On 104 acres along the Tigris River in the heart of Baghdad sits a monument to arrogance, incompetence and stupidity.
This expansive 21-building campus is the new U.S. Embassy, the largest and most expensive embassy or diplomatic mission ever constructed by any country in the world. The largest current U.S. embassy is in China, and is five acres. The White House itself only occupies 18 acres.
Once billed as the only construction project in Iraq that was on time and on budget, the new $592 million U.S. Embassy was supposed to open last month.
The project has now been delayed indefinitely due to shoddy construction by a shady contractor. It will take at least another $144 million to correct.
But that's just par for the course in terms of U.S. government expenditures in Iraq. We'll be lucky if they don't have to tear the whole thing down and rebuild it from scratch.
At least we got a sweet deal on the land, one of the most prime locations inside the heavily guarded Green Zone. Back in 2004, the interim Iraqi government gave this large riverside park to the U.S. for free, a move not much appreciated by the Iraqi people today.
This embassy compound dwarfs the nearby facilities used by the Iraqi government. Picture China being given free deed to the National Mall in Washington and turning it into a walled embassy compound, and you will get some idea of what the Iraqis see in this new addition to their capital city.
It is not so much an embassy as an imperial palace, home of the new American empire field headquarters, to rule over their newest acquisition. It was conceived back in the day when the plan was for Iraq to become the shining beacon of peace and American-style democracy that would transform the whole Middle East.
Maybe they should have waited to secure the place before building monuments to their success.
The arrogance of this project should not be surprising. The neoconservative authors of the fatally flawed world vision that brought us this war had the arrogance to put these ideas on the Internet under the imperial-sounding title "Project for the New American Century." Their assumption that the Iraqi people - who had long suffered under the empires of the British, the Turks, the Persians and others - would welcome these invaders from the West and help them conquer the rest of the Middle East is as laughable as it is tragic.
It must seem ironic for Iraqis that this new symbol of American empire sits next door to the July the 14th Monument, which commemorates the final defeat of British imperial rule.
But the irony runs deeper than that. To quell the restless natives, the British after World War I used mustard gas on the civilian population because it was cheaper than deploying ground troops.
The fact that occupiers from the West came back, in part, because of Saddam Hussein's nonexistent stockpiles of poison gas must make their heads spin.
The American public isn't supposed to pay attention to these details. We were never told that we were permanently occupying Iraq. We were, and still are, given the impression that, in the president's words, "when the Iraqis stand up, we will stand down," that our troops will come home when victory is achieved.
What the American public is starting to realize is that victory in the eyes of the Bush administration means never leaving, and that is what this monstrosity of an embassy is all about. What Bush doesn't seem to grasp is that it's this rank dishonesty that is at the heart of his political problems. No matter how many surges he undertakes, how many corners are turned, how much progress is made against the enemy, there will never be victory, because the American people have a fundamentally different idea of what winning is. He wants to rule an empire. We don't.
America will eventually abandon Iraq just like the British did, not because of some philosophical change of heart, but because of money. As the British proved before us, maintaining an empire is an expensive proposition, and we have no money left to prop it up, nor do we have the stomach to gas the Iraqis into submission.
The American Embassy on the Tigris will likely go the way of other imperial palaces and be taken over by the people it once ruled. Some day it may become a museum, a testament to the depths to which human beings can sink in pursuit of power.