Imperfect Partners

The United States And Southeast Asia

Book cover for "Imperfect Partners"

Watch our interview below with Scot Marciel about Imperfect Partners. You can also read a summary news article of the conversation.

Listen to a conversation with Marciel on the Insight Myanmar podcast, below. You can also read a Mizzima News article featuring the conversation.

About the book

Scot Marciel is widely considered the State Department’s top Southeast Asia hand, the result of decades of experience working in and on the region and the key role he has played in shaping and implementing U.S. policy. He was on the ground in the Philippines during the historic People Power revolt in the 1980s, became the first U.S. diplomat to serve in Hanoi in the early 1990s, was appointed the first U.S. ambassador to ASEAN in the 2000s, and spent the last 15 years twice serving as the State Department’s point person on Southeast Asia policy, and as U.S. ambassador to Indonesia and then to Myanmar during that country’s democratic experiment and its horrific ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya.

Imperfect Partners encapsulates Marciel’s experiences, providing the perspective of an American diplomat who has dealt with the dual challenges of working with foreign governments and also within the U.S. government. Noting that the United States “has a history of not quite knowing how to engage with Southeast Asia,” he highlights the ups and downs of critical U.S. relationships in the region. Marciel explores not only diplomatic successes, but challenges faced, missteps made, and opportunities missed in U.S. diplomacy with Southeast Asia. His on-the-ground witness account of the normalization of U.S.-Vietnam relations is essential reading, as is his passionate analysis of the gains and the failures of Myanmar’s decade-long opening.

While China’s rise has re-injected a long-absent strategic element into U.S. policy toward Southeast Asia, Marciel warns against making China the focus of that policy. He argues that the United States can best advance its own interests—and support the freedom of maneuver of Southeast Asia—through a strategy of consistent engagement based on a positive agenda and by focusing on the region’s dynamic younger generation.

"For the United States, Southeast Asia is one of the most important and least understood parts of the world. Scot Marciel draws on his vast diplomatic experience to bring a wealth of illuminating stories, hard-earned insights, and wise analysis to bear on a region that will help determine our capacity to deal with the most pressing issues of the 21st century. . . . Imperfect Partners is an indispensable resource for anyone seeking to understand Southeast Asia and America’s relationship with its countries and people."
Ben Rhodes, former deputy national security advisor and author of After the Fall

"Drawing on his 35 years of diplomatic experience, Scot Marciel has written an illuminating survey of the United States' relations with Southeast Asia. . . . This is an excellent primer on a part of the world whose significance has grown substantially in recent years with the rise of neighboring China."
John Negroponte, career diplomat, former U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations and the first director of national intelligence

"Ambassador Scot Marciel has written a gem of a book. His thoughtfully researched account is brought to life with fascinating insights and captivating, on-the-scene anecdotes. . . . Imperfect Partners is a must-read for U.S. policymakers, business leaders, academics, humanitarians, and everyday Americans engaging with the nations of Southeast Asia."
Kristie Kenney, former State Department counselor and U.S. ambassador to Thailand, the Philippines, and Ecuador

"A master practitioner has provided us with a ring-side view of how our diplomats pursue American interests in Southeast Asia.  This is must reading for aspiring Southeast Asia hands who want to familiarize themselves with American regional diplomacy.  It’s also indispensable reading for American strategists, who will ignore Ambassador Marciel’s policy prescriptions at their peril."
Dave Shear, former assistant secretary of defense for Asian and Pacific Security Affairs and U.S. ambassador to Vietnam