Tuesday, July 24, 2007

The Embassy

Cross-posted at the Agonist.

Although it's assumed on this blog and many others that withdrawal in Iraq of some kind is inevitable, there are probably more than a few of you who read articles like the one in today's LA Times wondering "Well if we're getting out, then why the hell are we building a fortified compound in the middle of Baghdad?"

Despite its brash scale and nearly $600-million cost, the compound designed to accommodate more than 1,000 people is not big enough, and may not be safe enough if a major military pullout leaves the country engulfed in a heightened civil war, U.S. planners now say.

Like much U.S. planning in Iraq, the embassy was conceived nearly three years ago on rosy assumptions that stability was around the corner, and that the military effort would gradually draw down, leaving behind a vast array of civilian experts who would remain intimately engaged in Iraqi state-building. The result is what some analysts are describing as a $592-million anachronism.

"It really is sort of betwixt and between," said Stephen Biddle, a senior fellow at the U.S.-based Council on Foreign Relations who advises the Defense Department. "It's bigger than it should be if you really expect Iraq to stabilize. It's not as big as it needs to be to be the nerve center of an ongoing war effort."

"If the government of Iraq collapses and becomes transparently just one party in a civil war, you've got Ft. Apache in the middle of Indian country, but the Indians have mortars now," Biddle said.

I know there are some people who take this as evidence of a secret plan to stay in Iraq for decades, but I think the more likely explanation is that it's a boondoggle of a project that has acquired a life of its own and that nobody in this administration is going to stop for fear that such an act would (quite rightly) mark a concession to facts on the ground in Iraq. If you think it's outside the realm of possibility for the government to waste $600 million on a project that's obsolete before it's even completed, well then...

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