In This Review

The United States and the Americas: A Twenty-First-Century View
The United States and the Americas: A Twenty-First-Century View
Edited by Albert Fishlow and James Jones
W. W. Norton, 1999, 256 pp

This collection of succinct pieces by distinguished, establishment experts, compiled by the American Assembly, has recycled conventional wisdom into an elegant package and lays out the Washington consensus: the triumph of democracy, the necessity of free trade, and the need to expand markets, income, and educational opportunities to promote greater equity (social and financial equity, that is). The report concludes that U.S. and Latin American interests are finally converging but laments that Washington still ignores its southern neighbors. Alas, such good intentions rarely work. The authors underestimate the challenges to the current consensus, both in Latin America and in Washington. The consensus' optimistic agenda, such as its call for free trade, has run into major obstacles in Congress and receives only lukewarm support from the Clinton administration. The authors also downplay the fact that when bipartisan political will and hard work are needed for issues such as a fundamental rethinking of Cuba policy, special interests block it again and again. The historical reality is that Latin America repeatedly jumps to the top of a crowded U.S. policy agenda with surprising ferocity when it is least expected, and the wise consul of the regional experts so well represented in this book is rarely ever solicited -- just remember the Iran-contra scandal, or the crises over the Cuban and Haitian boat people. Cuba policy, above all, remains mired in a Cold War mold that no one will break, but it too is doomed to crack open at some unpredictable moment and cause an unholy mess. Surprisingly, the volume also lacks a thorough discussion of capital flows, which is regrettable given the Clinton administration's huge bailouts to rescue Mexico and stave off financial meltdown in Brazil. Faced with the complexity of Washington policymaking and the messy array of special interests, one wonders just how usefully these op-ed-style directives apply to the real world.