In This Review

Mixed Messages: American Politics and International Organization, 1919-1999
Mixed Messages: American Politics and International Organization, 1919-1999
By Edward C. Luck
Brookings Institution Press, 1999, 382 pp

A vivid and insightful account of America's century-old ambivalence toward multilateral institutions. The United States is indeed a puzzle: no country has so consistently championed international organizations while resisting their obligations. Luck argues that this deeply rooted contradiction shapes many policy dilemmas: American exceptionalism breeds both idealism and cynicism about global institutions; American liberalism propels officials to seek a rule-based international order while resisting infringements on national sovereignty; and multilateral institutions both amplify and legitimate American power while curbing its autonomy. The irony, Luck notes, is that public support for the United Nations is quite strong -- but the language and values of American politics make supporters of global institutions vulnerable to attack. The book cuts away at the overblown rhetoric of proponents and critics alike, placing current struggles in historical perspective by incorporating the past debates over the League of Nations and the United Nations. True, the dilemmas that plague America's world role will not go away. But if Luck is right, pragmatic compromises can be fashioned to command steady public support.