Saturday, July 15, 2006

Socked In At Foggy Bottom?

Joanne Nucho thought she would be spending her summer in a safe Western-style city when she headed off to Beirut, Lebanon, to study Arabic as part of her doctoral program at UCLA. The city is hip and urban, with many comforts of home — there's even a McDonald's across the street from her school, American University in Beirut, and several Starbucks stores nearby.

But suddenly she finds herself huddled in a college dormitory with 40 other Americans, trapped in the middle of an undeclared war and fearing for her life.

"I've never been this scared in my life," she told by phone Friday afternoon (the middle of the night in Beirut). "... Two hours ago I was curled up in a corner crying. The sound of the bombs are shaking me to the bones. My whole body is in trauma. ... As an American you never experience things like this. You see it on TV, but it's nothing like this."

Nucho, 27, is one of several hundred U.S. residents studying abroad this summer at the American University in Beirut, a school accredited in New York state that has about 7,000 students, most of them from Middle Eastern countries.

Nucho is one of about 40 students in the summer Arabic language program, many of whom have been huddled in a university dormitory since fighting between Israeli forces and Hezbollah guerrillas broke out Wednesday.

Reached via cell phone about 3 p.m. ET, Nucho said that before heading to the lower floors of the dormitory, she spied a battery of warships just off the coast in the Mediterranean Sea. All night, rockets from the ship soared over the school, she said.

"The ships are all about a few hundred meters from my balcony," she said. As rockets fly overhead, "The sound is awful."

The group is holed up in a low floor on the dormitory, one that is "not a proper shelter," she said. She has access to clean water and some food she bought at a local store during the day, but not much. There are no school officials nearby, so the students are running the shelter operations by themselves.

"It's literally being run by 19-year-olds," she said. "We don't know what to do."

"I just want to go home," she added.

Prospects of that aren't good right now. Beirut airport, about 10 miles south of the school, is closed, bombed earlier this week by Israeli warplanes.

"There aren't any ... reliable ways to get out by air, land or sea," State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said Friday. U.S. citizens are being told to "assess what is best for their own personal security."

Nucho said so far she has heard nothing from officials at the U.S. Embassy in Beirut, which is about 20 miles from her dorm.
For those interested in hearing Nucho's fear as she's caught in the middle of an escalating conflict, the link is here; scroll down to the middle of the page.

Her account is not unique. Here's part of an email Glenn Reynolds received from a reader:
The U.S. embassy has been anything but helpful these last few days. When I finally got through to a human being last night he told me the embassy was closed, to try back tomorrow, and made me feel that I was crazy for even asking about an evacuation plan. Needless to say I spent the night terrified listening to fighter jets and bombs and awoke to an endless busy signal whenever I call their number. This is a common experience among all other Americans I've run into here.
I'm no expert on the State Department, so I defer to others like this blogger, who is a particularly valuable read at times like this...but just what the hell is going on here? American citizens are caught in a combat zone, embassy phones aren't being picked up, and a State Department spokesman in tranquil Washington is giving breezy advice about how American citizens should fend for themselves. Is State suffering from Katrina Syndrome or the effects of a Treasury-redux gutting? The latest example of our resources stretched too thin because of Iraq? Or are we so determined to give Israel carte blanche that the safety of our own citizens has become irrelevant, while Israeli citizens are able to seek safety in bomb shelters?

I know this blog has readers at State and in the foreign service, and emails with any insight into this will be kept confidential.


Blogger Old Lady said...

When I saw this on the news tonight my heart fell. I do not like this one bit, not one bit.

7/15/2006 1:12 AM  
Anonymous Mr. Hedley Bowes said...

This is the government that Grover Norquist promised: drowing in a bathtub. From the Israeli side, it's what's left of our tax dollars at work.

Happy shopping.

7/15/2006 2:09 AM  
Anonymous Mimikatz said...

It's the YOYO policy--you're on you're own, aka the "ownership society"--in action on the international front. The Bush cabal really doesn't care about ordinary Americans (let alone foreigners) caught in the wrong place, and that should have been evident by now.

7/15/2006 11:14 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Welcome to the compassionate conservative us government.
We help millionares, billionars and corporations, and support ANYTHING that the Isreali government wants to do, for the live of an isreali citizen is important to us while that of an arab is worth nothing.

Every citizen that does not fit in the above list is on his own and don't bother us, for we have better things to do than responding to us citizens calls for help.

7/15/2006 12:22 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You didn't think this Administration's incompetence was purely domestic, did you?
I've no doubt that ANY agency within the Federal gov't that could be called upon for a given situation would fail utterly and totally. Much of it has been reported, but in isolation so it is hard to connect the dots which, of course, is by design.
Such is the extent of the Bush administration's destruction of the U.S. government structure.

7/15/2006 3:31 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

No no. It's OK here because, you see, these people are part of "liberal acedemia" they're probably just like their titular head Ward Churchill and hate America therefore there is no responsibility to help.

7/15/2006 5:38 PM  
Blogger semper fubar said...

What better way to suck the US into the war against Lebanon, Syria and ultimately Iran than to have a bunch of "innocent American students" killed in Beirut.

I've stopped underestimating what these Republicans will do to achieve their ends. And government incompetence can serve its own purpose sometimes, just like on 9-11 when the FAA and NORAD couldn't seem to do their job.

7/15/2006 6:39 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

General incompetence, combined with lack of resources.

7/15/2006 7:33 PM  
Anonymous antonie said...

My heart goes out to those 19-year olds. By the time they're done with all this they'll have learned so much more than they ever bargained for. I hope they remain safe.

As far as the U.S. Embassy in Lebanon, isn't one of their functions to protect and evacuate U.S. citizens in that country in times of danger? What do they mean, they're closed in the midst of a raging war? They should be working 24/7 right now and they should stay in that country until all ordinary U.S. citizens are safe.

7/15/2006 7:36 PM  
Blogger semper fubar said...

Connect the dots, antonie -- the embassy doesn't WANT to protect American citizens in Lebanon, or else they would. Now, ask why not?

7/15/2006 8:31 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"they're closed in the midst of a raging war!!!"

This statement is taken from the previous comment.

In order to have a war one needs 2 armies. Lebanon does not really have an army or weapons to even defeat the police department of an american city.

How really brave is the israeli military. The face no enemy and it takes real bravery to kill and bomb civilians and destroying the total infrastructure of an entire country. I guess the closesed analagy I can come up with is - shooting fish in a barrel. It does not take any courage. I wonder how a soldier feels being reduced to the level of a butcher.

We can see how brave they are in the way they have been and still are in killing civilians in Gaza.

Their action reminds me of the uprising in the Warsaw Getto. Only this time they have taken over the part of the Nazi troops.

I see how they will achieve peace. They just have to kill all the palestinians and lebanese, and then they can take over their country and live in peace. I wonder how well they will be able to sleep on top of the corpses of two people.

Hurrah for the way Bush is helping to bring democracy to the Middle East.

I wonder if we will have a country left by the end of the year. Over a $100 a barrel of oil will brake us and there is nothing this country can do to avoid it.

Its so nice to have the grim reaper as our president, just don't make any plans beyond a week at a time.

7/15/2006 8:37 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

To the poster before me - thank you.

I have felt nothing but despair recently. I scan the papers everyday looking for someone, anyone, to admit to the horror of Israel's actions in this situation. They have the 13th largest military in the world, and are a nuclear power in a area the size of New Jersey, but yet our papers report that they are only defending themselves.

Who defends themselves by killing civilians, bombing vital infrastructure, and hurting anyone who dares protest? This feels more like the brutual punishment of a bully.

The Bush administration cannot intervene, not even to help Americans citizens. For any intervention would be an admission of Israel's bullying in this situation.

I have one question.

Who is going to pay to rebuild the infrastructure that Israel has destroyed?

7/15/2006 9:33 PM  
Anonymous Mr. Hedley Bowes said...

I believe it's time to suspend U.S. aid to Israel.

7/15/2006 10:16 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

A reasonable plan, mr. bowes. Unfortunately, you would have better luck impeaching Bush. At least AIPAC might permit that.

7/16/2006 12:12 AM  
Anonymous antonie said...

I cannot take sides on this issue. There is plenty of blame to go around, and it is a vicious circle.

When siblings fight, a sensible parent has to come in and tell them to stop, forcefully if need be.

Nobody is taking up the role of parent, maybe it's just not possible.

7/16/2006 10:10 AM  
Anonymous Mr. Hedley Bowes said...

Perhaps, like sports fields, we ought to start naming our Federal buildings after the lobbying groups that 'sponsor' them. So would it be the AIPAC State Department, the AIPAC Congress, or the AIPAC White House?

7/16/2006 1:19 PM  
Blogger Intellectual Insurgent said...

Wow - what a refreshing thread of comments on the subject.

American business must be loving this situation. Imagine how much money Raytheon, Lockheed, Boeing, etc. stand to make by selling their wares to both sides. It's a bonanza. And, it distracts the masses from Iraq for a little while. Gotta wonder what's going on there.

In any event, it will always be my view that the Western imperial powers love keeping this dispute alive. They have the greatest incentive to keep the two groups fighting who, throughout history, have allied to make Christiandom eat shit. Christiandom/Western imperialism cannot triumph if Jews & Muslims are allies. They know it from Islamic Spain where Jews were leaders in the empire, they know it from the Islamic re-capture of Jerusalem with the help of the Jewish community there, and they know it from the Ottoman Empire that, with the help of Eastern Jews, pushed across eastern Europe.

This is divide and conquer at its best and the Westerners laugh all the way to the bank with all the money they make selling weapons to both sides.

7/16/2006 3:02 PM  
Blogger Holly Hodder said...

If you do get email comments from sources at the State Department and other such, I look forward to reading your synthesis. Thank you again for assembling a thoughtful analysis on this - as you have done on other issues and topics.

7/16/2006 4:34 PM  
Anonymous jay said...

What antonie said:
I cannot take sides on this issue. There is plenty of blame to go around, and it is a vicious circle.

Back on topic:

The Department of State has updates here:

"This information is current as of today, Sun Jul 16 21:07:35 2006.

A message to American citizens in Lebanon:

The US Department of State and the US Department of Defense continue working on a plan to help American citizens who wish to depart Lebanon to leave in a secure and orderly manner. To assist in the development of that operation, the U.S. Government is sending an assessment team to Beirut to facilitate the safe departure of Americans who wish to leave. "

What is Condi doing, btw? I heard there's a shoe sale at Ferragamo's (sp?)...

7/16/2006 9:06 PM  
Blogger DED said...

Yes, there is plenty of blame to go around, but since most replies here are anti-Israel, I'll stick my neck out for a minute or so.

Lebanon is not defenseless, although it is way outclassed. After all, who's firing those rockets into Haifa? Why, it's Hezbollah! Have you all forgotten about them? This terrorist organization has been around for decades. They've even had members elected to the Lebanese parliament. And its an open secret that Hezbollah is backed by Syria and Iran.

And when did this current round of attacks start? When Hezbollah kidnapped two Israeli soldiers. Why is Israel bombing areas where civilians live, just as they do in Gaza? Because, Hezbollah's members hide amongst the civilian population, just as Hamas' members live among the Palestinian civilian population. De facto human shields, people!

So you've got three choices when trying to deal with an enemy that lives among civilians:

1) Ignore them and hope that the surrounding populace will cast them out.

2) Send in your military and go "door to door" to extricate suspected insurgents.

3) Bomb everyone!

And none of those methods work! But it still doesn't stop governments from trying and everyone of us who isn't there to take sides and scream and condemn anyone who tries to do anything.

What a lovely, vicious cycle.

I'm not taking sides in this conflict. I'm taking sides against people who take sides in this conflict.

7/17/2006 12:11 PM  
Blogger maeldon said...

Canada will be evacuating citizens by midweek

7/17/2006 12:15 PM  
Anonymous Jeremy said...

An earlier comment indicated it might be time to end aid to Israel. Frankly, I think it is long past time to end aid to the US government. I can think of no more anti-social organization on the planet than "our" government, although several others are tied with us.

7/17/2006 1:31 PM  
Blogger jj said...

ded - is kill or ignore really the only set of options you can envision? no wonder the world is in such terrible shape. hell, even just mentioning peaceful, compassionate responses gets one laughed off this current stage of stooges.

7/17/2006 5:54 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is not unusual. I lived in European and Southeast Asian countries for 9 years. Americans are asked to register with the local embassy but are told that they will not necessarily be provided help to get out of the country if there is a problem such as what is now happening in Lebanon.

7/17/2006 10:36 PM  
Anonymous George said...

Focusing on vicious circles and refusing to take sides just protects the guilty. How about looking at the grievances of each side? Look at what has happened since the end of WWII. There is a factual record there.

7/17/2006 10:44 PM  
Blogger DED said...

jj: I intentionally left off "negotiate for peace" because Hamas and Hezbollah aren't interested in peace for the long term. They'd be forced into recognizing the right of Israel to exist. Destroying Israel is their #1 goal. They were founded for that purpose. They prefer short term cease fires. It enables them to reload and regroup.

Israel hasn't had successful negotiations for peace in about 30 years. Jimmy Carter was able to get Egypt and Israel to bury the hatchet. But what did Sadat get out of it? He was assassinated weeks later for negotiating with Israel. His successor, Mubarak, has been decidedly neutral (at best) towards Israel.

Clinton tried to get Arafat to make peace with Israel. And it looked like Arafat was going to get everything he wanted from Israel, but he caved in to hardliners and walked away.

So while negotiations might end the current conflict, it's a band aid on a gunshot wound.

George: Yeah, I've seen it, which is why I can't take sides. While I'm inclined to lean towards Israel, there's no way I can justify their actions to the Palestinian civilans. And I certainly can't condemn Israel because Hamas and Hezbollah bomb civilians as a matter of course.

Isn't the refusal to take sides a requirement for an arbitrator?

There aren't always "white hats" in war. Which was the good guy during the Iran - Iraq war? Saddam used mustard gas while the Iranians used children to clear minefields. A couple of real winners there, eh?

7/18/2006 11:52 AM  
Anonymous Kate said...

This is pretty typical for US embassies abroad. I've lived 6 years of my live outside the US in politically unstable areas and it was pretty well known that you can't count on the US govt to help you. The State Dept exists to provide support to American business and diplomatic interests, not to help out American citizens in a time of crisis.

7/18/2006 8:35 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Did I hear this right; they finally decided to bring in a ship to evacuate Americans but will then CHARGE THEM MONEY for being rescued?

What - is the ship owned by Haliburton or something?

7/18/2006 10:41 PM  
Blogger DED said...

They rescinded that decision to charge them money. But apparently, charging money to be evacuated is SOP.

Would someone please enlighten me as to why 20,000 people were in Lebanon anyway. Is it really all students and tourists? I've never been able to shake the perception that Lebanon is a county torn by civil war and the locale for the horrible massacre of 200 marines during the Reagan years. And wasn't that PM assassinated just last year? Call me paranoid, but that doesn't sound like the sort of place I'd want to study in or vacation.

7/19/2006 8:13 PM  
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