A fascinating argument is ramping up fast here in Washington about the thousands of Americans still in Lebanon, but trying to escape the fighting. Simply put: Should they pay for their own evacuation by the U.S. government or should all of us pay for it through our tax dollars?
Air or boatlifts of Americans from wartorn nations are not new. Heck, many Americans have been helped out of all sorts of tricky foreign situations by the military or the State Department. But those who want these particular Americans in Lebanon to help foot the bill for their rescue make the following points.
1) They knew they were living in a dicey area to begin with. Yes, Lebanon has shown significant progress toward being a more peaceful, stable country in recent years, but the southern end of the nation is and has been essentially in the control of an internationally recognized terrorist group, Hezbollah. When you move to or visit such a place, these critics say, you are willingly putting yourself at some degree of risk and that's your burden ... no one else's.
2) This conflict, while fast-moving, has been intensifying for days. These "stranded" Americans should have got out while the getting was good.
On the other side, there are those who make their own strong points.
1) This conflict hasn't just been fast moving; it has developed at a lightning pace, going from a dispute over a pair of kidnappings into what resembles all out war in less than a week. It is unfair, they argue, for American civilians to be expected to foresee how bad it would get so quickly.
2) We encourage Americans to invest in foreign nations, to help spread the ideals of democracy, freedom and respect for human rights all over the globe. We can't then turn around and say, "Now, you're on your own," when times get tough. In addition, if people start fearing a big bill is going to land in their mailbox after an evacuation, might that not encourage other Americans in future disputes to wait even later before seeking help?
This issue of having people pay for their own rescues has come up in many different ways with all kinds of rescues: Hikers plucked from mountainsides where they've become rimrocked, motorists rescued from blizzard-swept roads, boaters pulled from stormy seas.
So who should pay for pulling Americans out of Lebanon: Those Americans? Or you?