Imperfect Partners

The United States And Southeast Asia

Book cover for "Imperfect Partners"

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.