The Baghdad Embassy, a W Hotel

By Al Kamen
Wednesday, April 23, 2008

There's been constant grousing that the gigantic, $750 million U.S. Embassy in Baghdad is way too big and expensive, even though it came in at scarcely more than 20 percent over budget (and nearly a year late).

But critics, who acknowledge it's a whole lot safer than those tin cans our diplomats sleep in as the rockets and mortars rain down on the old embassy, are completely missing the boat.

The money is not an expenditure. Think of it as an investment. Should things calm down in Baghdad, and Washington -- or a truly democratic Iraqi government -- decides a smaller, more normal embassy would do, they'd be sitting on a gold mine any hotel resort chain would snap up for huge bucks.

We're talking a heavily guarded, gated expanse of 27 buildings on 104 acres -- about the size of the Vatican, or two-thirds the size of the Mall -- with a wonderful river view on the historic Euphrates, according to the contractor's press release. The complex boasts 619 lovely -- if a tad small -- blast-resistant apartments, office buildings, restaurants, indoor and outdoor basketball courts, a volleyball court and an Olympic-size indoor pool.

And if, just by chance, things later go south in terms of security, prospective buyers would be assured by other features of this self-contained city within a city: its own water supply, power plant and waste-treatment facility.

In addition to all that, there's the lore of the construction itself. The supply routes were closed "due to war" for 232 days about one third of the time it took to build the project, according to the main contractor. The site "was under direct enemy fire" for 12 days, and there were 14 "trucks lost."

The contractor explained that these were not trucks that missed a confusing road sign in Najaf but were "lost due to violence."

Hey, maybe the embassy could ask for bids in euros?

Feith and Hope

Speaking of Iraq, the Georgetown Hoya newspaper last week quoted a student saying she was "displeased that university officials have not asked" former Pentagon undersecretary Douglas Feith"to return to teach next year."

Asked about Feith's status, Robert Gallucci, dean of Georgetown's foreign service school, told us that when Feith was hired -- something that caused an uproar among the faculty -- it was understood he "was on a two-year appointment." Any decision not to renew should not be seen as "a judgment on his performance," Gallucci said, noting that Feith's students' "course evaluations were really good."

Feith, author of a bestseller about his Pentagon days called "War and Decision," said he hadn't decided what to do next. "I'm intensely occupied with book stuff," and there are "several things I'm thinking about," he said.

Word is that keeping Feith on beyond the two-year term again would have infuriated a number of faculty members. Well, there are always those "dead-enders," as former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld so eloquently noted back in June 2003.

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