If you want to believe the absolute worst about American foreign policy—two-faced CIA espionage, treacherous economic destabilization, shameless martini drinking, and the like—a good first move might be to check out some of our embassies abroad. I spent a year on a scholarship in Sri Lanka and shuddered every time I walked past the local Fort Knox that flew the American flag: Did that phalanx of rooftop antennas spell out “Yankee imperialism,” or was it just my imagination? According to historian Jane C. Loeffler, the fortress stage is only the latest trend in evolving State Department design-think. In The Architecture of Diplomacy: Building America’s Embassies, Loeffler traces 50 years of embassy construction from the dawn of the Cold War, when planners embraced architectural modernism as democracy’s diplomatic style, to the age of terrorism—when Osama bin Laden replaced Mies van der Rohe as the leading light of embassy planning. Along the way, she winds her history through the bureaucratic scheming, architectural dreaming, and Congressional posturing that has to happen before any federal cornerstones get laid. Listen to Loeffler give her impressions of some overseas American interlopers clad in concrete and glass instead of pastel shorts and fanny packs when she speaks at 6:30 p.m. Monday, Oct. 19, at the National Building Museum, 401 F St. NW. $11. For reservations call (202) 272-2448. (Michael Schaffer)