Stay away from our ribs
Just read an excellent article in Foreign Policy that raises a lot of the same questions I asked ever since the plans for the new US embassy in Baghdad leaked online. Loeffler isn’t alone in voicing her concerns about the future of the embassy and the mission itself. And it isn’t just about the building of what one would call a virtual American world enclosed behind sandbags and high blast walls, it is about the symbolism it creates. The article also includes a brief tour of the new embassy complex with some nice visuals including but not excluding a shopping market, beauty salon, movie theater, swimming pools, tennis courts, and American fast food joints. WHEW.
To protect it all, the embassy is reportedly surrounded by a wall at least 9 feet high—and it has its own defense force. The U.S. Congress has appropriated $592 million for the embassy’s construction, though some estimates put the expected building costs much higher. Once built, it could cost as much as $1 billion a year to run. Charles E. Williams, who directs the State Department’s Overseas Buildings Operations, proudly refers to it as “the largest U.S. mission ever built.”
Jeebus. The wall is probably what most of Iraqis will ever see of the complex. This doesn’t help building up America’s shiny reputation abroad one bit. And some go further arguing that this project is against all purposes of having a diplomatic mission in Baghdad. Why bother building an embassy whose purpose is to connect one country’s community to another when you’re tucked cozily inside a mini-microcosm of home. Hey, I’ve been to a fair share of embassies and I have truly seen the highs! Living in Beijing with a bunch of diplomat rats has even brought me trick-or-treating in some of ’em! (Mentionable: a side trip to the Chinese Embassy in Warsaw – very pretty. But even the Chinese aren’t callous enough to build another Great Wall around it.) Still don’t believe me? Don’t take my word for it, take hers!
Traditionally, at least, embassies were designed to further interaction with the community in which they were built. Diplomats visited the offices of local government officials, shopped at local businesses, took their suits to the neighborhood dry cleaner, socialized with community leaders, and mixed with the general public. Diplomacy is not the sort of work that can be done by remote control. It takes direct contact to build goodwill for the United States and promote democratic values. Otherwise, there would be no reason for the United States to maintain its 250-plus diplomatic posts around the world. The embassy in Baghdad, however, appears to represent a sea change in U.S. diplomacy.
The woman teaches architectural history, I don’t thinks she lies. And here is where we are left to contemplate things. Perhaps this wave of revamping embassies (sadly, Iraq isn’t an anomaly) is a strong indication of a change in how US diplomacy is conducted worldwide.
To read more in depth, here is another article that details the contract that the US State Department awarded to First Kuwaiti General Trading & Contracting (FKTC) and the sketchy details of project itself. Labor trafficking? To Iraq? So it is true, you do learn something new everyday.
Although the U.S. government regularly proclaims confidence in Iraq’s democratic future, the United States has designed an embassy that conveys no confidence in Iraqis and little hope for their future. Instead, the United States has built a fortress capable of sustaining a massive, long-term presence in the face of continued violence.
What a conundrum!! But don’t get too angry…