In The China Mission, Daniel Kurtz-Phelan, the executive editor of Foreign Affairs, skillfully tells the story of Marshall’s quixotic and forlorn diplomatic initiative. Deeply researched and written with verve, the book ought to be read by any U.S. foreign-policy maker practicing diplomacy in Asia. Marshall’s oft-forgotten experience in Asia has been covered before, notably in Forrest C. Pogue’s four-volume life (1963-87). But Mr. Kurtz-Phelan has performed a service in reviving this important episode with such aplomb, rigor and pace.
A new book recounts what he [Marshall] did between winning the war and securing the peace: he spent a year in China, trying to save it. He failed, leaving behind a bloody civil war followed by communist dictatorship. The China Mission, an account of the debacle by Daniel Kurtz-Phelan, a former diplomat, is both a compelling portrait of a remarkable soldier and statesman, and an instructive lesson in the limits of American power, even at its zenith.
Kurtz-Phelan has written an engaging book ... With an eye perhaps on the tragedy in Syria, or the emerging nuclear crisis on the Korean Peninsula, or relations with autocrats from Moscow to Beijing, Kurtz-Phelan has written a story 'not of possibility and ambition, but of limit and restraint.' This is history as allegory. Foreign policy 'is made by analogy,' he writes. 'The stories we tell matter. How we tell them matters.' The story Kurtz-Phelan tells is gripping ... To Kurtz-Phelan, who worked in the State Department during America’s troubled occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan, a lesson lies therein. As he observes at the end of his book, even 'in its moment of greatest leadership, America did not have to solve every problem to show that it was strong.'