Imperfect Partners is a unique hybrid – part memoir, part foreign policy study of U.S. relations with Southeast Asia, a critically important region that has become the central arena in the global U.S.-China competition. From the People Power revolt in the Philippines to the opening of diplomatic relations with Vietnam, from building a partnership with newly democratic Indonesia to responding to genocide in Myanmar and coups in Thailand, Scot Marciel was present and involved. His direct involvement and deep knowledge of the region, along with his extensive policymaking work in Washington, allows him to bring to life the complexities and realities of key events and U.S. responses, along with rare insights into U.S. foreign policy decisionmaking and the work of American diplomats in the field.
Scot Marciel is the Oksenberg-Rohlen Fellow at Stanford University’s Walter H. Shorenstein Asia Pacific Research Center and a Senior Advisor at BowerGroupAsia. He retired from the U.S. Foreign Service in April 2022 after a 37-year diplomatic career that included assignments as Ambassador to Myanmar, Ambassador to Indonesia, and Ambassador for ASEAN Affairs. He also served as Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs and in U.S. Missions in the Philippines, Vietnam, Hong Kong, Turkey, and Brazil. A native of Fremont, California, he holds an MA from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy and a BA from the University of California at Davis. He and his wife Mae have two daughters and live in Livermore, California.
Marciel has created a masterful overview of the diplomatic history of the US and Southeast Asia. Recognizing that US policy has not been unified since the region itself is not a cohesive unit, he argues that neither the US nor the countries of Southeast Asia were perfect partners, engaging one another based on various external and internal stimuli as they collaborated. The author relates personal experiences from his 35 years of diplomatic service in the region to illuminate the ebb and flow of US policy, making this tome part autobiography and part history. Rather than thoroughly reviewing every event, he highlights each relationship with the different countries through interweaving stories. Marciel then examines the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and how the US has worked with this weaker but still important regional organization. He finishes by discussing China's rising influence in Southeast Asia and provides thoughts on how the US can better engage with the region. Even though the book is rich with insight and thoroughly documented, readers should find it a quick and easy read because of its personal narrative style. Recommended. General readers through faculty; professionals.
A new book by longtime U.S. diplomat Scot Marciel, Imperfect Partners, argues that if the United States wants to transcend its “imperfect partnership” with Southeast Asia, it will need to step up its efforts in the region viewing the region as significant for its own sake, as opposed to its relevance to other threats and challenges.... The book’s blend of memoir and foreign policy analysis succeeds in providing a rich and nuanced take on U.S. policy in the region. Marciel provides some details on key policy inflections points that will be of interest to Southeast Asia practitioners, experts and watchers, be it being closely scrutinized by Vietnam’s internal security apparatus while setting up the initial U.S. diplomatic presence in the country amid the normalization process in the 1990s, or what he characterizes as puzzling disinterest in communications and messaging by democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi as hopes faded for reform in Myanmar in the late 2010s, which coincided with his time as ambassador there. Readers who are less familiar with Marciel’s diplomatic finesse also get a sense of how he helped advance ties in important ways, with a case in point being his literal elevator pitch that eventually saw then U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton pay a historic visit to the ASEAN Secretariat in Jakarta in 2009.
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.
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.
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.
A master practitioner has provided us with a ringside 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.
What we have in this very readable book are the reflections of an eminent American diplomat on issues of particular significance for Australia as it continues to ponder how it should be responding to China’s rise, and how those responses are likely to affect its alliance with the US.
4/4/2023, The Diplomat: Scot Marciel is interviewed about the book.