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Hard Interests, Soft Illusions

Southeast Asia and American Power

by Natasha Hamilton-Hart

Publication Year: 2012

In Hard Interests, Soft Illusions, Natasha Hamilton-Hart explores the belief held by foreign policy elites in much of Southeast Asia-Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Thailand, Singapore, and Vietnam-that the United States is a relatively benign power. She argues that this belief is an important factor underpinning U.S. preeminence in the region, because beliefs inform specific foreign policy decisions and form the basis for broad orientations of alignment, opposition, or nonalignment. Such foundational beliefs, however, do not simply reflect objective facts and reasoning processes. Hamilton-Hart argues that they are driven by both interests-in this case the political and economic interests of ruling groups in Southeast Asia-and illusions.

Hamilton-Hart shows how the information landscape and standards of professional expertise within the foreign policy communities of Southeast Asia shape beliefs about the United States. These opinions frequently rest on deeply biased understandings of national history that dominate perceptions of the past and underlie strategic assessments of the present and future. Members of the foreign policy community rarely engage in probabilistic reasoning or effortful knowledge-testing strategies. This does not mean, she emphasizes, that the beliefs are insincere or merely instrumental rationalizations. Rather, cognitive and affective biases in the ways humans access and use information mean that interests influence beliefs; how they do so depends on available information, the social organization and practices of a professional sphere, and prevailing standards for generating knowledge.

Published by: Cornell University Press


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p. 1-1

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. 2-7


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pp. 8-9

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pp. ix-xii

...Writing this book has often felt like an exercise in trespassing: straying over the territory of others and infringing on their kindness. I have tried not to be the sort of trespasser who leaves gates open and damages the crops. But I have been uncomfortably aware that the nature of this project suggests an unwarranted conceit on my part. Setting out to “explain” someone else’s beliefs is a...

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1. Beliefs about American Hegemony in Southeast Asia

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pp. 1-15

...There is little effusive sentimentality about the United States among foreign policy elites in Southeast Asia today. More than sixty years have passed since President Manuel Roxas of the Philippines declared that the safest course for his newly-independent country was to follow in the “glistening wake” of America. His view was emphatically rejected by many Southeast Asians at the time and ...

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2. Behind Beliefs: Hard Interests, Soft Illusions

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pp. 16-47

...As the tides of the Pacific War turned against Japan in 1944, Prince Konoe Fumimaro wrote that “leftist revolution” is “as frightening, or more frightening, than defeat.” Not long afterwards, most of the Japanese elite embraced the external power that had defeated their country in war and cemented an enduring, friendly relationship with the United States. The prince’s assessment of the relative...

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3. The Politics and Economics of Interests: Ruling Elites and U.S. Power

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pp. 48-87

...Beliefs about the United States are closely related to the material interests of those who have gained or lost as a consequence of American actions in Southeast Asia. Ruling elites in the Southeast Asian countries aligned with the United States since the 1960s or earlier benefited from the regional role played by the United States and continue to benefit from the American-defined global order. U.S. actions...

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4. History Lessons

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pp. 88-142

...The lessons of history are rarely straightforward. History in the hands of policy- makers is frequently misread, and historical analogies are often wrongly applied. Yet policymakers in Southeast Asia, like their counterparts elsewhere, exhibit great confidence in their own reading of history and the lessons to be drawn from it. In official documents, public statements, and private conversation...

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5. Professional Expertise

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pp. 143-189

...Members of the foreign policy community in Southeast Asia explain their beliefs about American power by drawing on their professional expertise as a source of evidence and interpretive schema. Professional expertise can thus be thought of as a set of cues that influence beliefs. Foreign policy professionals have good reasons to attend to such cues, reasons that go beyond self-interest or political...

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6. Regime Interests, Beliefs, and Knowledge

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pp. 190-202

...When policymakers and foreign policy professionals in Southeast Asia speak of the United States as, overall, a benign power, they are doing more than simplifying a complex reality. The simplification provides rough-and-ready rules for action, making it possible to act in uncertain situations and to avoid going back to first principles every time a foreign policy decision is made. Foundational...

Appendix: Interviews

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pp. 203-206


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pp. 207-236


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pp. 237-244

E-ISBN-13: 9780801464034
E-ISBN-10: 080146403X
Print-ISBN-13: 9780801450549
Print-ISBN-10: 0801450543

Page Count: 243
Publication Year: 2012

Edition: 1