Diminished Expectations

For nearly a year after 9/11, in conversations throughout Southeast Asia, I encountered sympathy and admiration for the U.S. "Where are you from?" a diplomat or a street vendor would ask. "America," I'd reply, "New York City." This would elicit expressions of outrage at the terrorist attacks, generous inquiries into the well-being of my friends and family and then perhaps a mention of the war in Afghanistan. From the impoverished or oppressed, a request often followed: please tell your President to send help. A faint belief that he might was detectable. A sense that he could, through benign gestures or a...

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