Wednesday, May 31


A tale of two edifices inspires a different kind of shock and awe. Who would have believed that five years after 9/11, Ground Zero would still be a zero but we'd be building a bilion-dollar embassy in IRAQ to rival Saddam's palaces.

Only in Bush World.

In those few years, the World Trade Center site has gone from a symbol of American power (when the towers stood) to solemn proof of American grit (while the site was being cleared) to . . . what? We're still waiting, although as a symbol of America losing its way, ground zero is it for now.

Meanwhile, seven time zones away, another massive construction project is having none of those problems. Spread over 104 acres and known locally as "George W.'s Palace," it's the 21-building, $600 million complex that will become the American Embassy compound in Baghdad. The Iraqi capital daily goes without electricity for all but four hours a day, water and sewage operate at prewar levels. Only six of 150 health-care facilities promised by the occupation forces have been built.

But at the embassy complex, work is proceeding swiftly and secretly but for the forest of cranes rising on the skyline. It has the distinction of being "the only big U.S. building project in Iraq that is on time and within budget," the London Times reported. As an added insult to local workers, the White House contracted the job to Kuwaiti companies who, in turn, have trucked in exclusively foreign workers.

According to the Times, the compound eventually will house a staff of 8,000 and "what is rumored to be the biggest swimming pool in Iraq, a state-of-the-art gymnasium, a cinema, restaurants offering delicacies from favorite U.S. chains, tennis courts and a swish American club for evening functions." It will be as ostentatious a display of power and luxury as any of Saddam Hussein's palaces, which the old tyrant loved to build in his people's faces, and at their expense.

The American compound in Baghdad is being built at the expense of American taxpayers. But it is already a monument to American hubris abroad and a sad contrast with what remains at ground zero in Manhattan: We can make war. We can build fortresses. We cannot build peace, abroad or at home.

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