Tuesday, July 18, 2006

The Miracle of Privatization, Pt. CCLXIX 

Now that's what we call a seller's market:
Thousands of Americans whose vacations and business trips to Lebanon have degenerated with sickening speed into stints in a battle zone remained stranded here under Israeli bombardment Monday, their frustration and anger mounting because the U.S. government hasn't gotten them out faster . . . .

The frustration has been intensified by news that other countries have already pulled many of their citizens out of Lebanon, efficiently and free of cost. A ferry chartered by the French government carried about 800 of its citizens and several dozen Americans to Cyprus on Monday. The U.S. military evacuated about 60 Americans by helicopter Sunday and Monday.

Other nations have packed people into rented tour buses and driven them over the mountains to Syria. The U.S. State Department has warned Americans against traveling to Syria.

The main U.S. evacuation plan involves a Pentagon-contracted cruise ship, the Orient Queen, due to arrive in Lebanon today to ferry people to Cyprus. The ship can carry about 750 passengers for the five-hour trip. Defense Department officials said other private ships were likely to be hired as well.

Americans have been told to wait for a telephone call that could come in hours — or days. They've also been told they can't board a ship unless they've signed a contract agreeing to repay the U.S. government for the price of their evacuation.

The rules have angered Americans who are already fatigued and nervous after days of explosions. "I'm freaked out that our government is treating us this way," snapped a Rutgers University student who had been studying Arabic at the American University of Beirut. She declined to give her name for fear she would be taken off the passenger list in retribution for criticizing the evacuation effort.
In retrospect it seems remarkable that the survivors of Katrina, despite being mostly destitute, were not asked to recompense the can-do crew at FEMA for the cost of the three Carnival cruise ships they leased to evacuate refugees from the drowned city of New Orleans. (We are reliably told, however, that evacuees were held responsible for their own shuffleboard fees.) No doubt the general uproar over that hastily-awarded no-bid contract -- $236 million for six months' rent on the Holiday, the Ecstasy, and the Sensation -- played some small part in the adoption of the Pentagon's new cash-up-front ticket policy.

And needless to say, the latest evacuation is a matter of rather less urgency. The bombs, after all, are Israeli, and the very last thing we want is to be perceived as "crowding" the Israeli self-defense effort. On the other hand, if American civilians were at risk of being blown to bits by terrorists, or evildoers, we are quite sure the Bush administration would not hesitate to do a swift-and-decisive Grenada on their collective ass.

Or maybe invade Iran.

UPDATE: Our stouthearted colleague the Fixer at Alternate Brain had us beat like a rug on the Grenada reference.

UPDATE II: We are too young to remember the Maine (and the Gulf of Tonkin, just between us, is getting a little foggy), so when it comes to casūs belli, we trust our leaders implicitly. Alas, we fear the same cannot be said of our distinguished colleague Martin Wisse, here expanding on Steve Clemons's remark that a luxury liner full of AmeriMartin Wissecan civilians makes a big, slow, and extremely tempting target:
Were such a strike to happen, Hezbollah would be blamed for it no matter what the truth was and Bush would've his pretext for his war with Iran. So might not this cruise ship be chosen exactly because it's such a tempting target for a hotheaded Hezbollah follower? Hezbollah has the equipment to seriously damage ships, as shown just last week and a cruise ship is both a much bigger and much more vulnerable target. Or, if Hezbollah doesn't bite (and they're not stupid), it would be easy enough to arrange something . . .
Our question: if the Orient Queen goes down, in either a LIHOP or a MIHOP scenario, do the paying customers get their fares refunded?

UPDATE III: Dept. of Good News/Bad News:
Members of Congress voiced outrage . . . .

"We've spent hundreds of billions of dollars in Iraq, we've paid Halliburton money that they haven't even earned, and yet we charge individual Americans who are caught in the crossfire in Lebanon for their transportation costs to get out," said an outraged House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.

Tuesday night, the State Department announced that it would waive the fees. Spokesman Sean McCormack said in a statement that the decision "removes one potential worry for our citizens at this difficult time."

Vice Adm. Patrick Walsh, commander of the U.S. Fifth Fleet, defended the evacuation efforts, but he acknowledged that the evacuation didn't get under way until six days into the crisis.

Asked at a Pentagon press conference about the possibility of Hezbollah attacks on the operation, Walsh said: "I'm concerned about attacks on ships - you bet."

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