As the country grappled with an impressive influx of European ideas and with the threatening press of European problems, so did Lippmann. Like President Wilson, he came to believe that the condition of the modern world required that America either act or be acted upon. New methods of communication and propaganda meant that ideas contrary to America's would be widely heard. Reformed liberalism and the projection of that liberalism into a troubled world were the best hedge against totalitarian schemes and imperialist aggression. The Stakes of Diplomacy resulted from Lippmann's assignment by Wilson's Secretary of War Baker, to a project for studying possible terms of peace and ways to influence the world in a liberal-democratic direction.
The Stakes of Diplomacy ends both with admiration for the peaceful nature of democracies and a plea for their further influence in the world, and with an understanding that democracy's influence will depend partly upon its physical might and geopolitical collaboration. Lippmann stands as a prominent figure in America's twentieth-century quest for power with honor. He concludes this volume with the warning that there is no safe way and no morally feasible way to turn back from our dangerous mission: "Unless the people who are humane and sympathetic, the people who wish to live and let live, are masters of the situation, the world faces an indefinite vista of conquest and terror."
James Traub, a New York Times Magazine contributor who has spent years writing about the UN and about foreign affairs, delves into these questions as no one else has done before. Traub enjoyed unprecedented access to Annan and his top aides throughout much of this traumatic period. He describes the despair over the Oil-for-Food scandal, the deep divide between those who wished to accommodate American critics and those who wished to confront them, the failed attempt to goad the Security Council to act decisively against state-sponsored ethnic cleansing in Sudan. And he recounts Annan's effort to respond to criticism with sweeping reform—an effort which ultimately shattered on the resistance of U.S. Ambassador John Bolton.
In The Best Intentions, Traub recounts the dramatically entwined history of Kofi Annan and the UN from 1992 to the present. In Annan he sees a conscientious idealist given too little credit for advancing causes like humanitarian intervention and an honest broker crushed between American conservatives and Third World opponents—but also a UN careerist who has absorbed that culture and can not, in the end, escape its limitations.