Are Embassies Obsolete?

<p>The American embassy under construction in Baghdad will be the largest, most heavily fortified and most expensive such facility in the world. And probably the most unnecessary, writes William Langewiesche.</p>
November 1, 2007, 12pm PDT | Michael Dudley
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"[The American Embassy] which will be completed by late fall, is the largest and most expensive embassy in the world, a walled expanse the size of Vatican City, containing 21 reinforced buildings on a 104-acre site along the Tigris River, enclosed within an extension of the Green Zone which stretches toward the airport road. The new embassy cost $600 million to build, and is expected to cost another $1.2 billion a year to run-a high price even by the profligate standards of the war in Iraq."

"What on earth is going on? We have built a fortified America in the middle of a hostile city, peopled it with a thousand officials from every agency of government, and provided them with a budget to hire thousands of contractors to take up the slack. Half of this collective is involved in self-defense. The other half is so isolated from Iraq that, when it is not dispensing funds into the Iraqi ether, it is engaged in nothing more productive than sustaining itself. The isolation is necessary for safety, but again, the process paradox is at play-and not just in Iraq. Faced with the failure of an obsolete idea-the necessity of traditional embassies and all the elaboration they entail-we have not stood back to remember their purpose, but have plunged ahead with closely focused concentration to build them bigger and stronger. One day soon they may reach a state of perfection: impregnable and pointless."

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Published on Wednesday, October 31, 2007 in Vanity Fair
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