So, the inevitable has occurred: After the withdrawal of U.S. troops, the American diplomatic presence in Baghdad may be cut drastically, making the new $750 million embassy compound a monstrous white elephant.

The question is: What do we do with the 104-acre complex — the largest embassy on Earth, with 27 blast-proof buildings and housing for more than 1,000 employees?

Loop Fans can help!

Yes, it’s the Loop “Embassy for Sale” Contest, our first contest of 2012. Simply tell us what the United States should do with the compound and — this is a two-parter — name the new facility (or facilities, if that’s the plan).

Just go to
and leave your submission in a comment. The top 10 entries will receive one of those coveted In the Loop T-shirts and mentions in this column.

But hurry! Entries must be submitted by midnight Feb. 17. In case of duplicates, the first in will win. (You may want to double-check that there’s an active e-mail address associated with your log-in. If we’re unable to contact a winner within three days, the prize will go to a runner-up.) Winners will be determined by an independent, distinguished and un-bribe-able panel of judges.

Here’s what you’ve got to work with: The ultra-secured complex, which opened in 2009, is on the banks of the Tigris River. It has swimming pools, basketball courts, tennis courts and other athletic facilities. The ambassador’s residence is 16,000 square feet, and the deputy’s cottage is a cozy 9,500 square feet.

The embassy, built when money was no object, has a 17,000-square-foot commissary and food-court building and its own water supply, power plant and waste-treatment facility, so it doesn’t have to rely on the Iraqis for essential services.

Think of the possibilities!

Nuclear groupies?

With his white hair and decidedly senatorial demeanor, Sen. Richard Lugar is not likely to be mistaken for a rock star.

But the Indiana Republican apparently enjoys a stature normally reserved for chart-toppers in Ukraine, where he is, as they say, huge.

Journalist John Shaw, who wrote the recent book “Richard G. Lugar: Statesman of the Senate,” says that while traveling with Lugar and former senator Sam Nunn in Eastern Europe, a young Ukrainian arms-control specialist told him that Lugar was a “total rock star” in her country because of his work on nonproliferation. Shaw then introduced the Lugar fan to the senator and the two chatted extensively about Ukrainian politics and diplomacy.

The woman later thanked Shaw, and — mixing musical metaphors — gushed that it was like meeting Michael Jackson .

The book also delves deeply into Lugar’s foreign policy work, and Shaw finds some criticism of the otherwise well-regarded senator — particularly on the Iraq war, which Lugar questioned but didn’t cross his party on. Lugar’s former colleague Chuck Hagel said he pleaded with Lugar to try to exert some influence with President George W. Bush, Shaw reports. And Vice President Biden, who served in the Senate for years with Lugar, also laments that he wasn’t more forceful. “I wish Dick would have punched back when he knew his team was wrong,” Biden says.

Substance aside, we still can’t get the image of Lugar moonwalking through Odessa out of our heads.

Fact-filled Paris

The February chill might not be perfect for strolling the cobblestones of the Latin Quarter, but the hardy members of Congress heading to Paris later this month will, no doubt, persevere in the face of such adversity.

A contingent of lawmakers, headed by Rep. Dan Burton , is voyaging to France, Slovakia, Belgium and Hungary during the February recess, Roll Call’s Amanda Becker reports. Bien sur, the first three nights of the week-long trip will be spent in the City of Lights — renowned home to many facts awaiting the lawmakers’ discovery.

The Indiana Republican, we should add, just announced his retirement.

Burton, who chairs the Foreign Affairs panel on Europe and Eurasia, says the purpose of the trip is to explore the financial woes of euro-zone countries. The lawmakers’ spouses, meanwhile, are free to do a little economy-stimulating in the city’s chic boutiques and bistros.

Bon voyage!

By the time we get to Ely

A year ago, it looked as if a lovely bit of pork — the Essential Air Service program — could very well be cut from the federal budget.

But despite bipartisan efforts to drive a stake into it, the EAS, like Dracula, lived to fly another day.

The EAS began in 1978 as a $7 million effort to give some small rural towns 10 years to keep their air service while adjusting to an era of free markets and deregulation. It was to be phased out, or “sunset,” after 10 years.

It’s now a $200 million program subsidizing passenger fares in 122 communities and, under the Federal Aviation Administration bill approved last week, there’s no longer a sunset provision.

The most Congress could come up with was to save $3 million by dropping Ely, Nev., and Alamagordo, N.M. An additional $12 million may be saved by cutting nine places where fewer than 10 (ten?) passengers get on each day, such as Show Low, Ariz., and Owensboro, Ky. (If they get a couple more passengers daily, they apparently could avoid the ax.)

Under the bill, the amount that taxpayers would have to give out for needy rural fliers would be capped at $1,000 a ticket.

The free market at work, Washington style. Has anyone told the tea party?

Biggest winners in this fight: House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) and House Transportation Committee Chairman John Mica (R-Fla.). Biggest losers: the unions, which are, under the bill, going to have a much tougher time unionizing the industry — and they are most unhappy with the Senate Democratic leadership.

Quote of the week

“Stupid people are ruining America!” — former Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain, addressing conservatives in Washington this week. He then exhorted the crowd to outmaneuver said idiots. If they are really so dumb, that doesn’t sound too hard.

With Emily Heil

The blog:
intheloop. Twitter: @InTheLoopWP.