Among the many secrets the American government cannot keep, one of
its biggest (104 acres) and most expensive ($592 million) is the American Embassy
being built in Baghdad. Surrounded by fifteen-foot-thick walls, almost as large
as the Vatican on a scale comparable to the Mall of America, to which it seems
to have a certain spiritual affinity, this is no simple object to hide.
So you think the Bush Administration is planning on leaving Iraq? Read on.
The Chicago Tribune reports, "Trucks shuttle building materials to and
fro. Cranes, at least a dozen of them, punch toward the sky. Concrete structures
are beginning to take form. At a time when most Iraqis are enduring blackouts
of up to 22 hours a day, the site is floodlighted by night so work can continue
around the clock."
It will come as less than a surprise to learn that this project was subbed
out to an outfit in Kuwait. The Tribune says that "for security reasons,
the new embassy is being built entirely by imported labor. The contractor, First
Kuwaiti General Trading and Contracting Co., which was linked to human-trafficking
allegations by a Chicago Tribune investigation last year, has hired a workforce
of 900 mostly Asian workers who live on the site." In a land where half
the population is out of work the United States ought to win countless native
hearts and minds with this labor policy.
On the other hand, the latest is that the facilities for the 8,000 people scheduled
to work in the vice-regal compound will be completed on time next year. Doubtless
the cooks, janitors and serving staff attending to the Americans' needs and
comforts in this establishment, which is said to exceed in luxury and appointments
anything Saddam Hussein built for himself, will not be Iraqis either.
According to Knight Ridder, "US officials here [in Baghdad] greet questions
about the site with a curtness that borders on hostility. Reporters are referred
to the State Department in Washington, which declined to answer questions for
security reasons." Photographers attempting to get pictures of what the
locals call "George W's Palace" are confined to using telephoto lenses
on this, the largest construction project undertaken by Iraq's American visitors.
Nonetheless, we know much of what is going on in the place, where there will
soon be twenty-one buildings, 619 apartments with very fancy digs for the big
shots, restaurants, shops, gym facilities, a swimming pool, a food court, a
beauty salon, a movie theater (we can't say if it's a multiplex) and, as the
Times of London reports, "a swish club for evening functions." This
should be ideal for announcing the various new milestones marking the trudge
of the Iraqi people toward democracy and freedom.
USA Today has learned
that the "massive new embassy, being built on the banks of the Tigris River,
is designed to be entirely self-sufficient and won't be dependent on Iraq's
unreliable public utilities." Thus, there will be no reason or excuse for
any of the thousands of Americans working in this space, which is about the
size of eighty football fields, to share the daily life experience of an Iraqi
or even come in accidental contact with one.
"It's no secret why a luxurious embassy might be needed in Baghdad. The
State Department is finding it more difficult to persuade people to staff the
embassy here," writes Knight Ridder's Leila Fadel. "The post needs
people with language skills and experience that are already hard to find. Americans
can't bring their families here, and the kidnappings and violence relegate Americans
to the embassy complex." Thus it appears that our diplomatic personnel
are more like mercenaries than Doctors Without Borders. The "above and
beyond the call of duty" stuff is strictly for our beleaguered soldiers.
This gigantic complex does not square with the repeated assertions by the people
who run the American government that the United States will not stay in the
country after Iraq becomes a stand-alone, democratic entity. An "embassy"
in which 8,000 people labor, along with the however many thousand military personnnel
necessary to defend them, is not a diplomatic outpost. It is a base. A permanent
So it turns out that the plan, if that is the right word for the haphazard,
faith-based, fact-free and data-scarce decision-making that has been the one
constant in this adventure, is to stay in Baghdad and run the country. This
is beyond lunacy.
There are these 8,000 Americans holed up in a private city, who do not dare
to leave their fortified luxury bunker for fear of being killed or kidnapped
and tortured if caught outside their fortified walls, and who are trying to
run the country by giving orders to the Iraqi government, which is also operating
out of the Green Zone, that vast fortified place isolated from the people of
Democrats demanding an exit strategy from Iraq are routinely derided by the
Bush Administration as cowards who "cut and run." But if this Embassy
plan is not a form of cut and run, what is it? Instead of cutting and making
a run for Kuwait, they intend to cut and run into what amounts to the world's
largest bunker, a capacious rat hole where they can wait in safety until all
the Iraqis have killed one another or all factions unite, march on this air-conditioned
citadel and slit the throats of its irrelevant inhabitants.
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