Courtesy Reuters

A Matter of Record

In "The Sources of American Legitimacy" (November/December 2004), Robert W. Tucker and David C. Hendrickson respond heatedly to my essay "America's Crisis of Legitimacy" (March/April 2004). The heat is disproportionate to our disagreement. They argue that the United States has "a serious legitimacy problem" and needs international legitimacy to conduct a successful foreign policy. In my article, which they selectively quote, I made the same point at great length, noting that "for the first time since World War II, a majority of Europeans has come to doubt the legitimacy of U.S. power and U.S. global leadership" and that "the United States cannot ignore this problem."


What seems to have upset Tucker and Hendrickson is my discussion of the sources of legitimacy during the Cold War. I argued that the legitimacy the United States enjoyed then had little to do with fidelity to the rule of international law or obeisance to the UN Charter or the Security Council. Rather, U.S. legitimacy derived primarily from the role the United States played as "leader of the free world," providing security to allies and defending democracy against communist tyranny. It also derived from the bipolar structure of the Cold War: allied nations did not worry that the United States was too powerful because it was checked by the Soviet Union.

Tucker and Hendrickson disagree and insist that U.S. legitimacy did rest on Washington's adherence to the rule of law. The "country's leaders," they claim, "pledge[d] the use of U.S. power to international law" and "commit[ted] their country to the rule of law." The "architects of the post-World War II order," they assert, "emphasized the protection of the democratic community through rules constraining the use of force." The United States did not always "scrupulously adhere" to the rules of the UN Charter, they admit, but "U.S. leaders generally made every effort to square their actions with international law." Despite "some transgressions," the "overall fidelity of

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