As Lebanon has become a war zone, with Israeli airstrikes around Beirut and throughout the country, and heavy fighting in the south between Israeli army units and Hezbollah guerillas, many nations have ordered evacuations of their citizens. And they've been getting them out. Over three thousand Danes, along with very large numbers of French, Russians and others.
Except not very many Americans. Not that they aren't there, they just aren't getting out. It seems the same paralysis that affected our Federal government last year after Katrina (and still is, as refugees remain spread out over at least a dozen states, many still waiting for FEMA trailers that were promised last year), has defined our response in this emergency. And no, you can't just blame Israel for that either; They have allowed foreign ships to evacuate refugees, and other nations have had far better success in getting their citizens out.
Our response, in contrast, was not only to not get them out, but then to announce that they would be billed for the cost of an evacuation. Yes, that's right-- the law says to force people who are running for their lives trying to escape from a war zone to sign a slip of paper saying that they will be billed, before they can get out. And if they can't pay, then that's tough-- I guess they will be left standing on the dock with bombs falling behind them. So much for the notion that the primary duty of a government is to protect its citizens.
Luckily, after taking some real serious heat on this issue, the President waived the fee. A tad late, suggesting that in fact he wouldn't have if there had not been such a collective exclaimation of horror from across the nation:
The announcement came after stranded Americans, along with politicians and their families back home, expressed anger with the situation.
Some complained about the process and what they saw as the slow pace at which the State Department is evacuating Americans from Lebanon. Others were outraged that the evacuees were going to have to pay for the ride.
State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said the government would have charged evacuees commercial rates to take them out by plane or boat.
The Bush administration claimed that this was the result of a 1956 law. But it is actually in accordance with the administration's initial interpretation of that law. In past conflicts, Americans have not been billed for such emergency actions.
I can see, for example, billing someone who defies an evacuation order, either during a war, or for example ahead of a hurricane, if the direct result of their refusal costs the state money (i.e. having to extricate them later). I can see billing a lost hiker if their misfortune is a direct result of their own hard headedness (though not if it is reasonably not their fault, for example if they fall down a steep slope or get caught in a freak snowstorm). But the Bush administration take on the law is akin to if the government began billing Katrina survivors who are still in refugee camps for the ground they are sleeping on every night. Maybe I shouldn't get so sarcastic because with this crew, who don't believe the government should do anything for anybody if at all possible, they might just be dreaming up something like that.