ll be flat on their backs.

The council, perhaps trying to make amends for pulling the rug out from under the working poor, has another idea straight from the 19th century. The so-called “first source” law will require that city residents are picked first for jobs. This idea is based on the cynical idea that we shouldn’t pick the best candidate for a government job, perhaps because we really don’t care about quality of services. Rather, it sees government jobs as a welfare entitlement, to be handed out like candy. The next time you’re standing in line at the Department of Motor Vehicles with an indifferent, clueless bureaucrat, or the next time the newspapers expose the latest government ineptitude, you can be thankful that your representatives have done their very best to hand out vital city services to the lesser qualified.

Here’s a modest proposal: Give the truly poor a fighting chance by giving them the freedom to work wherever, whenever they like. And let our government hire the best people they can find. Then the council can get their heads out of the clouds and solve some real problems.

PETER ST. ONGE

Arlington

A wake-up call for port security

The Wednesday editorial “Arab-owned American ports?” and Frank J. Gaffney Jr.’s Tuesday piece “Port of entry” (Commentary) both raise the clarion call on national security with regard to a company from the United Arab Emirates taking control of six major East Coast U.S. port facilities. While at first blush this does raise serious national security concerns, a more careful consideration of the full implications of this transfer is in order. By focusing interest on port security, we as a nation may be able to finally address a key vulnerability, and we may be able to develop a valuable ally in the war on terror.

As Mr. Gaffney points out, in the four and a half years since the September 11 attack, we have seen fit to nationalize airport security, but we have done little to improve port security. This despite that the airline screening firms were U.S.-owned, and the Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Co., which ran the six ports in question, was British-owned. If port control was transferred to a U.S. entity, it is likely that even less emphasis would be placed on port security, as the transfer itself would have been seen as a positive step. With the United Arab Emirates firm assuming control of port operations, it may cause Congress and DHS to focus on port security long enough to enact meaningful measures for homeland defense.

Further, the United Arab Emirates, one of the more Westernized nations on the Persian Gulf, and the commercial entity Dubai Ports World, in particular, could be engaged as important allies in the war on terror. Anyone who has traveled to Dubai or Abu Dhabi appreciates how firmly capitalism is embedded in the country. A major company with part-government ownership would be a powerful partner in the anti-terrorism campaign, with connections throughout the Arab world, and a purely commercial interest in seeing that no harm comes to the U.S. East Coast.

Something needs to be done to improve port security, so if having a new foreign operator of those ports is the catalyst that brings about the change, so much the better. If that foreign power and its capabilities can be enlisted in the war on terror, we also stand to gain.

We just need to keep in mind the immortal words of Ronald Reagan, “Trust but verify.”

PETER LOCKE

Ashburn, Va.


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