US Embassy delivers mixed messages on Beirut safety
A couple of weeks ago the US embassy released its latest travel warning on Lebanon, as usual urging Americans to avoid large public gatherings, particularly during the “busy summer festival season”…
And what better way to help discourage tourists from attending Lebanon’s summer festivals than a cryptic warning from the world’s most powerful and influential country. Yet oddly enough, just six days after that message was released and emailed on July 14, the US ambassador to Lebanon Elizabeth Richard was pictured at an outdoor concert on July 20th. And she seemed to be having a wonderful time:
“Lebanon’s summer music festivals are simply a feast for the ears,” gushed the embassy’s Instagram account.
“It was a beautiful setting and lively crowd!”
Did you hear that? Yes crowd. The US embassy was actually celebrating a crowded night in Lebanon. But that’s just the type of event the State Department says we should avoid or be so vigilantly on the look out for ISIS, you’d barely have time to smile, let alone pose for pictures.
In fact the US embassy created its very own crowd at a fourth of July event held at a ruins site earlier this month, just days before the travel warning was issued.
There was even a Marine honor guard, a rare site in Lebanon, and definitely not the type of public US military performance you are supposed to see in a dangerous, unstable place where Americans should fear for their lives.
Of course this is not the first time an American embassy urgent security message contradicts the behavior of embassy staff on the ground, who can often be seen dining around town in trendy restaurants or going to entertainment venues. Only a few months after a 2012 “emergency” travel warning, I spotted the embassy security detail at a Red Hot Chili Peppers concert in Beirut:
The US state department actually has a long history of scaring tourists away from Lebanon. They have issued dozens of prohibitive warnings over the last 20 years, although rarely was an American harmed during that period, where Lebanon may have been safer for US citizens than a lot of US cities. I covered this irony five years ago in a previous post:
When looking at FBI statistics, the US appears to have far more violent crime than Lebanon, with over 1 million violent crimes per year and 15 cities with over 100 murdered annually. And before you tell me, ‘hey wait the US is bigger than Lebanon,’ know that many US murder capitals have much smaller populations than all of Lebanon. So why doesn’t the State Department feel the need to warn Americans about their own country and all the thousands of rapes, assaults and murders happening literally every single day in US cities?
Are these warnings really about public safety? Or are they politically driven? Are they yet another tool or bargaining chip in US diplomacy/dominance practice to keep Lebanon from too much economic growth and keep it struggling to impress the USA?
In her Fourth of July speech in the Lebanese mountains, US Ambassador Richard touted America’s “long term commitment to this country” and “the confidence we have in the Lebanese people and their future.”
These lines have been repeated hundreds of times by embassy staff over the years. But by warning people not to travel here as well as banning all US flights (and making sure Canada also blocks flights to Lebanon) the US government is actually weakening one of Lebanon’s most important and few industries: aviation and tourism.
So what type of “commitment” hurts a country’s main economic sector? And let’s not forget the other US commitments not mentioned here, such as the US commitment to sell weapons. How many Lebanese lives and livelihoods have been destroyed by US made bombs, dropped by US made aircraft? Seems like something reasonable to remember next time the US touts its “contributions” and “commitment” to Lebanon and its people.