The new U.S. Embassy in Lebanon will soon be the second largest embassy in the world. A lot of Lebanese don’t like that.
The tops of the hills and mountains of Lebanon are littered with them: ancient castles, once built by the rulers of the past. It is the legacy of the Fatimids, Crusaders and Mamluks, sometimes preserved in good condition, sometimes just a pile of stones.
It looks like the country will soon have another hill fort, as it turned out last week, one where tourists are less likely to enter: the new US Embassy compound. The building will be located just outside the Lebanese capital, Beirut. Last week, the embassy team proudly tweeted photos of construction work, which began in 2017. But instead of happy reactions, the post – which has already been viewed more than two million times – caused a small argument.
The size of the embassy building in particular arouses consternation. It had been known for some time that the complex would cover a total of more than 17 hectares, which would make it the largest embassy in the world after the United States Embassy in Baghdad (42 hectares), but the photos make many realize Lebanese how huge this is. is is. The cost of construction is estimated at $1 billion. “Is the United States heading for Lebanon? remarks someone in a mocking tone.
Also, there is anger that the entire hill has been stripped of all trees and other greenery due to construction work. It’s sensitive; Local environmental organizations have been warning for years that trees in Lebanon are disappearing at a rapid rate, including illegal logging and wildfires, which are destroying local ecosystems and accelerating the country’s drought and desertification. It is unclear whether the Americans plan to replant downed trees in the area.
Not everyone reacts with exasperation. Some Lebanese hopefully note that the structure may symbolize how high the Middle East is on America’s priority list, despite Biden’s intention to engage less in the region than his predecessors. If there is anything to read in the stones and the cement, it is that the Americans do indeed seem fully engaged in the region. But since construction plans have already been drawn up and launched under Obama and Trump, it can also be seen as a monument to past foreign policy.
Despite the intentions of the current US administration to focus primarily on other continents, Beirut remains a strategic base for the entire region; the size of the new embassy also seems to indicate that the staff will soon no longer deal only with Lebanese affairs.
Difficult to reach
The fact that the embassy complex is located outside the capital is part of a larger trend. Where the American diplomatic corps preferred posh and atmospheric buildings, often in central locations in the capital, American diplomats are now increasingly settling in large, hard-to-reach walled compounds.
The trend towards isolation arose for security reasons, particularly after the 1983 bombing of the embassy in Beirut, then in the west of the city, in which 63 people died, including seventeen Americans. The State Department launched an investigation, which resulted in the Inman report. He made a series of recommendations – a building away from public roads, blast-proof walls, not too many windows – that should improve the security of embassies around the world. Later incidents, such as the attack on the US consulate in Benghazi in 2012, in which the ambassador was killed, added to the caution.
While the new kind of embassies, of which the complex in Lebanon is a model, are safer, not everyone is enthusiastic. “We’re building the ugliest embassies I’ve ever seen,” sighed John Kerry, then chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, in 2009. “We’re building castles all over the world. This is how we isolate ourselves from people in all these countries.
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