Questions of when and how--or if--the war in Iraq will end anytime soon hover over us like bad angels, intruding on every debate and private conversation. "What's the point? What's the purpose? What's the goal?" The truth is our military adventurism in that country has created a Frankenstein monster; we are caught up in a sinister game whose rules are unknown and whose stakes are everything. America is now playing for its life, and is losing badly.
Have you ever found yourself wondering what our real intentions are there, anyway? Or which enemies, at this point, we are actually fighting? Radical Shiite Islamists? Sunni insurgents? Al Qaeda terrorists? Or Jihadist suicide bombers? Have you found yourself wondering how our soldiers are supposed to tell them apart? Do you ever think about how we will atone for the two million refugees (increasing still, at the rate of 60,000 a month) who have been forced to flee their country? Or why our liberating intervention has failed to inspire the presumed sympathy in ordinary Iraqis, igniting instead a massive craving for retaliation around the world? Is it, as many have asked, really a liberation, or is this an occupation?
If you really want a clear picture of what our motives are, there is one unambiguous, shameless thing--a single fragment, a dazzling detail--that goes straight to the heart of the matter, and, as surely as God made little green apples, puts all the confused questions to rest. That one thing is the new U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, perhaps the only project in that godforsaken place to be completed within budget ($600 million) and on time (projected completion by the end of this year).
This grotesque icon of material privilege and vanity is the perfect replacement for Saddam's palaces: a free-enterprise zone hidden away in full view of the stripped bleakness of a city otherwise deprived of functioning electricity, water, sewage systems, universities--and invaded every day by scenes of mayhem and slaughter.
The insider scoop on this profane counterworld set in the midst of Baghdad's ruins can be found in an article in the current issue of Vanity Fair, written by William Langewiesche and called "The Mega-Bunker of Baghdad." The following particulars, which have been well-masked until recently, I have taken from that essay.
The compound is the largest and most expensive embassy in the world, a walled expanse the size of Vatican City, containing 21 reinforced buildings on 104 acres, situated along the Tigris River. The new Embassy is self-sustaining, with its own power generators, water wells, drinking water treatment plant, sewage plant, fire station, irrigation system, Internet uplink and telephone center, cell phone network, mail service, fuel depot, food and supply warehouses, and vehicle repair garage. It contains 619 blast-resistant apartments and a multicultural food court fit for a shopping mall, tennis courts, a landscaped swimming pool and pool house, a bomb-resistant recreation center with a well-equipped gym, a department store, community center, beauty salon, and movie theater. The expected upkeep for this extravaganza is estimated to cost another $1.2 billion a year. All construction workers are imported, no Iraqis have been employed for the job. We have built a fortified America in the middle of a hostile city, according to Langewiesche, so impregnable and isolated that its main purpose seems to be in sustaining itself.
So, if U.S. agendas are deliberately confusing on the political front, and who we are fighting is often unclear, this one chilling indulgence signals unmistakeably that the American government looks upon Iraq as "their place." No wonder telling GWB that most Americans would like to see us leave is a bit like telling your dog to go easy on the bones.
Enter Virgil, the only alligator in town who regularly attends a neo-con think tank, still wearing his beer helmet (a baseball cap equipped with beer-can holders that allow the wearer to drink beer through a plastic tube). To be included in his world for a while is always a treat.
"My God," Virgil says, after reading what I've written, "this place is even larger than I remember! Mammy always said the meek shall inherit the earth. And since he loves Iraq so much, why can't we just put GWB into a salad tosser, pour cold water over him, and ship him over there to be the next President? That way, he could preside over the vestiges, shape local energies, and be boxed in forever with what he loves." He flashes me a wicked smile.
I've never seen Virgil in quite this mood before. He doesn't usually talk politics--it's not one of his subjects.