Edward C. Luck
Despite the sweeping claims of some commentators, history did not start anew either with the turn of the millennium or with the terrorist assaults on the United States of 11 September 2001. In gauging the sources and course of American foreign policy, the lessons of the 1990s are as apt as ever. Though the war against terrorism underlined the value of the transatlantic alliance, it only temporarily muted European complaints about the unilateralist tendencies of the United States. 1 Surely the context has changed since September 11, but Washington policy-makers still have to weigh the often competing claims of exceptionalism and of pragmatism in deciding what mix of unilateral and multilateral policy options would best advance US priorities. In Afghanistan, as in Kosovo, both the superiority of American fire-power and the political advantage of acting in concert with others were once again demonstrated, as had been the case when former President George Bush called for the forceful expulsion of Iraqi forces from Kuwait in 1991.
More than a decade later, the patterns of American ambivalence toward multilateral rules and organizations, born of a deeply ingrained sense of exceptionalism, remain a defining characteristic of US foreign and security policy. A close look at the record of the 1990s provides a sense not only of how the divergent tendencies toward exceptionalism and pragmatism once interacted, but also of how they continue to shape US responses to a changed world. With the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the cold war, the 1990s offered unprecedented opportunities both for the expression of American exceptionalism within international organizations and for a testing of its limits. It was a time for building new international institutions while flouting the rules of old