State Department to US citizens in Beirut: show us the money

If you are a US citizen unfortunate enough to get caught in a war zone, don't expect much from the US State Department. Or at least don't expect anything if you can't pay for it:

A message to the American citizens in Lebanon:

The Department of State continues to work with the Department of Defense on a plan to help American citizens depart Lebanon. As of the morning of July 15, we are looking at how we might transport Americans to Cyprus. Once in Cyprus, Americans can then board commercial aircraft for onward travel. Commercial airlines provide the safest and most efficient repatriation options to final destinations.

The Department of State reminds American citizens that the U.S. government does not provide no-cost transportation but does have the authority to provide repatriation loans to those in financial need. For the portion of your trip directly handled by the U.S. Government we will ask you to sign a promissory note and we will bill you at a later date. In a subsequent message, when we have specific details about the transporation arrangments, we will inform you about the costs you will incur. We will also work with commercial aircraft to ensure that they have adequate flights to help you depart Cyprus and connect to your final destination.

Here's a reader on Andrew Sullivan's blog (h/t Boingboing):

I am currently enrolled in an intensive summer arabic program at the American University in Beirut, and am holed up at the university, probably the safest place in the city right now. Basically my choices have been to make a run for the border with Syria and try to catch a flight out, or wait for the USG to carry out the evacuation plan. Because I heard reports about the dangers of the former (and based on a statement by the American embassy), I opted for the latter. They are finally getting everything together today, but they dropped a little surprise: they are going to be billing us for giving us emergency transport to Cyprus, and then basically dropping us off on our own to get commercial flights back to the US. Most other goverrnments evacuating people here are actually flying them back to their home country without cost. But not the USG. They are perfectly happy to fund the World Toilet Summit (in Ireland, if my memory is correct) to the tune of $13 million or something. But 25,000 or so Americans stranded in the middle of a (quite unexpected) war zone? They better be ready to pay up if they want out.

How nice.

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Hmm, other governments really fly their citizens out for free? That seems pretty generous to me. I'm not sure I expect my government to fly 25000 people out of a war zone for free. And you'll note they didn't even want cash up front-- "we'll bill you", when a commercial airline would certainly want your credit card on the counter! I'm not saying charging for the flight is right or wrong, but it certainly doesn't surprise me.

Can't find any info on whether the UK government will stump up the cash if any of us need assistance but it does sound pretty bad. Not surprising at all though.

I have to say though, it's a bit of a stretch to say that Beirut is "a (quite unexpected) war zone". Surely every country in that region has had "Warning: Potential War Zone" plastered all over it for the past several decades...?

What's extra frightening is that the Bush administration will probably charge crony contractor rates.

You people are irrational in your hatred of the Bush Administration. You should all be diagnosed and treated for BDS.

Data point: The Swedish Foreign Department informs on their web site that "The Swedish government will pay all costs of transports for the evacuation from Lebanon to Cyprus or Syria. The cost for further transport to Arlanda and Kastrup will be paid by the Sedish government, in case it is not covered by the respective travel agency."

By Staffan S (not verified) on 18 Jul 2006 #permalink

You people are irrational in your hatred of the Bush Administration. You should all be diagnosed and treated for BDS.

I know what you mean. If anyone doubts this, just Ctrl-F for "bush" and witness all the derangement going on here.

Oh, pish tosh,AF, my hatred of Bush&Co is very rational: I love my country, therefore I hate those who deliberately starve it, wound it, sell it, and rape it.

They have always charged for evacuations and we heard the costs were excessive. I am suspect of the the billing procedure and offer of loans. In Eritrea they took everyones passport until they paid up.
We have always had a bug out plan which didn't include the US Government or Embassy when living outside the US.
Another point I don't hear anyone discussing is the number of "Americans" in Lebanon holding two passports. I venture to say that a huge number of these Americans are Lebanese citizens who at some point had been brought to the US on a refugee status, became citizens, and were repatriated (usually paid a good sum of money to do so) with an American passport in hand.
There are not 25,000 students, embassy staff, aid workers, or vacationing Americans in Lebanon.
This is not to say that any of them deserve to be stuck in a war zone. I just wanted to clarify that many of them are Lebanese citizens who are American citizens when the "bombs" hit the fan.


There is nothing irrational about this. There is no excuse for a government charging its people to be rescued from a sudden crisis.

If this had been a long-standing active fight, it might be another issue. But this area has been fairly quiet for more than a decade and there had been very few (if any) signs that this would occur or that it would reach the proportions it has. The fact that there are 25,000 Americans needing rescue attests to just how quiet it was prior to these events. It is doubtful there would be nearly so many of our people living, working, and/or visiting a war zone.

Any government which wants to charge its people for rescue in such circumstance is not (in my opinion) fulfilling the minimum qualifications of good government. This is (again in my opinion) an insult to the very fabric of what it means to be an American.

Our government has always prided itself on taking care of its people and getting them out of harm's way. The American military has the motto of "leave no man behind". This administration seems to have adopted the motto of "leave no man who can pay behind".

To be willing to go to almost any extreme and cost to bring back the body of a dead soldier is an honorable thing. Why then is the administration not willing to go to a third of the extremes and cost to bring back live civilians.

It is a sad day for the country when our leaders will not, regardless of who those leaders are.

-- Lenn


How long has this charging of citizens for evacuation been going on? Is it something that predates this administration? If so, then we need to lump Clinton, the elder Bush, and whomever else was in charge together with the current guys. And whoever started it needs to have an especially hot place in hell reserved just for them.

-- Lenn

I tracked U.S. State Department travel advisories about travel to Lebanon back to November 2004.

On all of these dates -- May 2, 2006; November 7, 2005;
April 21, 2005; November 18, 2004 -- the State Department was explicit about the risks of traveling to Lebanon, and used language similar to this:

"Americans have been the targets of numerous terrorist attacks in Lebanon. The perpetrators of many of these attacks are still present and retain the ability to act. [...]

"The U.S. Government considers the potential threat to U.S. Government personnel assigned to Beirut sufficiently serious to require them to live
and work under a strict security regime. This limits the movement of U.S.
Embassy officials in certain areas of the country. This factor, plus limited
staffing, may hinder timely assistance to Americans in Lebanon."

I am very glad that the U.S. government is making arrangements to help citizens leave Lebanon. And I am very glad the government is willing to rescue first, and bill later.

But these citizens took on the risks with their eyes open, and should pay or repay the government for its services.

This is just another example of a "moral hazard" problem. Compare it with the issue of government-subsidized flood insurance for people who choose to build houses in flood plains.

By Path Forward (not verified) on 18 Jul 2006 #permalink

Path Forward,

Warnings of terrorist activity are not the same as a general invasion by an army. The former effect individuals at specific locations, while the latter involve far greater risk and affect large areas.

In addition, the warnings usually don't advise people not to travel at all to those locations, but only to take precautions when doing so.

If US citizens did not travel to places where such warnings apply (either officially or unofficially apply), then Americans could hardly travel anywhere outside of North America and Western Europe. If they did not travel to these places, American business interests and the American economy would be damaged.

I see nothing in your post that changes my opinion in any way, but thanks for the input.

-- Lenn


Tell me, what's NOT to hate about the Bush administration? (I don't own any stocks.)

AF: What's "BDS"? As a matter of fact, what's AF?

Revere: can we have a new contest? I have any number of guesses, none of them nice.

By mary in hawaii (not verified) on 18 Jul 2006 #permalink

The evacuation procedures have probably been in place for too long to blame it on recent authorities. There are plenty of worse things to blame on them though.
A good thing to remember is that the State Department, the US Embassies, do not operate in foreign countries for the benefit of Americans living in or visiting these countries, with the exception of their staff which they take care of quite nicely.
Unless I misplaced my passport while overseas, or needed documents notarized, they are one of the last places I would go if I were looking for help.
In addition, State Department travel advisories are the last place I look when determining whether or not to travel to any country. They are weak and subject to opinion imposed by those in charge at the time.
In times of real crisis, as the situation in Lebanon has apparently become, it wouldn't hurt our government to provide travel to a safe haven without charge.
On the other hand people who chose to travel and live in countries on the edge of crisis need to take some responsibility on themselves for covering the cost of a quick and risky getaway. As for the Lebanese citizens who chose to return to their country under these conditions there is more to it but too much for here.
We were slated to go to Lebanon in 2002 for an extended period and were looking forward to it. It started to look like things were declining rather than improving and we didn't go. Had we taken that leap we would not have hung around long enough to watch the Israelis pound the airport. I suspect our State Department preferred not to make a big deal out of recent events so as to not "alarm" those people living in the region.
In real emergencies we would like to think our government is going to be there for us and they should be. Even if the intent was there they have proven that they often don't have the ability to pull it off.
I wouldn't bet my life on them.

Thanks Marcie. A sad (but evidently accurate) assessment.

-- Lenn

I think AF left off the 'M' from the BDS. But I don't really understand what he's driving at since the commenters here seem to be a pretty vanilla crowd.

Just to piss off the Americans here: *Poland* is evacuating its citizens from Lebanon for free. There will be about 5 flights from Lebanon, far less than the number required to evacuate 25,000 people -- but compare the GDP of the countries!

By Roman Werpachowski (not verified) on 18 Jul 2006 #permalink

Okie Dokie, the debate is whether anyone who was stupid enough to go to Lebanon in the first place? Yep, they were and now they want Uncle Sam to put the Navy within range of those same missiles that Israel is eating.

Should we do it? Questionable. Sure, they have the AMERICAN university there and there is now a NEED to repatriate our DUMB citizens. So who should be responsible is the question? Our government or the people who are there? This will not be a small undertaking and there simply are not enough helicopters to do it.

There is a BIG problem brewing folks and its the fact that these people cant leave because Beirut has had the run runway Durandaled with runway deprivation bombs. It will take about two weeks and a hell of a lot of dirt, sand and concrete to fill those holes (30 feet deep) Then it has to be recertified. Call it a month. They wont be leaving from that airport. So grab a cab, a visa and the American Express card and haul ass. The US has two carrier battle groups in the area and it would take weeks to get everyone out of there. No folks, the war warnings were posted and even though the mission is to protect American lives and citizens like Katrina you get the Hell out when you are told to.

I can see a situation where the US might have to move a Marine Amphib and/or helicopter carrier into position just to get them out of there if the Israelis start up country towards the Syrian border. So where would our people go? Damascus or Haifa. One is under fire and the other is going to be taking it soon. Whatever the case, you put yourself into harms way and sooner or later the demon is going to reach out and take you.

By the way Revere, that weapon used on the runway is designed to penetrate about 20 feet and then lift the runway out in chunks. Courtesy of Matra-A FRENCH weapons manufacturer. The Israelis dont buy their bombs from us... too expensive. So lets all speak French, talk out both sides of our faces, scream for peace while selling sophisticated arms to both. Yeah French. Wait till you find out that Iran has a bomb.

By M. Randolph Kruger (not verified) on 18 Jul 2006 #permalink

The cost for an airlift by helicopter folks to Cyprus for 25,000 people is only 48 million. Put it on the tab. For 48 million we can get the UN to send troops in and stop the killing. Gee, I feel better already.

One other thing guys and especially you Lenn, this policy of having the people pay for it is grounded in US Code Title 50 and has been in the State Department regulations since the Spanish American War. CODE NAMED OSCAR. Look it up on the State Dept website.

Lenn.None of this has happened in a vacuum and when the Israelis started packing up their 155's and heading north they weren't heading for a weekend in the South of Lebanon. In the military we are all told to be situationally aware at all times and anyone who works or studies there are told from day ONE that you are subject to kidnap, murder, drive by, drive by bombing and disappearance. Maybe even a beheading or two. Its like Katrina, they rolled the dice and lost and now they expect this Administration to ride in with the Marines and save the day...Again.

25 years ago those capabilities might have existed, now they dont. Call it a peace dividend. I call it stupid and stupidity is no longer a defense when you expect your government to come and get you off a rooftop in New Orleans or in a combat zone where there are an estimated 30,000 surface to air missiles. Especially when the warnings were up for two months. STUPID!

By M. Randolph Kruger (not verified) on 18 Jul 2006 #permalink

Ok, where to begin, Mr. Kruger. I suppose I'll just start at the top and work my way down.

People were not stupid by visiting or living in Lebanon. Beirut had been rebuilt and things had been relatively quiet there more several years. There were many people from a number of countries in Lebanon, doing business, getting educations, and living lives.

Here in Atlanta, we have a family trapped over there who just went to attend a wedding. No one had ever thought they shouldn't go. Yes, there were warnings about terrorists, but people with family over there seldom worry about things like that, since they have their families to guide them through the maze. There were many people like that. I doubt that 25,000 Americans would be there if anyone (including the US government) thought it was that dangerous.

To my knowledge there were never any "war warnings". Things moved too fast for that. If I'm wrong, please let me know the specific citations of where the war warnings can be found.

I now point out that runways are not the only way to get people out of the city. As far as I know the ports are still operational. The French, Greeks, and several other countries have each already moved nearly a thousand of their citizens out of Lebanon to Cyprus, and will be moving hundreds more during the next few days. The US, on the other hand has moved many fewer.

I am no fan of the French government, but a neutral observer would have to say that, so far, they are much better at getting their people out of this jam than are the Americans.

There is no need to go either to Israel or to Syria as long as the sea route remains open, which it likely will, because I don't see Israel closing it and stranding thousands of foreign nationals there.

As for Israel moving up into central Lebanon, this might be the best thing for Americans. As long as they were not killed accidentally when the Israeli army came through, they could expect significantly better treatment from one of our best allies than they could from anyone else. Also, the Israelis will not be shooting missiles behind their own lines.

Oh, and a final point. About Iran and the bomb. I don't know other people's positions, but I have said since 2002 that we should have gone after Iran rather than Sadam, because Sadam was contained while Iran was a danger both in terms of sponsoring terrorism and developing nuclear weapons. Since then, I have seen no reason to alter that opinion and many reasons to believe that I was and am right.

-- Lenn

State Departments posting for the entire area for years has been dicey at best. I sam sorry you have family stuck in Lebanon. And yes it is stupid to live in Lebanon where Hezbollah just issued a warning that all they need is the "green light" from their Supreme Council to attack not only Israels interests around the world, but the US as well. Our assets around the world are our people as we have gone from manufacturing to a service based economy so yeah its stupid.
Every company has a policy for bird flu, terrorists and war warnings in the area. The same applies for the State Dept. Some people opt to ignore it. State Department briefings are available on request from anyone who wants it. No one generally opts for it.

War warnings? AS I said, when the IDF starts packing their shit up for a deployment they are NOT going for a weekend at Bernies. These guys are badass and they do not telegraph the world that hey we are heading for Lebanon. The State Department briefing also touches on this if you want it. Its also based upon a need to know information. If you are going you can get it. Your people I am sure didnt ask for a briefing as they are required to do.

As for the ports staying open. Dont bet on it. Haifa may close along with their airport. These are not wussy missiles they are lobbing around. They have 1200 pound warheads some of them and they aint those bottle rockets you see some 15 year old whack job who thinks that this is the way to Allah is firing. This is full on governmental backing by Syria and Iran. As for that, we have Iraq on the left flank and Afghanistan on the right. We might be able to stop WW4 because of that. WW4 began when the WTC's went down. The Cold War ended with it. We might just be able to catch it in the boost phase before it hits Israel or Europe. They now have a 1600 mile 1500 pound warhead capability. 3 nuke tipped missiles and Israel is done. Want to talk about Lebanon after that?

If you need help getting your people out. Find their location, let me know where they are. I have friends in low places. Forget Lebanon. Its not going to be worth rebuilding after the IDF gets thru with it.

By M. Randolph Kruger (not verified) on 18 Jul 2006 #permalink

Mr Kruger: Poland has just finished evacuating its 220 citizens from Lebanon, via air.

So it can be done pretty fast if you want to. Even *Poland* can do it.

By Roman Werpachowski (not verified) on 18 Jul 2006 #permalink

You people are irrational in your hatred of the Bush Administration. You should all be diagnosed and treated for BDS.
Posted by: AF | July 18, 2006 10:02 AM

You're right, after the $400 billion spent on "operation freedom" or whatever BushCo. calls their Iraq project, American citizens in Lebanon not blinded by greed will surely understand that there just isn't any cash left over for them.

An hour or so ago the State Dept or Condi personally (the way CNN made it sound) decided that Americans being evacuated would no longer be asked to sign promissary notes. I'm not sure if that is letting everyone off the hook or not.

CNN is now reporting that two Republican US Senators are saying that the government will wave evacuation fees for US citizens in Lebanon.

MSNBC also reports all fees waived and travel from Cyprus will be taken care of as well. This was very, very bad press and Rice herself made the decision it is said.

Well the poo pooh as they say has hit the rotary grinder. I have sources who say that the IDF has started north in strength and is continuing their bombardment by air and howitzers. Target...Large blocks of known Hez personnel. There isnt going to be any culling of women and children. They are going to take them all out. I just hope that in desperation/exasperation Iran doesnt launch a missile attack on Israel. Syria too. They have the same missiles they have been feeding to the Hez. They have 3800 -1200 lb intermediate range ballistic missiles. The Syrians also have VX (Strange...didnt until Saddams regime went down. The Syrians have Scud B/C's which are fully capable of hitting Haifa, Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. Hows that work? Remmber, NO WMD? How many times have I mentioned VX? Might remind you that the two countries were run by two brothers until the 1930's when Lawrence of Arabia and four diplomats carved the country up and thats the reason you had and have BA'ATH parties in both.

Militarily since the Hez dont want to order a cease fire to their people, I would move up into Lebanon at all costs, eliminating as many of the Hez as possible. Secure the airport, repair the runway to accept fighters. Supply from the sea to the airport with enough stuff to ruin Assads day and then regime change in an invasion. Then under UN approval and sanction and implementation of a new government , go home. It will take Hez 20 years to recover from this one if they do at all. Wont change a thing, but it will as I said before tamp them down to an acceptable (and incapable of invasion) Hez. They might want to sit down and talk this time instead of massing for the third time in 30 years on the border with enough stuff to kill everyone in New York City. They were obviously looking at the pincer effect of Hamas on the S. Hezbollah/Syria on the N and to topple Jordan in a fast hurry for a third front. 1300 rockets have fallen in the last 24 hours on Israel. I want to know WHO is supplying those missiles. There aint that damned many fizzy factories on the planet.

Hez might have been able to knock Israel off until last Wednesday, not anymore. This war will end in about three weeks as they slog it north unless they want to go further. They could be in Damascus in a month. Terrible cost in people though on both sides.

By M. Randolph Kruger (not verified) on 18 Jul 2006 #permalink

Two soldiers=one country, interesting equation.

And why Israel would bomb all over Northern Lebanon, including the Lebanese Army, who they say should go after Hezbollah, is a mystery to me.

Evacuating citizens seems like a natural function of the State Dept., being that they are the ones who pay all those taxes, but don't have a lobbyist I suppose.

By Anon in WA (not verified) on 18 Jul 2006 #permalink

Hi Kruger,

Your knowledge of military procedure and Mideast regional politics is impressive. I still disagree with you about the wisdom or lack thereof of people deciding to spend time in Lebanon, but that is neither here nor there. I think it's a matter of perspective.

Thanks for your offer of help. They are not my family, but friends of friends. I will however pass along the offer.

My real point is and always was that I think it's morally wrong for Americans to have to pay their government to be extracted from a sudden crisis. Personally, I think that portion of the 1956 law that established the policy should be repealed. But, that is my opinion.

As for the number of missiles, it's obvious that they have been stockpiling them for years. Iran and Sudan have probably been buying them from France, Russia, China, North Korea, and any country and arms dealer who have them to sell. Remember, the arms business has never been a very nice or moral world. There are even American arms merchants who would gladly sell to these guys if only the US government wouldn't come down on them hard for doing so. Still, I'm impressed that they have that many.

I think the port of Haifa likely will remain open, simply because as the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) moves forward, it will become less and less easy for the Hez to be within range for many of their missiles. I say many, but of course not all. So, you could still be right.

And a Quick note to Anon in WA... It's not about the two soldiers. This is a preemptive strike designed to destroy the Hez's ability to fight, drain them of resources, kill their leaders, and make the point to Syria and Iran that Israel is not to be messed with.

It's possibly (and this is wholly my opinion with no verifiable evidence behind it) also intended to set the stage for a military strike by US-led forces (or perhaps the IDF) against Irans nuclear industry.

-- Lenn

Just a thought but could you not counter invoice the USG for putting US citizens in danger in vast tracts of the globe through their forign policy over the last few decades. If it had not pissed of most of the worlds muslims with unqualified support for Isreal. Had not armed the Taleban, Iraq et al when they thought they the lesser of two evils etc. etc. etc.
Where is it safe to wonder around in a stars and stripes T-shirt?
Where did the pilots dropping bombs on US citizens buy them? Are they flying MIGs or F15s? Where did the money come from, Jaffa orange sales?

JJackson, you could but it would only be paid in a Clinton Administration. You know, the lets get our arms around everyone in the world administration that cut the balls out of the military, cancelled 45 major projects and curtailed 15 others. If thats the case pehaps you can tell me where to send the bill for MCI and Enron. Both of those started on their watch. MCI never filed one income statement believe it or not and while Richardson was the Energy Secretary he sat as California's electric costs were being cheered in Enron HQ. Yeah, submit your bill and about those projects JJ. I think we are going to need them soon.

By M. Randolph Kruger (not verified) on 19 Jul 2006 #permalink