“The place was a relic before the paint was dry on it,” Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.), who chairs the Appropriations subcommittee on State Department expenditures, said of the 104-acre embassy compound, the largest and most costly U.S. diplomatic mission in the world.
Leahy is awaiting President Obama’s new budget request, due Monday, to see whether the administration shares his views. If not, he said, “I’m not sure Congress is going to go along with it much longer.”
Patrick F. Kennedy, the State Department’s long-serving undersecretary for management, said that the White House has not asked him to shrink the embassy, and he had no indication that the budget would be cut.
Officials in Baghdad and in Washington were already examining whether the mission was “right-sized,” Kennedy said. “We’re now in the fifth or sixth week since transition” following the final departure of U.S. military forces, and “we’re looking at the numbers.” He dismissed a report, posted Tuesday on the New York Times’ Web site, that the embassy was preparing cuts of up to 50 percent.
Until October, when the Obama administration and the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki failed to agree on conditions for leaving up to 5,000 U.S. troops in Iraq, State Department officials operated on the assumption that the military would assist diplomats with some security and big-ticket items such as transportation and medical evacuation.
When the last U.S. troops departed in December, the State Department was left with a plan formulated under different assumptions and a better U.S. economy.
Even before the troop negotiations failed, “we were having to predict . . . exactly what we would need with no big DOD there,” Kennedy said, referring to the Department of Defense. “I’m not saying I erred on the heavy side — I’m not about to waste money — but I was being very careful” to make sure that both diplomatic and support services, including security, were provided.
“Never having done a change of this magnitude, we had no playbook to guide us,” he said.
Mostly support personnel
The bulk of the 16,000-strong mission consists of support personnel who provide transportation, food, maintenance and security to the embassy compound, consular outposts in Basra and Irbil, and other installations. Most of them are private contractors who also provide security for travel around the country, which is still conducted by air or in convoys.
About 5,000 are assigned to the Office of Security Cooperation-Iraq, including trainers for senior Iraqi police supervisors. All but about 1,000 of that total are support personnel who sustain and protect trainers at various U.S. installations.