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The U.S. Embassy in Baghdad: The Embassy from Hell

 
 
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 Back in May 2007, I stumbled across online sketches at the website of a Kansas architectural firm hired to build a monster U.S. embassy-cum-citadel-cum-Greater-Middle-Eastern command center on 104 acres in the middle of the Iraqi capital, Baghdad.  They offered an artist’s impressions of what the place would look like -- a giant self-sufficient compound both prosaic (think malls or housing projects) and opulent (a giant pool, tennis courts, a recreation center). 

Struck by the fact that the U.S. government was intent on building the largest embassy ever in the planet’s oil heartlands, I wrote a piece, “The Mother Ship Lands in Iraq” about those plans and offered a little tour of the project via those crude drawings.  From TomDispatch, they then began to run around the Internet and soon a panicky State Department had declared a “security breach” and forced the firm to pull the sketches off its website. 

Now, more than five years later, we have the first public photos of the embassy -- a poolbasketball courttennis courts, and food court to die for -- just as the news has arrived that the vast boondoggle of a place, built for three-quarters of a billion of your tax dollars, with a $6 billion State Department budget this year and its own mercenary air force, is about to get its staff of 16,000 slashed.  In a Washington Post piece on the subject, Senator Patrick Leahy is quoted as saying: “I’ve been in embassies all over the world, and you come to this place and you’re like: ‘Whoa. Wow.’ All of a sudden you’ve got something so completely out of scale to anything, you have to wonder, what were they thinking when they first built it?”

The answer is: in 2004, when planning for this white elephant of embassies first began, the Bush administration was still dreaming of a Washington-enforced Pax Americana in the Greater Middle East and saw it as its western command post.  Now, of course, the vast American mega-bases in Iraq with their multiple bus routes, giant PXes, Pizza Huts, Cinnabons, and Burger Kings, where American troops were to be garrisoned on the “Korean model” for decades to come, are so many ghost towns, fading American ziggurats in Mesopotamia.  Similarly, those embassy photos seem like snapshots from Pompeii just as the ash was beginning to fall.  Meanwhile, in Afghanistan, the news is similarly dismal with drawdowns and withdrawals suddenly the order of the day.  Something’s changing.  It feels tectonic.  Certainly, we’re receiving another set of signs that American imperial plans on the Eurasian mainland have crashed and burned and that the U.S. is now regrouping and heading “offshore.”

What a moment then for Noam Chomsky to weigh in on the subject of American decline in his “‘Losing’ the World” in which he suggests that, as with the embassy from hell in Baghdad, much of that decline is actually “self-inflicted.”    

Tom Engelhardt, co-founder of the American Empire Project and the author of The American Way of War: How Bush’s Wars Became Obama’s as well as The End of Victory Culture, runs the Nation Institute's TomDispatch.com. His latest book, The United States of Fear (Haymarket Books), has just been published in November.

TomDispatch.org / By Tom Engelhardt

Posted at February 14, 2012, 5:17am

 
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