SENATOR PATRICK MOYNIHAN is a man of enormous wit and urbanity. It's a pity that these delightful qualities are not more generously reflected in this account of his eight months as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations in 1975-76.

The reason is that for the most part this is an angry book, apparently written to confound those who critized Moynihan's UN performance and those who, in his view, undermined it. His emotions have not cooled in the three years that have since passed.

He reserves his most acerbic judgments for Henry Kissinger, The New York Times and the State Department. Of the former he says: "He was not really on top of events any longer, at times not even abreast of them. He was worn out." Of criticisms by The times and by Averell Harriman he says: "I regarded all of this [their criticisms of his performance] $ as more of the pattern of avoidance to be expected of an elite losing its nerve." He described most members of his staff at the UN as "decent people, utterly unprepared for their work."

The essence of the controversy which these Moynihanisms reflect he describes in his opening pages. "The fundamental problem," he writes, "was a diminishment of liberal conviction, a decline possibly in energy, which brought about almost an aversion to ideological struggle. There was no talent for it in Washington; increasingly no stomach for it either."

I is here, I believe, where the ambassador and his critics most fundamentally differed. The issue in the view was not one of "talent" or "stomach" but of judgement. Was it in the U.S. interest to escalate the "ideological struggle" in the UN General Assembly? Was it, or was it not, wise to direct our rhetorical salvos in that struggle, not simply against the Communists, but also against the entire Third World, three quarters of the UN members, whom their American colleague described in a speech to the AFL-CIO as "ancient and modern despotism"?

Secretary Kissinger at the UN Special Session only a month before had taken great pains to initiate an amicable and constructive dialogue with Third World countries. It hardly served this purpose to tell the AFL-CIO, as Moynihan did, that nothing so unites all these nations as "the conviction that their success ultimately depends on our failure." That statement, moreover, was simply not ture.

Senator Moynihan justly claims credit for his vigorous support of human rights in the Assembly. Most of his predecessors, including myself, believed they had been equally vigorous in this cause, but in less strident and provocative tones. Nevertheless, American foreign policy in those years hand become excessively "pragmatic," neglecting in the process some of our most respected values. Moynihan's conspicuous role in reemphasizing those values deservedly won him wide applause.

The question, however, is whether his theatrical tactics were well conceived, not for gratifying the American public but for achieving our national objectives. After explaining laboriously his narrow defeat on the outrageous Assembly resolution which equated Zionism with "racism," he remarks bitterly that in the subsequent Assembly after his departure a resolution condemning Israel for collaboration with South Africa was adopted by a much larger majority and attracted no attention at all. That such is the nature of multilateral diplomacy he does not seem to have understood. If victory on a particular resolution is important, one does not denounce, threaten and vilify wavering voters but caltivates, cajoles and conciliates them. If, on the other hand, victory is clearly not in the cards, one lets the resolution slip by with as little fuss and fanfare as possible. UN Assembly resolutions are not binding on anyone. They are not graven indelibly on the sands of time.

UN appointees who are not professional diplomats are often shocked to find that their country is not universally loved nor its disinterestedness always appreciated. Professionals have learned to take these facts of life more calmly. They are quite prepared to get into a fight if it serves a national purpose. For the most part, though, the purpose of the UN and the U.S. at the UN is to compose differences, not magnify them.

Senator Moynihan's book will be of interest to students both of UN and of U.S. politics because it so richly illuminates what happens when the two meets head on.