Wednesday, May 30, 2007

The US Embassy in Baghdad in all its Imperial Splendor

But those of you visiting our new embassy via BDY's Web site have no such worries. So get that container of Baskin-Robbins from the freezer and take another moment to consider this new wonder of our world with its own self-contained electricity-generation, water-purification, and sewage systems in a city lacking most of the above. When you look at the plans for it, you have to wonder: Can it, in any meaningful sense, be considered an embassy? And if so, an embassy to whom?

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What we know is that such an embassy is remarkably outsized for Iraq. Even as a headquarters for a vast, secret set of operations in that chaotic land, it doesn't quite add up. After all, our military headquarters in Iraq is already at Camp Victory on the outskirts of Baghdad. We can certainly assume – though no one in our mainstream media world would think to say such a thing – that this new embassy will house a rousing set of CIA (and probably Pentagon) intelligence operations for the country and region, and will be a massive hive for American spooks of all sorts. But whatever its specific functions, it might best be described as the imperial Mother Ship dropping into Baghdad.

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As an outpost, this vast compound reeks of one thing: imperial impunity. It was never meant to be an embassy from a democracy that had liberated an oppressed land. From the first thought, the first sketch, it was to be the sort of imperial control center suitable for the planet's sole "hyperpower," dropped into the middle of the oil heartlands of the globe. It was to be Washington's dream and Kansas City's idea of a palace fit for an embattled American proconsul – or a khan.

When completed, it will indeed be the perfect folly, as well as the perfect embassy, for a country that finds it absolutely normal to build vast base-worlds across the planet; that considers it just a regular day's work to send its aircraft carrier "strike forces" and various battleships through the Straits of Hormuz in daylight as a visible warning to a "neighboring" regional power; whose Central Intelligence Agency operatives feel free to organize and launch Baluchi tribal warriors from Pakistan into the Baluchi areas of Iran to commit acts of terror and mayhem; whose commander-in-chief president can sign a "nonlethal presidential finding" that commits our nation to a "soft power" version of the economic destabilization of Iran, involving, according to ABC News, "a coordinated campaign of propaganda, disinformation, and manipulation of Iran's currency and international financial transactions"; whose vice president can appear on the deck of the USS John C. Stennis to address a "rally for the troops," while that aircraft carrier is on station in the Persian Gulf readying itself to pass through those Straits, and can insist to the world: "With two carrier strike groups in the Gulf, we're sending clear messages to friends and adversaries alike. We'll keep the sea lanes open. We'll stand with our friends in opposing extremism and strategic threats. We'll disrupt attacks on our own forces…. And we'll stand with others to prevent Iran from gaining nuclear weapons and dominating this region"; whose military men can refer to Iraqi insurgents as "anti-Iraqi forces"; members of whose congressional opposition can offer plans for the dismemberment of Iraq into three or more parts; and all of whose movers and shakers, participating in the Washington Consensus, can agree that one "benchmark" the Iraqi government, also locked inside the Green Zone, must fulfill is signing off on an oil law designed in Washington and meant to turn the energy clock in the Middle East back several decades; but why go on?

To recognize such imperial impunity and its symbols for what they are, all you really need to do is try to reverse any of these examples. In most cases, that's essentially inconceivable. Imagine any country building the equivalent Mother Ship "embassy" on the equivalent of two-thirds of the Washington Mall; or sailing its warships into the Gulf of Mexico and putting its second-in-command aboard the flagship of the fleet to insist on keeping the sea lanes "open"; or sending Caribbean terrorists into Florida to blow up local buses and police stations; or signing a "finding" to economically destabilize the American government; or planning the future shape of our country from a foreign capital. But you get the idea. Most of these actions, if aimed against the United States, would be treated as tantamount to acts of war and dealt with accordingly in this country, with unbelievable hue and cry.

When it's a matter of other countries halfway across the planet, however, Americans largely consider such things, even if revealed in the news, at worst tactical errors or miscalculations. The imperial mindset goes deep. It also thinks unbearably well of itself and so, naturally, wants to memorialize itself, to give itself the surroundings that only the great, the super, the hyper deserves.

Nerdified link. Engelhardt also quotes the great Percy Bysshe Shelley poem Ozymandias, which seems a fitting and cautionary poem for our times. Empires come and go, and this empire too shall one day crumble - leaving behind some decaying relics for others to ponder. Of course for those caught up into the Zeitgeist of a particular imperial period, such thoughts simply cannot be entertained (except as irrational or treasonous). Nor in the frenzy of monument-building is it possible for an empire's inhabitants to truly grasp the perspectives of those whom they attempt to dominate, including the outrage directed at monument-builders who spare no luxury while the blood of natives is spilled and children starve.

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