Dave Noon Erik Loomis relates two anecdotes about the workings of US power. Both are a bit extreme. The US-Haiti relationship, in particular, is about as unequal as you can get in contemporary world politics.

Still, Loomis’ stories illustrate why some of us leave short-term stints in government with the impression that Washington is both much more powerful and much weaker than US academics often assume.

US officials find themselves significantly constrained by America’s web of alliances and economic interdependencies, but that web also privileges their voices in day-to-day interactions throughout the globe.