The new U.S. Embassy in Baghdad will be the world’s largest and most expensive foreign mission, though it may not be large enough or secure enough to cope with the chaos in Iraq.
The Bush administration designed the 104-acre compound — set to open in September in what today is a war zone — to be an ultra-secure enclave. Yet it also hoped that downtown Baghdad would cease being a battleground when diplomats moved in.
Over the long term, depending on which way the seesaw of sectarian division and grinding warfare teeters, the massive city-within-a-city could prove too enormous for the job of managing diminished U.S. interests in Iraq.
Diminished interests? With an embassy two-thirds the size of the Washington Mall?
The $592 million embassy occupies a chunk of prime real estate two-thirds the size of Washington’s National Mall, with desk space for about 1,000 people behind high, blast-resistant walls. The compound is a symbol both of how much the United States has invested in Iraq and how the circumstances of its involvement are changing.
Dontcha love it when these “journalists” parrot the official administration line without batting an eyelash?
The 21-building complex on the Tigris River was envisioned three years ago partly as a headquarters for the democratic expansion in the Middle East that President Bush identified as the organizing principle for foreign policy in his second term.
As if “democratic expansion” were an “organizing principle” for buying toilet paper in the Bush administration. I can’t do better here than quote from the end of “The Occupation of Iraq: Winning the War, Losing the Peace,” by Ali A. Allawi (cousin of Ayad Allawi, prime minister of Iraq’s Interim Government), which I just finished reading [bolds mine]:
The rules of a just war could have been applied to Iraq if the issues that had propelled America to invade Iraq were clearly ethical. But this was not the case. The explicit reason that was used related to Iraq’s phantom arsenal of nuclear and biological weapons, and to the risks they posed to the national security of the United States. All other arguments were ex post facto, and were not part of the overt reasons given to validate the decision to invade Iraq. Removing tyranny, building a democracy, introducing human and civil rights, writing a progressive constitution — these were all subsequent justifications for maintaining the presence of America in Iraq. But they were not part of the original brief. Neither did they figure prominently in backroom discussions on the war. …
It is not that the Shi’a are ungrateful that they have finally been freed from generations of oppressive control, but they will always see their “freedom” as incidental to something else that America was seeking. Being an afterthought did not give rise to gratitude and celebration; and similarly for democrats, liberals,c modernisers, champions of free markets and all the others who might have believed in the American mission if its substance had matched its rhetoric. But none now gives any credence to the claims that the purpose of America’s occupation of Iraq was somehow related to America’s espousal and promotion of democratic values. On the ground, these claims ring hollow. …
The complex quickly could become a white elephant if the U.S. scales back its presence and ambitions in Iraq. Although the U.S. probably will have forces in Iraq for years to come, it is not clear how much of the traditional work of diplomacy can proceed amid the violence and what the future holds for Iraq’s government.
“What you have is a situation in which they are building an embassy without really thinking about what its functions are,” said Edward Peck, a former top U.S. diplomat in Iraq.
“What kind of embassy is it when everybody lives inside and it’s blast-proof, and people are running around with helmets and crouching behind sandbags?”
Not to mention how much more inclined Iraqis will be to feel positively toward Americans with a 21-building embassy sitting inside the Green Zone surrounded by blast-proof walls, and equipped with every kind of protection against the civil war raging outside that American dollars can purchase.
But then, it’s not really about whether Iraqis like Americans or want them in Iraq, now is it?
Rice’s senior adviser on Iraq, David Satterfield, said the embassy is not disproportionately expensive and will serve U.S. interests for years. The second-most expensive embassy is the smaller $434 million U.S. mission being built in Beijing.
“We assume there will be a significant, enduring U.S. presence in Iraq,” Satterfield said.
Cross-posted at Liberty Street.