By Al Kamen
Wednesday, May 16, 2007
For all those who keep whining about how the government can't do anything right, we're happy to report that the massive New Embassy Compound in Baghdad, the biggest U.S. embassy on earth, is going to be completed pretty much as scheduled in August.
The bad news is that it appears it's not going to have enough housing for all the employees who'll be moving to the 27-building complex on a 104-acre tract of land -- about the size of the Vatican, two-thirds the size of the Mall -- within the Green Zone.
In fact, our new man in Baghdad, Ambassador Ryan Crocker, is said to be concerned that, while there are more than 600 blast-resistant apartments in the NEC, there's a need for several hundred more apartments.
Problem seems to be that the original plans didn't account for hundreds of staff working in reconstruction, development, the inspector general's office and other security programs, who, though considered temporary, will need, at least for a few years, somewhere to live. There are 1,000 Americans working at the embassy, and Crocker is looking to downsize, but we hear he's having trouble finding even 100 to toss overboard.
Also, there are about 200 non-U.S. workers brought in from around the region who are replacing Iraqi staff because it is too dangerous for the Iraqis, who live outside the fortified Green Zone, to work for Americans.
Worst of all, there's no provision for rooms for congressional delegations or other distinguished guests coming to shop in the famed markets. There aren't any safe hotels in Baghdad, much less a decent B&B.
Embassy employees, now living in trailers with no overhead protection, are getting increasingly jittery over mortar and rocket attacks. New guidelines tell them to wear helmets and flak jackets when walking in the open. But some employees, sleeping in those tin-can trailers, apparently would actually like to take off the helmets and jackets while they're in bed.
One speaker at a recent town hall meeting in Baghdad, McClatchy Newspapers reported yesterday, asked for bullet-resistant Kevlar blankets to protect him from shrapnel in case of incoming mortar fire.
There's discussion now of a short-term solution that would put some people in trailers in the 30 to 40 acres not being used for housing. They would be right outside the compound but at least have overhead cover.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice last week said she dispatched super-competent Patrick Kennedy-- now director of management policy and talked about as a possible undersecretary for management at the State Department -- to Baghdad to assess the situation.
Crocker's home in the NEC -- which one source said was about 16,000 square feet -- is expected to be ready. Ditto deputy chief of mission Daniel Speckhard's cottage, which is a cozy 9,500 square feet. In addition to office buildings, the complex, located on the banks of the Tigris River, will have a pool and gym and a 17,000-square-foot commissary and food court building.
The NEC will also have its own water supply, power plant and waste-treatment facility so it doesn't have to rely on the Iraqis for essential services.
All this for only $592 million. Well, that was the original price tag.'Not a Campaign Document'
Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. is running for president of the United States. So it seemed most peculiar when some colleagues here received a 90-page booklet of his speeches and editorials from the last year about Iraq -- paid for by Senate funds and mailed from the Senate.
A cover letter to "Dear Friends" reminds us that a year ago he "announced a detailed plan for a way forward in Iraq." The last page says, "For over three decades, Joe Biden has played a pivotal role in shaping U.S. foreign policy" and "has been a leading and consistent voice against the administration's failed policy in Iraq."
Looks like a campaign duck, sounds like, waddles like . . .? No. "It is not a campaign document," Biden press secretary Elizabeth Alexander said yesterday. "There's been a lot of misinformation about his plan for Iraq," she said, so "we wanted to make clear" what the details were. "There's nothing new here."
The fine booklet, which she said cost only $75 in all to produce, was sent to fewer than 140 media people, mostly columnists and foreign affairs and military writers, not political reporters. He's put out similar compilations before, Alexander said, about issues such as intellectual property and the Boys and Girls Clubs.
It's really not something they wanted to do. He's chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Alexander noted, and "it's part of our duty to educate reporters and the public about his Iraq plan."
Quack . . .New Face at the NSC?
The Korean press reported last week that Katrin Fraser, a Fulbright fellow in Korea after her graduation from college in 2000 and more recently a special assistant to Kristin Silverberg, assistant secretary of state for international organization affairs, is expected to replace Victor Cha as National Security Council director for Korea and Japan.
Cha, a fluent Korean speaker whose father-in-law was a general and minister in the Roh Tae Woo government of South Korea, has gone back to his international relations professorship at Georgetown University.
Fraser, who's not expected to be directly involved in negotiations on North Korea's nukes, has been harshly critical of President Bush. In a 2002 article for the Korea Society Quarterly, she said South Korean reaction to his "axis of evil" statement was "swift and largely negative," and talked of his "insensitivity to Korean cultural conventions."