A statement on the US State Department's website earlier this week read:
No Payments Required of American Citizens Departing Lebanon
In this extraordinary case, Secretary Rice has directed the State Department to waive the requirement for American citizens departing Lebanon to reimburse the United States Government for their travel costs.
There are, according to news reports, some 25,000 Americans in Lebanon. The question is: What the hell are they all doing there? I'll tell you what they're not doing. The are not in Beirut with Jimmy Carter doing Habitat for Humanity work.
Beirut has been one of the fastest-growing cities in the region. According to a BBC reporter writing in December 2004:
We want to do everything we can to facilitate the departure of American citizens from Lebanon. Today's step removes one potential worry for our citizens at this difficult time.
The shops have been taken over by the most exclusive and expensive international outlets. Many of the streets where the souks were are now jammed till the early hours of the morning with busy pavement cafes and restaurants.
And, in a report following the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik in February 2005 the BBC wrote:
There are similar transformations all over town. New hotels, restaurants, beach clubs and vast, gleaming shopping malls have sprung up.
Beirut [which] has been pulling in record numbers of visitors, is beyond the average backpacker budget. Most tourists are Arabs from Gulf states on "high-end, high-spend" holidays. It became particularly popular as wealthy Arabs steered clear of the US after [9/11].
So, twenty-five thousand Americans were looking for investments, working on behalf of investors, or vacationing - in short, making or spending money on their own behalf.
This eruption is not like a volcano, a tsunami, or a hurricane where no one could possibly have predicted what was going to happen. Americans who are in Lebanon knew - or should have known - what the dangers were.
The US State Department has on its website, the following:
Recent events in Lebanon underscore the need for caution and sound personal security precautions . . . Since February 2005, there have been 15 separate bombings in Lebanon, resulting in ten dead and 121 wounded.
Americans have been the targets of numerous terrorist attacks in Lebanon in the past. American citizens should thus keep a low profile [and]should also pay close attention to their personal security at locations where Westerners are generally known to congregate. . .
Well, DUH, Mr. Mullings. Don't you think, given what's been happening over the past two weeks, it makes sense for the US State Department to issue that kind of warning?
I do, indeed. Except that was posted on January 20, 2006 - exactly SIX MONTHS AGO.
There are no commercial flights into or out of Beirut, but to get a sense of what this would otherwise cost, an Orbitz.com search shows a roundtrip fare of $2,035 on Delta from Baltimore-Washington Airport to Tel Aviv and back.
Assuming a one-way fare is half the round trip (I know that's not true, but bear with me) that's $25 million not including food on the way to, and while in, Cyprus nor housing while waiting for a flight to the US.
Here's my idea du jour: In return for a free trip to Baltimore paid for by American taxpayers in places like Marietta, Ohio 45750, the refugees from the "most exclusive and expensive international outlets" in Beirut should surrender whatever unused tickets they have.
The State Department should hand those tickets over to, say, the Salvation Army which would, in turn, make them available to the families of wounded American service members.
The families - because we KNOW the airlines will participate in this - would then be able to use those tickets toward the cost of visiting their loved ones in Landstuhl, or Walter Reed, or Bethesda Naval Hospital.
That would be a good deal for all.
On the Secret Decoder Ring Page today: Links to all the State Department sites noted above and a link the BBC website about the growth in Beirut. Plus a Mullfoto of me practicing to create podcasts of Mullings and the WINNER of the Thought-Balloon-Over-Clinton's-Head contest