Anti-Imperialism/Foreign Policy

The Return of the Quiet American

By James Carden, The American Conservative

Anyone who has spent enough time in Washington or has even a cursory familiarity with the professional functionaries who staff the foreign policy and national security apparatus here will have encountered, at one time or another, well-intentioned, seemingly humble, painfully earnest bureaucrats who are certain that the rest of the world needs, indeed cries out for, “American leadership.” In the absence of such leadership, the world would surely descend into chaos—or so goes the prevailing thinking. And so the role these invariably well-educated, hyper-ambitious missionaries see for themselves takes on a kind of world-historical importance; their job becomes so much more than merely protecting and advancing U.S. national interests. Their mission, as they see it, is not so much to serve America; it is to save the world.

Graham Greene was perhaps the first to spot the phenomenon of the over-ambitious American missionary, whose good intentions were never quite enough to make up for the chaos and destruction their lavishly funded and scrupulously laid out plans inevitably unleashed. Greene’s novel, The Quiet American, published in 1955 just as the first Cold War was getting underway, should be required reading for anyone wishing to understand the mindset that has plagued American foreign policy for the last 70 years.

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