Legitimacy is coherent only in an agreed-upon context, such as national or international law. Having stepped outside the bound of international law, there is no context whatsoever to confer or deny legitimacy to any party in this conflict. The
Even the first Gulf war, itself entailing deeply immoral activities (notably the refusal to accept Saddam Hussein's surrender and the subsequent "Turkey shoot", the slaughter of retreating Iraqi troops), still preserved at least lip service to the notion of international legitimacy through the United Nations.
The rule of even a bad law is preferable to no law at all. A bad law can at least be discussed and changed; but there is nothing to discuss, nothing to change, when pure power is on the march. At this level, everyone is operating directly from pure immediate self-interest, with no thought at all towards abstract or global principles. No one in this conflict, neither the
Formal definitions of legitimacy emerge from a balance of power. There is no such thing as a priori or objective notions of legitimacy. Moral "legitimacy" (including my own use of "immoral" above) without any explicit, formal definition is nothing more than personal opinion. Formal legitimacy emerges from competing self interest when no one's self interest can dominate by pure power. We agree to be bound by laws (and, more importantly, police and prisons) to refrain from murder, rape, theft, etc. because we do not have the personal, individual power to protect ourselves from these objectionable activities. But if I feel secure that I can protect my own self interest with my own personal power, what motivation do I have for acknowledging the rights of others? Abstract notions of morality by themselves have never proven effective at motivating behavior.
It should perhaps be unsurprising that formal notions of legitimacy are being eroded not only in international relations but in our domestic law. Two things happened. We went from an economically "open" system to a "closed" system: Unrestricted economic growth is no longer possible, and thus physical human labor is losing its value. (Only a fraction of people are capable of "soft", intellectual productivity, which is still relatively open.) Secondly, the balance of powers has been upset, both internationally, with no strong state or alliance to balance the military power of the
What bugs me as a moralist, but even more as an engineer, is the sheer stupidity of our current problems. The almost half-trillion dollars spent on
At some point, at an appalling cost in blood and wealth, some new balance will occur, and we will again turn our attention to abstract notions of morality and ethics, and develop a new formalism of legitimacy. Until then, we are doomed to a brutal competition of self interest that would shock even Machiavelli.