Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Protecting Americans In Lebanon? Pants Around Ankles, I'm Afraid.

Considering the situation between Israel and Hizbullah (with a shaky, new Lebanese government caught in the middle), an appraisal of the situation could go many ways. It could focus on the roots of the conflict, the current goings-on or what will happen in the end.

I will offer a bit of that at the end, but I wanted to approach what I think is one of the most irresponsible parts of the situation at hand.

I think that the slow U.S. response to protect its citizens in Lebanon is nothing short of appalling.

As the situation in the region has developed over the past week or so, other nations with interests in the region (and more importantly people) have scrambled resources and manpower to get their people out of harm's way. To take one example, the Royal Navy has docked in Beirut to begin what is planned to be the largest evacuation of British nationals from a war-torn area since Dunkirk.

What is the U.S. government doing to protect its estimated 25,000 passport holders in Lebanon? Well, it seems more today than yesterday or over the weekend. With the help of the Marines and the U.S. Navy, 320 Americans have left Lebanon today. According to the plans publicized by Condoleeza Rice over the weekend, all Americans in Lebanon who want to leave will eventually be afforded the chance, as this is considered not an evacuation but a voluntary move on the part of the Americans in Lebanon.

Now, I understand that moving 25,000 people (or at least providing them adequate opportunity to move) is tough even in during peaceful conditions. Anyone who has tried to leave a large sporting event/concert will know what I mean. I also understand that people should be free to choose whether they stay or go (unless you are on embassy staff or otherwise engaged with the U.S. government; in that case, you are not calling the shots anymore. Hey, it's the life you chose).

I also understand that this is not a situation like Iran in 1979 where U.S. embassy staff was taken hostage and used as bargaining chips by a new, revolutionary regime. In that same vein, I also am fully aware of the fact that the overall beef is not with the Lebanese governmenty per se, but with Hizbullah. This would mean that we will not close the embassy, run down the flag and escape from the roof in a helicopter, a la Saigon in 1975.

What DOES disturb me, however, is how the government seems to be getting caught with its pants down so much recently. One only need look at the response to Hurricane Katrina/Rita to see that when the government says they have "contingency plans," don't put too much stock in this. With the recent track record of the U.S. government, we would do better to have Wal-Mart coordinate the planning of disaster relief than FEMA.

This is another case of the U.S. being caught with aformentioned trousers around ankles. As I conceded, this is not an easy thing to do, but we should have put the wheels in motion as soon as things began to heat up.

But Will, you say, you believe in limited government almost to the point of being an anarchist. What gives with you calling for government response? The answer is quite simple, really. One of the few things that I believe government SHOULD do is protect the lives of the people that it governs. That is a basic tenet of the social contract, no matter how you care to define it. Protection of life, liberty and property - that is the only proper functionl for government.

It is clear from the case of Lebanon (and others, no doubt) that the government seems monumentally bad at doing this. When a government cannot even protect its citizens in harm's way (no matter where they are in the world), something is greviously wrong with that government. What can be done? Just read the first two paragraphs of the Declaration of Independence...

But Will, you might also say, if these people choose to go to possibly dangerous areas, while it is their choice, why is it the government's responsibility to protect them? All I need say here is think about the alternate situation...travel restrictions on U.S. citizens. The government telling them where they can and cannot go, saying that the protection of the government is contingent on factors other than those agreed upon in the Constitution? Do we want that? I think you know the answer to that one.

To conclude, two speculations about the wider effects/impact of this brand spanking new chapter in the ongoing shitstorm in the Middle East. First, Iran must be loving this. A free (apart from the aid given sub rosa, you understand) proxy war against Israel. Ahmadinejad, I think, could not care who wins or loses. If Israel wins, well, another brick in the wall of Israeli mistreatment and hatred of Muslims. If Hizbullah wins (which it most likely won't. You can never underestimate the Israeli military. Ever.), his ally in the region is buoyed and could possibly take over an already unstable new regime in Beirut.

Secondly, in many of the news stories I read, Turkey comes across as a clearing house for the evacuation efforts and a point man in the region, especially for the EU countries. Could this help to tip the scales for Turkey's admission into the EU. I suspect not directly, but it certainly cannot hurt.

1 comment:

Matt Jenks said...

I think one problem is that this blew up much faster than anyone anticipated (like you said, never, ever underestimate the Israeli military). Usually these things go off with a car blown up by a Cobra helicoptor and a few rpg's launched at a police station. In a couple of days it's moved into occupation and continued, long-lasting firefights.

One other problem that you didn't mention is that one of the areas hit hardest earliest by the Israeli military was the airport. That leaves basically two evacuation routes: by land and by sea. Land is basically through Turkey, and they're resources are already stretched enough helping get the Europeans home. We can't go through Syria and the border with Israel is, well, in a war. That leaves the sea, and it takes time to get ships to port, even though we have several warships in the area.

Could they have done a better job? Maybe, but it is bureaucracy we're talking about. Sign here, stamp here and go wait in line. The could have used language, however, to make it sound more like a top priority to get things done.

Speaking of language. You said "shitstorm". Ummmmmm! We're telling.

I find it moderately disturbing (and amusing) that the top story on CNN for days has been the mikes picking up Bush saying "Shit" to Tony Blair. As if anyone could fault him for calling Hezbollah and their ilk "shit".