The Bush administration has many legacies. One is the more than $700 million U.S. embassy, set on 104 acres, only slightly smaller than the Vatican’s land holdings, in Baghdad. It was an embassy designed for an imperial power intent on ruling a puppet state.
It turns out that Iraq’s Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki doesn’t plan on being anyone’s puppet. U.S. troops have come out of the cities and will be coming home in coming months. Provincial reconstruction teams also will be leaving. The Bush administration’s plan for maintaining scores of bases for use in attacking Iran or other troublesome Middle Eastern states is stillborn. And Prime Minister Maliki isn’t likely to ask for Washington’s advice on what kind of society U.S. officials want him to create.
So just what should the Obama administration do with this White Elephant on the Euphrates? Cut it down, says the State Department’s own Inspector General.
The U.S. Embassy in Baghdad – the United States’ largest and most costly overseas diplomatic mission, with 1,873 employees – is overstaffed and must be reduced to a size more in keeping with the evolving U.S.-Iraq relationship and budget constraints, government auditors said in a report issued Wednesday.
The State Department’s inspector general said that although the U.S. presence in Iraq will become more civilian as the military withdraws over the next two years, the embassy “should be able to carry out all of its responsibilities with significantly fewer staff and in a much-reduced footprint.” The reduction “has to begin immediately,” the report said, before Foreign Service officers complete their next assignment bidding cycle and other employees are extended or hired.
The U.S. should be preparing to have a normal relationship with Iraq. That includes maintaining a normal embassy.