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U.S. Embassy to staff 17,000. Seriously???

March 11, 2011

I was listening to NPR’s Neal Conan, Talk of the Nation, the other day on my way back from the VA. His guest that afternoon was Ted Koppel . (The Podcast of that program can be found here.)

The topic of the show was whether or not the U.S. should be completely out of Iraq by the end of 2011.  During the course of the interview they began to discuss the new U.S. Embassy in Baghdad. Koppel mentioned that the facility would be home to over 17,000 employees.

My head sort of spun around like Linda Blair when that number drilled into my brain like a Peruvian gnat. I was pretty sure he meant 1,700 and mis-spoke when a moment later he said it again.

SEVENTEEN THOUSAND!

This part of Conan’s interview went like this:

CONAN: And Ted Koppel, that raises questions about the fundamental -really, you’d heard those questions raised most often about the interior ministry forces rather than the military forces in Iraq, but that they were more loyal to party than to the government.

KOPPEL: Neal, I don’t think there is any question that both the -certainly the Pentagon and I believe probably the military in Iraq also does not want to see the complete drawdown of U.S. forces at the end of this year from Iraq.

I think what’s happening, for political reasons, both political reasons to serve the interests of the White House and political reasons to serve the interests of Prime Minister Maliki, there is something of a shell game going on right now.

The U.S. embassy to which you referred earlier on is quite literally the largest embassy in the universe. It is going to have staffing somewhere in excess of 17,000 people. There is no other embassy in the world that comes even close to that, no other U.S. embassy, and I don’t think any other embassy comes even close to that.

Many of those 17,000 will be the military/civilian contractors that you were referring to before, and you’re going to have this bizarre situation where the State Department, in effect, is going to be running the military operations that previously were run by the Pentagon.

I played around with that 17,000 number and the sheer volume of people is staggering.

Consider this — if you hired every player in the NFL, NBA, Major and Minor League Baseball, to start staffing the Embassy, you would still need over twenty-one 747 airplanes, fully loaded with passengers, to finish staffing the facility.

Or this — Penske Automative Group (PAG) operates 253 retail automotive franchises, representing 40 different brands, and 40 collision repair centers. PAG is a member of the Fortune 500 (#245) and Russell 200, and has approximately 15,000 employees. (2,000 less than the US Embassy in Baghdad.)

Somewhere later in the interview Koppel notes:

“Each of those men, on average, is paid somewhere in the neighborhood of $100,000 a year, which as most of your listeners probably know is somewhat in excess of what our men and women in uniform earn.”

If only half the 17,000 (8,500) employees were paid $100,000 a year, the payroll for that half would amount to $850 million dollars, and you still have to pay the other half.  Conservative estimates for the new Embassy thinks the annual operating budget to be around $2 Billion. That’s a lot of school lunches.

I’m having a tough time wrapping my head around what 17,000 people are doing at the U.S. Embassy in Iraq, especially as the military operation has run its course.

And this new embassy is a pretty substantial facility known in the neighborhood alongside the Tigris river in Baghdad.

The embassy has extensive housing and facilities in addition to the usual diplomatic buildings. The buildings include:

  • Six apartment buildings for employees
  • Water and waste treatment facilities
  • A power station
  • Two “major diplomatic office buildings”
  • Recreation, including a gym, cinema, and a swimming pool

The complex is heavily fortified, even by the standards of the Green Zone. The details are largely secret, but it is likely to include a significant US Marine Security Guard detachment.

I’d like to know why we need so many people in a diplomatic mission in a country that doesn’t want us to be there. Why so many people? Must be planning on making a lot of passports in Baghdad.

Some resources to check out:

http://www.fas.org/sgp/crs/mideast/RS21867.pdf
http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/12319798 <—Must See Video

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One Comment
  1. March 12, 2011 7:25 pm

    I want to know why also. If we’re supposedly pulling out, what’s with the freakin’ mini USA?

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