This article originally appeared on TomDispatch.
The US Empire of Bases–at $102 billion a year already the world’s costliest military enterprise–just got a good deal more expensive. As a start, on May 27, we learned that the State Department will build a new “embassy” in Islamabad, Pakistan, which at $736 million will be the second priciest ever constructed, only $4 million less, if cost overruns don’t occur, than the Vatican City-sized one the Bush administration put up in Baghdad. The State Department was also reportedly planning to buy the five-star Pearl Continental Hotel (complete with pool) in Peshawar, near the border with Afghanistan, to use as a consulate and living quarters for its staff there.
Unfortunately for such plans, on June 9 Pakistani militants rammed a truck filled with explosives into the hotel, killing eighteen occupants, wounding at least fifty-five, and collapsing one entire wing of the structure. There has been no news since about whether the State Department is still going ahead with the purchase.
Whatever the costs turn out to be, they will not be included in our already bloated military budget, even though none of these structures is designed to be a true embassy–a place, that is, where local people come for visas and American officials represent the commercial and diplomatic interests of their country. Instead these so-called embassies will actually be walled compounds, akin to medieval fortresses, where American spies, soldiers, intelligence officials and diplomats try to keep an eye on hostile populations in a region at war. One can predict with certainty that they will house a large contingent of Marines and include roof-top helicopter pads for quick getaways.
While it may be comforting for State Department employees working in dangerous places to know that they have some physical protection, it must also be obvious to them, as well as the people in the countries where they serve, that they will now be visibly part of an in-your-face American imperial presence. We shouldn’t be surprised when militants attacking the US find one of our base-like embassies, however heavily guarded, an easier target than a large military base.
And what is being done about those military bases anyway–now close to 800 of them dotted across the globe in other people’s countries? Even as Congress and the Obama administration wrangle over the cost of bank bailouts, a new health plan, pollution controls and other much needed domestic expenditures, no one suggests that closing some of these unpopular, expensive imperial enclaves might be a good way to save some money.