Yesterday the U.S. Department of State posted a bizarre statement about the situation. After giving assurance that the state department was sympathetic to the plight of the stranded and offering helpful tips; e.g., "Keep checking in with your airlines," which of course no stranded citizen would think of doing until being prompted, State plopped out with the bottom line for the American taxpayer:
The Department of State is not evacuating U.S. citizens at this time. U.S. Government evacuation options are constrained by the same factors that are affecting commercial transportation. Furthermore, U.S. Government-facilitated travel by sea would take time to arrange and undertake, by which point commercial travel is likely to have resumed. The cost to travelers to repay an evacuation loan would be equivalent to the commercial rates for cross-Atlantic sea travel.Also yesterday, AFP reported:
WASHINGTON — The White House said Monday that 40,000 Americans were stranded in Britain because of the huge number of flight cancellations due to the cloud of volcanic ash.Well yes but that's just why a navy always has more than one ship.
Many more US citizens also appeared to be having trouble returning home from vacation or business trips in other parts of Europe, amid an aviation crisis brought on by the eruption of a volcano in Iceland which led to airspace closures across much of the continent.
President Barack Obama's spokesman said the US ambassador to Britain Louis Susman had called the White House earlier Monday with an update on the situation.
"I think there are approximately, according to him, about 40,000 Americans in England that are trying, because of the disruption in air travel, to get back to this country," spokesman Robert Gibbs said.
Some of the stranded Americans were running out of medicine or didn't have places to stay, said Gibbs, adding that the US State Department was looking into the situation.
Asked whether the US Navy could follow the example of Britain's Royal Navy and seek to rescue some stranded citizens, Gibbs said he was unaware of any such plans.
"We've got some big ships, but that would be a pretty big ship," he said.
In 2006 the U.S. military, using a variety of vessels including chartered cruise ships, helped 15,000 Americans safely depart from Lebanon during Israel's bombing of the city. And the navy stood ready to extract as many U.S. citizens as necessary.
Not only that, but while they were evacuating Americans the military squeezed in enough time to distribute millions of dollars of humanitarian aid to the Lebanese; they also found time to have a boat full of Navy Seals pull alongside a Norwegian-chartered evacuation ferry and deliver food to the 127 Americans onboard.
The kicker is that this massive operation, which included coordination with other governments, was accomplished in ten days. So while Obama and his pathetic excuses for advisors have been fiddling around for the last six days, evacuations from Europe could have been well underway.
As for the kind of fee ("loan") that State is now talking about charging evacuees, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice waived the fee for the 2006 evacuees. Of course; such fees should be waived when Americans are stranded far from home through no fault of their own.
It's one of those duties that are part of the social compact, and which taxpaying citizens expect to be included in the price of their support for a modern government: Large numbers of your citizens are stranded somewhere in the world for an indefinite period, you go extract them.
It's also part of national defense. The U.S. military even has a name for it: "Non-combatant Evacuation Operation."
The only national government that acted responsibly and intelligently in the volcanic ash situation was Taiwan's. Their national airline's officials didn't wait around for days, licking their forefingers and holding them to the wind to see if it was still blowing in the same direction. They chartered buses, trains, ferries, you name it, to pluck their citizens out of European airports and get them safely home.
The most shocking part of the Obama Administration's excuses is that as early as Friday, April 16, it was known that even if the ash cloud cleared up immediately there was already such a large backlog of stranded airline passengers in Europe that it would take weeks for the airlines to work through it.
So I don't know what State was talking about when they argued that if the U.S. launched an extraction by sea the situation might be cleared up before the ships arrived.
And even if that were the case, even if the ships were halfway to the destinations when the tens of thousands of stranded citizens were able to get on planes, then you turn the ships around and say, 'At least we saved on fuel.' You don't use that as an excuse not to make the effort on behalf of your citizens when a situation strands them through no fault of their own.
As an American citizen I feel ashamed that I should have to publicly instruct my government on such elementary points.
None of the above goes near the fact that a fresh eruption of the volcano, combined with the prevailing winds, is sending yet another cloud of ash toward Western Europe.
So now what? State hasn't even yet collected estimates of the number of U.S. citizens stranded in parts of Europe other than England. Six days out. And they haven't even done that much.
Let's see; what could we call State that they haven't already been called? How about the U.S. Department of Sleepwalkers? And while we're at it, rename the White House the Lost House.