The Campaign Spot

A Big New Federal-Government Expense I’m Not That Upset About

A minor quibble with my friend Ed Morrissey, who’s questioning the plans to move the U.S. embassy in London:

But our embassy in London certainly doesn’t fall into the same security-risk profile as those, and we don’t have a billion dollars to burn on a new one. Or, to put it another way, it seems presumptuous to ask the Chinese to build us a new embassy in London, with or without a moat.

It is, sadly, almost a guarantee: In many countries, if you work in a U.S. embassy, someday someone is going to try to blow up your workplace. I was around that embassy in 2003, after the Iraq War had began, with many lengthy gates and fences and other security measures. Roughly a week after that visit, while President Bush was in the U.K., the British consulate in Istanbul, Turkey, was bombed; in 2008, gunmen tried to shoot their way into the U.S. consulate in Istanbul.

Ed’s a smart guy; he’s heard of “Londonistan”  — the high number of Muslims and those who support jihadism in the U.K. — and we know about the London terror attacks of July 2005. If you asked me to list the 20 most likely terror targets in the next decade, our embassy in London would probably make the list; embassies and consulates in dangerous parts of the world and in cities with Islamist/al-Qaeda presence would dominate those top 20.

Yes, the cost is high; big buildings are expensive, and this one will require top-of-the-line communications equipment, bug-proofing measures, walls strong enough to withstand bomb blasts, etcetera. Maybe it really is too much to spend. But we pretty much know that sooner or later, somebody is going to try to kill as many Americans in this building as possible; this is one of the areas where I’m willing to nod and say, “It’s worth the extra expense.”

On a related note, this move echoes the trend for most American embassies abroad. In most foreign capitals, the U.S. embassy is or used to be downtown or on “Embassy Row” near the rest of the embassies; now the trend is to move them to much more remote locations. This clearly makes the day-to-day business of the embassy tougher, but it moves likely terrorism targets out of densely populated downtown areas where collateral damage is likely to be more severe.