The Corner

Will the Pentagon Always Be Able to Evacuate Americans from Hotspots?

Last month, I spent a few weeks teaching on the USS Enterprise during which time I was also able to observe some basic contingency preparations should the call come to evacuate Americans from Lebanon and Tunisia. In Lebanon alone, the number of American citizens numbered in the tens of thousands, even though many hold dual citizenship and perhaps only a fraction would request assistance. Add Tunisia, Egypt, and Yemen to the mix, and it becomes an open question whether the American military has enough forces in the region to evacuate American citizens should violence (or insurance companies) prevent airplanes from flying into unsettled countries. 

The Enterprise is on its second-to-last cruise, and Congress may soon cut the military budget across the board. Cutting force projection not only affects future combat missions but also humanitarian relief whether in the form of evacuations or tsunami relief. That’s fine if that is what Congress wants to do, but congressmen should enter the debate with eyes wide open. They should recognize that a vote for cuts would not only undercut the ability to project force globally but would also remove the ability to protect American citizens should many countries simultaneously experience unrest.

Congressmen should also ask the State Department to explain how, in the aftermath of broad-based defense cuts, they will manage evacuations of American citizens absent the same level of military assistance that they can count on now.

Michael Rubin is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, senior lecturer at the Naval Postgraduate School’s Center for Civil-Military Relations, and a senior editor of the Middle East Quarterly.

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