Jamie Metzl

Young Leader discusses his writings, relation with the Foundation

February 6, 2014

Jamie Metzl, a 2002 Young Leader of the French-American Foundation is a partner of the global investment company Cranemere and a Senior Fellow of the Asia Society.

Jamie has served as the Executive Vice President of the Asia Society, Deputy Staff Director and Senior Counselor of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Senior Coordinator for International Public Information at the Department of State, Director for Multilateral and Humanitarian Affairs on the National Security Council, and as a Human Rights Officer for the United Nations Transitional Authority in Cambodia. He ran unsuccessfully for the U.S. House of Representatives from Missouri’s Fifth Congressional District in Kansas City in 2004.

Jamie appears regularly on national and international media, including CNN, BBC, Bloomberg, and NBC and has been a guest on Meet the Press. The author of a book on human rights in Southeast Asia and the 2004 novel The Depths of the Sea, Jamie’s syndicated columns and other writing on Asian affairs, genetics, virtual reality, and other topics have appeared in The New York Times, Foreign Affairs, and many other publications around the world. His novel Genesis Code will be published in fall 2004 by Arcade. He is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, a founder and Co-Chair of the Board of the bipartisan national security organization Partnership for a Secure America, a member of the board of the Jewish refugee agency HIAS and the International Center for Transitional Justice, and a former White House Fellow and Aspen Institute Crown Fellow. He holds a Ph.D. in Southeast Asian history from Oxford University, a juris doctorate from Harvard Law School, and is a magna cum laude, Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Brown University. He has completed eleven ironman triathlons, twenty-four marathons, and seven ultramarathons.

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Jamie MetzlJamie, we’re delighted to have you as a former Young Leader of the Foundation and are ever-grateful for your ongoing support and involvement in our work. 
It’s my great pleasure. I really love the Foundation and am so grateful for the wonderful work you do and for the many friends I’ve made through FAF. 

You’re 2004 novel, The Depths of the Sea, was re-released as an eBook by St. Martin's Press on Tuesday. What has been the reaction to this work since its initial release in 2004, and what brought about the re-release?
The book came out ten years ago in the middle on my congressional race. As much as I wanted to promote it, I was unable to make the time. The book received excellent reviews but the sales were … let’s just say I won’t be retiring to Provence on the profits. St. Martin’s is releasing a number of its older titles as e-books, and I’m honored they’ve selected mine. 

The Depths of the Sea is a thriller that draws together Washington politics and the political and diplomatic situation in Southeast Asia. You have a degree in Southeast Asian history, as well as extensive experience in politics stateside. How do you draw upon these experiences and great knowledge when developing novels? 
The first book I published was a history of the Cambodian genocide. It was dense and scholarly, with thousands of footnotes. I was proud of that book but wanted to reach a wider audience to try to expose more people to the complex tragedy of Cambodia history, where big power politics and individual experiences were so deeply interwoven. In The Depths of the Sea, I tried to bring all of those pieces together, and to draw on my experiences working with Cambodian refugees in Thailand, with the UN in Cambodia, and with the US government. My work in all of those places showed me how people working with the best of intentions can often do harm, a prominent theme in the novel. My hope is that the format of the novel can help people connect with big, challenging issues on a personal level.

Tell us about your new work, Genesis Code, which will be released in November.  What inspired you to write this new book?
Genesis Code deals with issues of human genetic enhancement in the context of a future US-China rivalry. When I was working in the White House, my friend and mentor Richard Clarke always said that if everybody in Washington is focusing on one issue, you can bet there’s something very important they are not addressing. I thought about it a lot and came to the conclusion that the biotechnology revolution would have enormous national security implications we weren’t even beginning to consider. I started writing articles in national security journals on this topic and was invited to testify before Congress. After that, an agent approached me about writing a nonfiction book. As I prepared the proposal for that book, I realized what I really wanted to do was write a novel exploring how genetic engineering-related issues issues might play out in the future. My hope is that the novel will inspire a meaningful national conversation about it.

In addition to your other work, how did you become a novelist? How does your expertise and professional experience contribute to your novels, and how does this creative outlet serve your other professional endeavors?
When I returned to Oxford after two years in Cambodia, I spent a year living like a monk completing my doctoral dissertation on the history of the Cambodian genocide. When that nonfiction book came out, I felt like I hadn’t even touched the deep personal and emotional issues triggered by my experiences in Thailand and Cambodia. When I started writing The Depths of the Sea, those emotions poured out and took form. The second novel, Genesis code, grew in my head until I felt like I had to get it out. I’ve just completed a second draft of the sequel, Eternal Sonata, which happened in much the same way.

What was your experience as a Foundation Young Leader? What was the best part of the Annual Meetings you attended? What has been the greatest benefit of being part of this network since?
I’m a huge fan of the French-American foundation and especially the Young Leaders program. I’ve made so many close friends through the program and have learned so much about the world through the prism of French-American relations. America and France are the two countries in the world most closely aligned with the principles of the Enlightenment, and we have a lot of work to do together to promote them in our rapidly changing world. The French-American Foundation is a fantastic vehicle for facilitating this process in so many different ways.

You have graciously agreed to co-chair the Young Leaders Advisory Committee, which will work to maintain the engagement of our Young Leaders community through more events and communications. What would you like to see become of the Young Leaders network and what can be gained through these connections?
Anyone who sees the list of Young Leaders alumni recognizes what a magnificent group of people the Foundation has brought together over the years. Unfortunately, too many of the people are now not engaged and not connected with each other. Our goal is to reverse that process in a fun and interesting way. We will be organizing events in cities across the US and France, inviting more Young Leaders to participate in Foundation activities, and bringing everybody together through social networks. These relationships have great potential to connect Young Leaders to each other and to the Foundation and to open the door to all sorts of collaborations.

Your background internationally is primarily in Asian history and politics? How has your affiliation with the French-American Foundation and the Young Leaders network impacted your work and understanding in this region?
The Foundation’s goal has never been simply to connect United States and France, but always to see how the United States and France can come together to do great things in the world. As Asia rises, this mission is more important than ever before.