The Corner

Embassy Baghdad in Decline

Since the U.S. government announced in March 2004 plans to build “the largest embassy ever run by any country,” I have been on the case, poking fun at its overwrought size (21 acres), excessive construction expense ($750 million), gargantuan number of personnel (16,000), and swollen annual budget ($6 billion). I also bemoaned the embassy’s location in Saddam Hussein’s old palatial grounds, criticized its isolated, self-contained quality, and shuddered at the provocative implications of this diplomatic monstrosity. (For an overview, see my article on this topic; for plenty of dismal but entertaining detail, see my 4,700-word blog.)

Now comes the news that this hubristic exercise will be cut down to size. Tim Arango reports in the New York Times (“U.S. Planning to Slash Iraq Embassy Staff by Half”) that the Iraqi government is not processing visas or permitting food deliveries on a timely basis, that it is confounding security measures, arbitrarily confiscating documents, computers, and weapons, spreading conspiracy theories, and otherwise honing nationalist resentments against the White Elephant. Therefore, the staff there will be cut in half.


1) It’s about time. What planet has the State Department been living on? Had it no idea that Iraqis might be resentful of this diplomatic intrusion?

2) Studying a little Muslim history would have made it obvious that things would end badly.

3) The U.S. government has a history of honorable disengagement from the countries it conquers and occupies; and Iraq is no exception, with all forces pulled out less than nine years after the invasion, with the local government allowed not only to take charge but even to bully Americans.

4) By informal tradition, wherever the State Department builds its largest embassy, trouble follows — Saigon and Tehran being earlier examples. Iraq is now in play. Peking is next in the pecking order.

Daniel Pipes — Daniel Pipes is president of the Middle East Forum. A former official in the U.S. departments of State and Defense, he has taught history at Chicago, Harvard, and Pepperdine universities, ...

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