The Foreign Service Journal, October 2023

68 OCTOBER 2023 | THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL when he is expressing his own views as opposed to describing historical facts. Admirably, he is also willing to admit when, amid the diplomatic fray, he made calls that in retrospect he wished he hadn’t. In the spirit of full disclosure, I should note that our careers intersected often, including when I served for two years as Ambassador Marciel’s deputy in Jakarta. I appreciated his pragmatic, results-oriented approach to diplomacy and saw him play a key role in many of the events he describes. The Importance of Southeast Asia ASEAN continues to enjoy some of the world’s highest growth rates, and collectively the block has accounted for 9 percent of global GDP growth over the past decade. With a population of nearly 700 million, ASEAN has an economy that is the world’s fifth-largest with a GDP of $3.3 trillion and will soon become the world’s fourth-largest. U.S. direct investment in the region exceeds that of U.S. investment in China, India, Japan, and South Korea combined. Certainly the region is strategically important, but Marciel wisely cautions against looking at Southeast Asia only through the prism of U.S.-China tensions. He argues convincingly that “U.S. weakness [in the region] is much more in the economic and—to some extent—diplomatic fronts than in the security sector.” China’s trade with Southeast Asia skyrocketed from $7.5 billion in 1990 to $642 billion in 2018, pushing it past the United States and Japan to become Southeast Asia’s top trading partner. In 2020 the China-ASEAN trade relationship became the largest bilateral trade relationship in the world, reaching $685 billion. Not surprisingly, Marciel’s narrative is richest not when he is in the middle of policy battles in Washington, but when he recounts events from an onthe-ground perspective. He begins his storytelling in the Philippines, where as a young diplomat he met his future wife, Mae. He stumbled upon the 1986 revolution that toppled President Ferdinand Marcos while courting Mae and recounts a conversation that he overheard, just after Marcos fled for the United States and his Presidential Security Guard tried to follow him on a U.S. naval ship. When guard elements seized the U.S. ship, Marciel writes, Ambassador Steven Bosworth told the guard commander via radio: “This is what you are going to do. You are going to put down your weapons and return control of the boat to the U.S. Navy. They will ensure you get out safely. Do you understand?” It worked. Sometimes it takes courage and real leadership to be an effective diplomat. Ground-Level Insights The storytelling grows in depth and insight as Marciel becomes a significant player in events, as when he served as the first U.S. diplomat to return to Hanoi after the war in Vietnam. I am often asked how it can be that Vietnamese are so forgiving after we devastated their country. On that, Marciel provides a telling anecdote, recounting a conversation in 1994 with a driver who had lost most of his family to American bombs. “I’m not mad at America. It was war,” the driver said. On another occasion, a government official told Marciel: “We’ve been fighting the Chinese for 2,000 years. The war with you was just a hiccup.” I know from watching him up close that Marciel was terrific at commercial BOOKS Understanding Southeast Asia Imperfect Partners: The United States and Southeast Asia Scot Marciel, Rowman & Littlefield, 2023, $39.95/paperback, e-book available, 560 pages. Reviewed by Ted Osius With Imperfect Partners, Ambassador Scot Marciel, now the Oksenberg-Rohlen Fellow at Stanford’s Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies, has written a superb primer for people interested in the region who want to understand its dynamism and complexity. A retired senior career diplomat who served as U.S. ambassador to Myanmar (2016-2020) and Indonesia (2010-2013) and in senior State Department positions, Marciel provides an insider’s view of events while remaining scrupulous about history and even-handed in his analysis. Rather than writing a memoir, Marciel chose to weave his insights into the story of recent diplomatic engagement in the region in which he spent most of his 37 years as a Foreign Service officer. During one of the highest points of U.S. engagement with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN)—President Barack Obama’s 2016 Sunnylands summit— Marciel served as principal deputy assistant secretary of State for East Asia and the Pacific, responsible for relations with Southeast Asia, so he really had a front-row seat. In his account, Marciel makes clear