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  • Moynihan's Moment: America's Fight against Zionism as Racism by Gil Troy
  • Jeremi Suri
Gil Troy , Moynihan's Moment: America's Fight against Zionism as Racism. New York: Oxford University Press, 2013. 336 pp. $29.95.

The year 1975 marked the low point for U.S. morale in the Cold War. Still reeling from Watergate and the forced resignation of President Richard Nixon, Americans helplessly watched as North Vietnam overran South Vietnam, despite a decade of U.S. efforts (and more than 58,000 deaths) to prevent this very outcome. The U.S. economy had slowed, violent crime had risen considerably, cities were decaying, and New York City—long the epicenter of national economic power—faced bankruptcy.

Everything seemed to be going against the United States. The leaders of the Soviet Union believed that. So did most U.S. allies. In the United Nations (UN), the emerging countries of the Third World showed a strong determination to pile on. The 1970s were a decade when the international organization, largely created by the United States after the Second World War, became an aggressive forum for anti-American condemnations.

Gil Troy's thoughtful and deeply researched book is about this painful period. He focuses on the role of Daniel Patrick Moynihan, one of the most extraordinary public personalities in late twentieth-century America, to chronicle the time and analyze how the United States emerged from it a half-decade later. Troy's argument is simple and important: As ambassador to the UN, Moynihan was the first prominent U.S. official to stand up against the excesses of anti-American criticism and call for a renewal of national strength and idealism. Moynihan, a Democrat, famously described the forces arrayed against the United States in a March 1975 article for Commentary, "The United States in Opposition." His call for renewed displays of U.S. power and commitment anticipated, according to Troy, the lines of argument adopted by Ronald Reagan and other Republicans, many of whom were former Democrats. Troy writes that "Moynihan was declaring ideological war—or at least mounting an ideological counterattack" (p. 59).

The critical moment ("Moynihan's moment") came on 10 November 1975, according to Troy, when the UN General Assembly passed Resolution 3379 declaring, "Zionism is a form of racism and racial discrimination." The resolution was a Soviet-orchestrated and Third World-embraced attack on Israel, the United States, and the Jews living in these and other societies. Moynihan refused to accept the UN's hypocrisy in allowing dozens of new countries, with dubious claims to historical legitimacy, [End Page 157] to condemn the only Jewish state. Troy approvingly quotes Moynihan's thunderous reproach of the UN and its anti-American double standards. The United States, the ambassador proclaimed, "will never acquiesce in this infamous act." "The lie is that Zionism is a form of racism. The overwhelmingly clear truth is that it is not" (p. 4).

Moynihan's words had an electrifying effect among U.S. political observers who were tired of seeing the United States vilified. Moynihan spoke with passion about the virtues of American society, its loyalty to basic principles, and its commitment to friends. He showed that the United States had not lost the capacity to stand up against its critics. Most of all, Moynihan articulated a new purpose for U.S. foreign policy. Instead of fighting Communism in the jungles of Southeast Asia, the United States would consolidate the bulwarks of democracy, capitalism, and Western-style civilization in the Middle East and other regions. Moynihan did not call for distant and extended military interventions. He demanded renewed support for existing allies who could defend themselves with increased U.S. aid.

Moynihan's words built on the Nixon Doctrine, but they extended the moral depth of the U.S. commitment to Israel well beyond where Nixon and Henry Kissinger were prepared to go. Troy is very good at documenting the rivalry between Moynihan and Kissinger and in showing how Moynihan mobilized public opinion to nudge a reluctant President Gerald Ford to support more forceful language. Reagan and other critics of détente within both parties were easier to persuade.

Troy's book takes...