CNN Urges One Thing, But Your State Department Urges The Opposite

Over the years, I’ve been to some “problematic” places. You may have been, too. We know most people one meets in the world are fine.

Enter CNN’s Anthony Bourdain. An American, he has just been to “back to Beirut.” He says he loves the city:

Screen capture of the CNN web site.
Screen capture of the CNN web site.

And it’s wonderful he loves it. Certainly he’s not alone. At one point, he even declares:

It’s a place I’ve described as the Rumsfeldian dream of what, best-case scenario, the neocon masterminds who thought up Iraq, imagined for the post-Saddam Middle East: a place Americans could wander safely [Note: emphasis mine]….

But is it really that? Images whizzing by of dinner dishes, attractive people smoking (and of course looking “cool” while doing so), clubbers, and assorted glamour gloss (even bomb damaged buildings are made to seem “trendy”) is to be expected: CNN wants us to watch and hold our attention. But especially relevant for some prospective destinations is obtaining hard information beyond its “thrills,” “hipness” and “happenin’ness.”

Because YOU are NOT being paid to go there.

According to official travel advice updated by the U.S. State Department as recently as May 29, U.S. citizens are urged NOT to visit Lebanon. NOT at all. Period:

Screen capture of the Department of State's May 29, 2015, Lebanon Travel Warning.
Screen capture of the Department of State’s May 29, 2015, Lebanon Travel Warning.

And why? Because of “safety and security concerns.

The main issue is the Lebanese government. Where it actually wields unchallenged authority can be unclear. Its functionality reportedly varies mostly somewhere between the ineffectual, to paralyzed, to virtually non-existent.

Mr. Bourdain is free to joke about the inability of parliamentarians to elect a president for a year as being “sort of awesome.” (Which he does in one promo video to Lebanese journalist Joumana Haddad.) However, a weak government overall can lead to decidedly less than awesome consequences for foreign visitors wandering around without their own CNN crews and local guides, and who are probably unable to grasp quickly enough what’s going on around them, on whose “turf” they are on at a given time, and where perhaps they should not venture at all. It is no laughing matter.

One example. Mr. Bourdain refers passingly to “a power sharing coalition” that includes a group called “Hezbollah.” Readers are not informed that the U.S. government considers Hezbollah a terrorist organization. Nor are they told it possesses much more firepower than the legitimate Lebanese army.

Maybe it’s assumed anyone interested would know that? Still, it is an important enough issue at least to have warranted a mention. The State Department explains to potential U.S. visitors:

Hizballah and other groups have at times detained and extensively interrogated U.S. citizens….

Meaning it acts largely as a law unto itself. That’s just for starters. U.S. officials want Americans to understand that dangers in the country may go far beyond what one reasonably expects possibly to encounter when traveling for leisure. They aren’t just warning of the likes of watching out for pickpockets around the Eiffel Tower, remembering to look right before stepping off a curb in London, and not assuming everything is legal in Amsterdam, uh, dude.

U.S. officials are being unequivocal with U.S. globetrotters: don’t push it. There won’t necessarily be a legitimate Lebanese authority capable of assisting you if you get into difficulty, and the U.S. government would probably find itself nearly helpless. (Short of sending in the Marines, as in 2006, and which you should most definitely not count on.) U.S. embassy officials themselves are apparently barely allowed outside of the embassy:

The Department of State considers the threat to U.S. government personnel in Beirut sufficiently serious to require them to live and work under strict security restrictions….

Nevertheless, Mr. Bourdain sums up emphatically, “EVERYONE should visit.” Indeed it would be wonderful if everyone could. Yet U.S. potential visitors should be fully aware that the U.S. government is firmly of the OPPOSITE opinion.

If you want visitor information on any country, check the State Department’s travel site. Naturally we shouldn’t be afraid to leave the house, but neither should we be blasé about safety either. The State Department issues “Travel Warnings” for a reason.

Have a good Wednesday, wherever you are in the world. 🙂

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Author: “Conventions: The Garden At Paris,” “Passports,” “Frontiers,” and “Distances.” British Airways frequent flier. Lover of the Catskill Mountains...and the 1700s. New novel of 1797-1805, "Tomorrow The Grace," due out in 2019.