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Friday 18 Aug 2017 | 00:16 | SYDNEY
Friday 18 Aug 2017 | 00:16 | SYDNEY

Americans I have known

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5 May 2008 17:30

This is hardly Tocqueville, but I wanted to share two quick observations about the American officials I run across here at the Lowy Instiute and previously in various bits of the Australian national security bureaucracy. These are mostly military, intelligence and State Department types:

  1. They are almost unfailingly self-deprecating and even self-flagellating about their country's foreign and strategic policy. The obvious reason for this is that they did stuff up pretty royally in Iraq, but it often goes further than that to include other completely unrelated foreign policy issues. It feels almost like a ritual display of humility to interlocutors from a weaker (but friendly) country. One doubts it is entirely sincere, but it does speak to a great American strength, which is that it is intensely self-critical.
  2. The ones with experience in Asia are generally very smart about the region, and bemoan the lack of attention it gets at high levels in Washington. What happens to these people as they move up the bureaucratic ladder? Do they lose this focus? Is it beaten out of them? Or are there just too few of these Asianists to make a difference?

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