Downsizing the U.S. Mission in Baghdad isn't really about rationing chicken wings in the embassy's dining hall after all, despite yesterday's New York Times story.
Instead, it's all about the reducing the footprint, according to remarks by Thomas Nides, Deputy Secretary for Management and Resources, at a press teleconference today. He said "footprint" seven times.
We are currently wearing men's size 20 quadruple-E extra wides, or something like that. But, if we replace enough third-country security contractors with Iraqis, buy our groceries in the local market, and always, always, always re-think our engagement (Deputy Secretary Nides also said "engagement" seven times) we will eventually fit into a more nearly normal shoe.
Read the press conference transcript here.
Evidently, most of this footprint reduction will come about by hiring fewer foreign (i.e., non-Iraqi) security contractors and replacing them with local hires. That will help in at least two ways. First, it will eliminate a leading source of aggravation for the Iraqis. Second, the mission will not have to house and logistically support so many contractors, since our local hires will go home after their shifts are over, just like a normal local guard force does at a normal mission.
Deputy Secretary Nides tap-danced around questions about the actual numbers involved here, but he did deny that we are reducing our operations by the 50 percent figure cited in the NYT's report. Beyond that, he really couldn't be too specific. However, he concluded with this:
So as we proceed over the next year, and as we look at our mission set and look at what we’re trying to achieve on the diplomatic side, my hope is, is that we’ll conclude over – in the period of time that we can consolidate some of the locations and space, and that will allow us to rely more upon local Iraqi contractors. But the most important thing is what we’re going to do is we’re going to be studying it, we’re working on it, we’re going to work very closely with our staff at our – in Baghdad and around the country, and we’re going to work with the Iraqis. They – we are a team working closely with them as we look at this diplomatic mission now and into the future.
Americans can rest assured that we have our top guys "working on it."