AMERICAN PALACE ON THE TIGRIS?

The new U.S. Embassy in Baghdad will be the world’s largest and most expensive foreign mission, though it may not be large enough or secure enough to cope with the chaos in Iraq. . . .

The $592 million embassy occupies a chunk of prime real estate two-thirds the size of Washington’s National Mall, with desk space for about 1,000 people behind high, blast-resistant walls. The compound is a symbol both of how much the United States has invested in Iraq and how the circumstances of its involvement are changing.

The embassy is one of the few major projects the administration has undertaken in Iraq that is on schedule and within budget. Still, not all has gone according to plan. The 21-building complex on the Tigris River was envisioned three years ago partly as a headquarters for the democratic expansion in the Middle East that President Bush identified as the organizing principle for foreign policy in his second term.

The complex quickly could become a white elephant if the U.S. scales back its presence and ambitions in Iraq. Although the U.S. probably will have forces in Iraq for years to come, it is not clear how much of the traditional work of diplomacy can proceed amid the violence and what the future holds for Iraq’s government.

“What you have is a situation in which they are building an embassy without really thinking about what its functions are,” said Edward Peck, a former top U.S. diplomat in Iraq.

OTOH: From developer’s description: Following successful completion of the preliminary concept plans and the full embassy master plan, Berger was commissioned to prepare the design-build “bridging documents” (based on 35% design) for construction of the self-contained embassy compound. Berger Devine Yaeger, Inc. (BDY) was the architect for this work. The construction (currently underway) is being executed in four concurrent packages. This self-contained compound will include the embassy itself, residences for the ambassador and staff, PX, commissary, cinema, retail and shopping, restaurants, schools, fire station and supporting facilities such as power generation, water purification system, telecommunications, and waste water treatment facilities. In total, the 104 acre compound will include over twenty buildings including one classified secure structure and housing for over 380 families.

TomDispatch.com remarked: Percy Bysshe Shelley’s poem “Ozymandias,” inspired by the arrival in London in 1816 of an enormous statue of the Pharaoh Ramesses II, comes to mind:

“I met a traveler from an antique land Who said:

“Two vast and trunkless legs of stone Stand in the desert.

Near them, on the sand, Half sunk a shattered visage lies, whose frown,

And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command, Tell that its sculptor well those passions read

Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things, The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed. And on the pedestal, these words appear:‘

My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings,Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!

‘Nothing beside remains.

Round the decay Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare, The lone and level sands stretch far away.”

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