WHY IT'S TAKING SO LONG. A reliable source tells me that the reason the United States has been so slow in evacuating its citizens from Lebanon is that the public diplomacy (i.e., P.R.) issues raised by evacuating under Israeli assault are so complicated. Individuals within the State Department, I am told, have been reluctant to create an impression that the Israeli assault on Lebanon is as bad as it is or that civilian U.S. citizens are being threatened by U.S. ally Israel. If a conflict this severe had broken out in, say, Indonesia, the American embassy would have been shut down the next day and its personnel and families rapidly brought to safety. That's how things normally work. (See Laura Rozen on the evacuation from Albania here.) In this case, however, the diplomatic message sent by shutting down the U.S. embassy in the face of Israeli bombing would have contradicted the U.S. government message of support for the Israeli mission against Hezbollah terrorists, which, when added to the general concern within lower-level diplomatic circles about ever creating a Fall of Saigon-style visual for the news media, have led the Americans to be slower than they could have been about getting U.S. citizens out of harm's way.
On Monday, Steve Clemons raised concerns about "sending a cruise ship, a slow moving huge target, into a war zone" to evacuate Americans. However, it seems to me that such a move would be perfectly consistent with attempting to downplay the severity of the conflict and the nature of the Israeli threat to American citizens in Lebanon.