The following is an introduction from Tom Engelhardt: Along with postcards of cowboys riding jackalopes and giant berries on flatcars, there’s a brand new entry in the American gigantism sweepstakes: an embassy complex to be built in Islamabad, Pakistan, for — if you assume the normal cost overruns on such projects — what’s likely to be close to a billion dollars. If that doesn’t make the U.S. number one in the imperial hubris footrace for all eternity, what will? The question is: with its projected “large military and intelligence contingent,” and its “surge” of diplomats, will that embassy also issue the largest visas on the planet?
Here’s the strange thing: The embassy story was broken at the end of May by the superb journalists at McClatchy News (in this case, Warren P. Stroebel and Saeed Shah). As part of what Shah, in the Christian Science Monitor, estimates as a staggering “$2-billion-plus price tag on a revamped diplomatic presence for the United States in Afghanistan and Pakistan,” they reported that an appropriation of $736 million for embassy construction had quietly made its way through both houses of Congress without a peep from anyone. This news, however, seemed to plunge off a steep cliff into a deep well of silence.
Indicative as the Obama administration’s decision to build such an imperial monstrosity may be of a longer-term commitment to a wider war in the Af-Pak (as in Afghanistan-Pakistan) theater of operations, it evidently proved of no interest to anyone here.
The story was not widely picked up or played up significantly. Despite the fact that major news operations have been bolstering their staffs in Pakistan, there has been no further reporting on the appropriation, the plans for the embassy, or what it all might mean. As far as I can tell, nowhere in the United States did a mainstream editorial page decry, challenge, or even discuss the development. Charlie Rose didn’t gather experts to consider it, nor did the Newshour with Jim Lehrer seem to think it worth exploring. Letters of outrage at the thought of those desperately needed funds heading Islamabad-wards didn’t pour into local newspapers (perhaps because few knew it was happening and those who did saw it as just another humdrum story about making the U.S. safer in a dangerous world). I’ve seen no obvious congressional attempts to oppose the passage of the money. The general attitude is evidently: Been there, done that (in Iraq, as a matter of fact, in the Bush years).
Maybe in a world where near-trillion-dollar bailouts are the norm, a mere three-quarters of a billion for a fortress of an embassy seems like so much chump change, the sort of news that only Democracy Now! would even consider significant. Fortunately, Chalmers Johnson, author of The Blowback Trilogy, and an expert on U.S. military bases abroad, did notice, understood its significance, and has now put it in his gun sights. (Catch my TomDispatch audio interview with Johnson about our Empire of Bases by clicking here). — Tom Engelhardt
The U.S. Empire of Bases — at $102 billion a year already the world’s costliest military enterprise — just got a good deal more expensive. As a start, on May 27th, we learned that the State Department will build a new “embassy” in Islamabad, Pakistan, which at $736 million will be the second priciest ever constructed, only $4 million less, if cost overruns don’t occur, than the Vatican-City-sized one the Bush administration put up in Baghdad. The State Department was also reportedly planning to buy the five-star Pearl Continental Hotel (complete with pool) in Peshawar, near the border with Afghanistan, to use as a consulate and living quarters for its staff there.
Unfortunately for such plans, on June 9th Pakistani militants rammed a truck filled with explosives into the hotel, killing 18 occupants, wounding at least 55, and collapsing one entire wing of the structure. There has been no news since about whether the State Department is still going ahead with the purchase.
Whatever the costs turn out to be, they will not be included in our already bloated military budget, even though none of these structures is designed to be a true embassy — a place, that is, where local people come for visas and American officials represent the commercial and diplomatic interests of their country. Instead these so-called embassies will actually be walled compounds, akin to medieval fortresses, where American spies, soldiers, intelligence officials, and diplomats try to keep an eye on hostile populations in a region at war. One can predict with certainty that they will house a large contingent of Marines and include roof-top helicopter pads for quick get-aways.
While it may be comforting for State Department employees working in dangerous places to know that they have some physical protection, it must also be obvious to them, as well as the people in the countries where they serve, that they will now be visibly part of an in-your-face American imperial presence. We shouldn’t be surprised when militants attacking the U.S. find one of our base-like embassies, however heavily guarded, an easier target than a large military base.