American legitimacy

Robert W. Tucker and David C. Hendrickson take Robert Kagan and others to task in The Sources of American Legitimacy, an article why the Iraq war and the Bush doctrine of ignoring international law, the international community and the United Nations has imperiled the US. They take aim, notably, at Kagan's argument that

"Contrary to much mythologizing on both sides of the Atlantic these days, the foundations of U.S. legitimacy during the Cold War had little to do with the fact that the United States helped create the UN or faithfully abided by the precepts of international law laid out in the organization's charter."


Kagan's recent book, Of Paradise and Power, which argued that Americans were from Mars and Europeans from Venus and would never agree on foreign policy in general and military intervention in particular. It was the most articulate argument against what Donald Rumsfeld called "Old Europe" by one of the brightest neo-con thinkers. Tucker and Hendrickson's answer to it is timely and well-argued, without all the wishy-washiness of terms such as "soft power." They are particulary good when making the argument that the pre-emptive wars envisaged under the Bush doctrine are not only illegal, but dangerous and unrealistic:

Such illegal uses of force are in fact unnecessary for U.S. security and actually imperil it. The Iraq war clearly illustrates both points: not only did containment and deterrence offer a perfectly workable method of dealing with Saddam's Iraq, but the consequences of the U.S. occupation have also made Americans much more insecure. Those consequences include daily attacks on American soldiers, the inflammation of opinion in the Muslim world (encouraging new recruits for al Qaeda), and the possibility of further wars arising from the potential disintegration of the Iraqi state.


The baleful results of the Iraq war are also relevant to the dangers posed by the acquisition of nuclear weapons by North Korea or Iran, two instances in which preventive war is often urged. As with Iraq, "preventive" attacks would be remedies worse than the disease and could mean catastrophic war in both regions. U.S. threats of "regime change" also undermine the more reasonable policy of dissuading either state from acquiring such weapons through measures short of war-that is, through a mixture of negative sanctions and positive inducements. The prospects of a grand bargain with either Pyongyang or Tehran would be enhanced were Washington to abandon its not-so-secret wish to bring about the downfall of these regimes.


Good reading if you follow these policy debates.
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Issandr El Amrani

Issandr El Amrani is a Cairo-based writer and consultant. His reporting and commentary on the Middle East and North Africa has appeared in The Economist, London Review of Books, Financial Times, The National, The Guardian, Time and other publications. He also publishes one of the longest-running blog in the region, www.arabist.net.