Bad reception

Bad reception – massive U.S. propaganda radio relay station planned in Israel

Jeffrey Denny

Another Cold War invention lives on: A U.S. government panel headed by capitalist scion Malcolm Forbes Jr. is pushing hard to build a massive, $300 million radio relay station in Israel’s Negev Desert to broadcast prodemocracy propaganda.

The project was conceived in 1985 to fight communism in the Soviet Union with Voice of America, Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty programs. But political winds change, and the Forbes-chaired Board for International Broadcasting now emphasizes a new rationale: fighting the influence of Islamic regimes in Central Asia.

“Central Asia is a critical area in the world,” says John Lindburg, the board’s general counsel. Many former central Soviet republics, which include Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Kazakhstan and Kirghizia, are “very unstable, where democracy may not take root. Islamic extremists or others may take the upper hand,” he adds.

To others, the project is like the Strategic Defense Initiative – a weapon in search of a whatfor. Some question whether the station will be powerful enough to reach Central Asia, and believe its shortwave broadcasts could become obsolete once new communication satellites are launched. Sources on Capitol Hill say Secretary of State Lawrence Eagleburger and others in the Bush State Department oppose the project for various reasons.

Lindburg says it’s unclear yet where the Clinton administration will stand. But opponents on Capitol Hill view a measure in the 1993 Soviet aid bill requiring that Congress be notified before construction begins as an opportunity to kill the project next year.

“You may not be aware that many members of Congress now believe that this project is unnecessary and wasteful, with great potential for harm,” Rep. James Scheuer (D-N.Y.) and several other U.S. law-makers wrote to Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in September.

In addition, a presidential panel appointed to advise the U.S. Information Agency (USIA) – the Commission on Public Diplomacy – concluded in a recent report, “There is no longer a persuasive rationale for a massive shortwave transmitter station in Israel…. With the end of the Cold War … the U.S. should terminate this troubled, long-delayed project.” Behind the scenes a bureaucratic turf battle has been roiling between USIA – which wants to build a new Voice of America station in Kuwait – and the Forbes board, which oversees Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty.

Why does the project live on? One factor is Forbes’s lobbying in Washington and personal influence with the Bush White House. Forbes is “quite close” to Vice President Dan Quayle, a Forbes magazine spokesperson says; Marilyn Quayle was a guest star at a 1992 GOP fundraiser at his late father’s Far Hills, N.J., estate. Forbes has the title of the magazine’s editor in chief

Many Israeli citizens are concerned that the station’s electromagnetic emissions could endanger nearby farms and families. Environmental activists believe the radio towers – some would be 70 stories tall – would affect millions of migrating birds. A majority of the Israeli parliament opposes the project. Israeli military commanders worry about possible electromagnetic interference with aircraft electronics. The project is officially on hold pending the Israeli government’s review of environmental impact studies ordered by the country’s Supreme Court in 1990.

Meanwhile the domestic fury creates a sticky diplomatic problem for the new Rabin government. Anxious to ease U.S.-Israeli tensions that developed under his predecessor Yitzhak Shamir and under what sources say was pressure from President Bush, Rabin has vowed to honor his predecessor’s agreement to erect the facility.

Opponents in Congress, however, assure Rabin that he doesn’t have to accept it.

“Termination … will not harm U.S. interests nor weaken the bond of friendship between our two nations,” the Scheuer letter notes. “We have never considered this project as part of Israel’s foreign aid package,” the largest such package the U.S. gives out.

Was That a Yes, No or Undecided? While political pollster David Hill was conducting a focus group session in Louisiana, one member “became so disgusted with the views of a woman in the group that he rose up from his chair, turned, dropped his trousers, and |mooned’ her. Needless to say, that raised the temperature in the room several degrees and ended most of our productive discussion.”

What Were They Thinking? There they were, hundreds of the Republican Party faithful (or is that “fateful”?) gathered to watch election returns at the Washington Hilton – the place where former President Reagan had his unfortunate encounter with John Hinckley. Emceeing the event was – we’re not making this up – Ray Combs, host of the television game show “Family Feud.”

Now Here’s Something to Look Forward To. Among the three dozen or so politician wannabes attending a five-day Candidate Career Development School recently were a 14-year old former volunteer for Pat Buchanan, a 22-year-old from Massachusetts who’s considering a move to South Carolina to further his political ambitions, and a College Republican leader from Texas whose favorite topic of conversation is “this great nation of ours.” Twenty-year-old Alexander Umlauf plans to run for the White House in 2012, after two terms as governor of Michigan. To help himself get there, he’s staying clear of drugs. “I’ve told my friends |no,’ just in case I went into politics,” he says.

If This Had Been a Real Campaign Commercial…. Thanks to one of the more, ahem, creative campaign tactics we’ve heard of, at least some of the television viewers in Georgia’s 9th congressional district missed state Sen. Tom Ramsey’s 30-minute campaign commercial. Aired on the eve of Ramsey’s runoff election against fellow Democratic state Sen. Nathan Deal, the half-hour spot was immediately preceded by a 60-second “test pattern,” which also featured a high-pitch audio tone. Many viewers, thinking the station had gone off the air or was experiencing those proverbial “technical difficulties,” switched channels. In fact, those 60 seconds had been purchased by Deal, who won the runoff with 55 percent of the vote and was elected to Congress November 3.

Annoy the Media, Don’t Follow the Script. President Bush did just that when he made a late-campaign breakfast stop at a Spartanburg, S.C.. waffle house. According to an account in the Washington Post, ABC News couldn’t use the waffle house footage unless it also had film of Bush saying something that would link waffling to his political opponent. Correspondent or is it scriptwriter?) Ann Compton dropped a few hints to presidential handiers Marlin Fitzwater. Torie Clarke and Mary Matalin. Sure enough, later that day Bush said, “We had breakfast at the Waffle House. Little symbolism there.” But apparently the Bush-speak wasn’t good enough. “It’s still not quite right,” a frustrated Compton told Clarke.

More Fore Years. Houston event organizer Yvonne Fish was left holding the bag after state Republican Party officials canceled a $2,500-a-duffer golf tournament that touted Vice President Dan Quayle and former President Gerald Ford as honorary co-chairs. After Fish spent some 20,000 to promote the event – mailing 13,000 invitations and buying GOP-emblazened shirts, caps, towels and trophies – only 10 people signed up for the late-September event. Guess they figured they’d have plenty of time to play golf after the election.

“Optimist Club” Is Already Taken. One quiet victim of the GOP’s ideological civil war this year was the 92 Group, a caucus of moderate House Republicans formed some 10 years ago to develop kinder, gentler policy alternatives. “They really just vaporized,” says one aide, mostly because the 92 Group was named after the year Republicans were going to seize control of the House. That chance gone, some GOP moderates want to form a new group – with a more timeless name, of course.

COPYRIGHT 1992 Common Cause Magazine

COPYRIGHT 2004 Gale Group