Slow-motion escape

No one has offered a satisfying explanation for why it is taking the United States so long to get its citizens out of harm’s way in Lebanon.

The world’s greatest superpower, with forces deployed throughout the Middle East for years, has been outmaneuvered by a number of countries whose citizens were quickly escorted to safety. The lack of effective planning is reminiscent of the intolerable federal response to Hurricane Katrina.

Instead of facilitating a streamlined exit, the U.S. State Department first tried to collect a departure fee from everyone asking to leave the war zone. It gave up recovering evacuation costs only after being hit with withering political criticism back home.

If this nation can’t afford to give a few thousand U.S. citizens a free ride out of danger, its priorities are wrong.

The United States is making huge investments in Iraq and Afghanistan. It has long given heavy financial support to Israel and Egypt. Had it anticipated the evacuation problem and been better organized, it could have been ferrying tourists to Cypress from Beirut a few days after the bombs began to fall.

There is an additional imperative for a prompt action. Iran’s Hezbollah party says it is preparing to attack U.S. interests around the world. These are the same people who took 52 Americans hostage in 1979.

President Bush is said to have given Israel the green light to continue attacking Hezbollah in Lebanon for another week. That means more bridges, highways and houses will be destroyed. It means more collateral damage and civilian deaths.

The State Department is refusing to call for a cease-fire until it can get one of “lasting value.” That may be the right military strategy, but it puts Americans abroad in great jeopardy. The United States has a responsibility to get its civilians out of the path of military operations, especially one this nation condones.

From all reports, Israeli bombardments will continue at least another week, which is how long the sluggish U.S. evacuation is scheduled to last. The last group of Americans wanting to leave Lebanon is scheduled to be shipped out next week, perhaps on the same day it becomes safe to stay.

Until then, the rockets’ red glare and bombs bursting in air will illuminate Americans still there long after prudence called for retreat.

From the Tampa Tribune