The American Embassy in Baghdad remains a monument to American hubris, and American failure in the Middle East. In some far-future Planet of the Apes movie, it will be the remains of the embassy Charlton Heston’s character finds half-buried in the sand.
The embassy was designed in the go-go early years of the Iraq Occupation, with an school house on the grounds for diplokids, full-size kitchen appliances in all the apartments and conveniences like a swimming pool, tennis court, golf driving range and outdoor water misters. Better yet, the embassy was to be the center jewel in a constellation of USG outposts around Iraq. Completed some three years ago at a public cost of $700 million (most people figure the real price at closer to $1 billion by the time all the sub-contracts were totaled), the embassy compound is America’s largest and most expensive diplomatic installation in the world. Total expenditures for the US’ Iraq diplo mission run some $6.5 billion a year.
And now, even as American influence in Iraq wanes, it all just got more expensive.
The Washington Post reports that the State Department is planning to spend $115 million to upgrade the embassy compound in Baghdad.
The need to dump another $117 million down the hole is due to the “consolidation of satellite diplomatic facilities and property around Baghdad. The consolidation takes the overall diplomatic property in Baghdad down by one-third, but increases the personnel working and living on the Embassy compound.”
On the shopping list for the $117 million is a revamped central utility power plant, an underground fuel storage facility holding a 21-day supply and upgrades on water, sewer and telecommunications systems. Included is a classified data center.
(The Post article also details how the State Department spent $100 million on a Police College facility, building living quarters, a dining facility, an office building, a gym and a helicopter landing site. At year’s end, the facility will be turned over to the Iraqis because State did not get land rights use for more than one year. Oops.)
It is at this point that some grown up needs to step up and ask what the hell the State Department is doing in Iraq, and/or cut off their allowance until they can show they are responsible enough to handle money.
What are we paying for in Baghdad? Even State’s latest failed ambassador nominee for the job in Baghdad said the juice isn’t worth the squeeze, telling Senators at his confirmation hearing “There is no proportionality between our size and our influence. In fact, we spend a lot of diplomatic capital simply to sustain our presence.”
We have a white elephant of an embassy in Iraq, one that sucks up money, distorts the State Department’s personnel system with its out-of-proportion needs and accomplishes very, very little for America in return. Rule Number One is if you find yourself in a hole, stop digging. It is time for Congress (the House Subcommittee on National Security, Homeland Defense and Foreign Operations takes up the transition in Iraq from a military to a civilian-led mission this month) to stop State from digging any deeper in Iraq.
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