Embassies and Consulates in a Changing World

A very interesting article on the new US embassy in Baghdad:

In reality, American embassies are increasingly cut off from those very countries in which the U.S. is supposed to be fostering better relations, and worse, create caricatures of the detached diplomat more interested in tennis than work. Even in Doha, a relative safe haven from terrorism, the embassy is many meters off the main road, and to enter, you pass through a security checkpoint staffed by Filipinos. Depending on your business at the embassy, you then go through another layer of security to enter the building. Even for embassy employees, entering the building was time consuming. For foreigners, it could be a good chunk of the afternoon.

This begs the larger question: What’s the point of the modern well-staffed embassy (which includes many agencies beyond the State Department)? Or in other words, what is the relevance of U.S. diplomatic presence abroad? At least in Baghdad, the embassy appears on a one-way collision course with that very question.

I grew up in South America so I’ve had experience with the US consular system. When I was a kid, sure, there were Marine guards in bullet-proof guard huts checking you out, but in effect, you could walk in off the street. What happens to the point of an embassy or consulate if the locals can’t get in at all, and the consular staff lives apart from and has no interaction with the locals?