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Presidents and legitimacy in U.S. foreign policy: Cold War and Post-Cold War intervention in Latin America

Summers, Sandra

Presidents and legitimacy in U.S. foreign policy: Cold War and Post-Cold War intervention in Latin America Thumbnail


Sandra Summers


The legitimacy of presidential actions in United States interventions in Latin America is examined. The key questions are to consider the legitimacy of the interventions in terms of the constitutional legitimacy, international legitimacy, including the United Nations and the Organization of American States, political legitimacy and public legitimacy. It discusses whether presidents considered the legitimacy of their actions, and how it affected their decision making. It considers how presidents view legitimacy and whether administrations attempted to construct an image of legitimacy for the interventions. If further considers whether there was a difference between the Cold War and Post-Cold War periods. It concludes with a discussion about how the results of the case studies can be extended to other times and place.
Four case studies of interventions in Latin America are used to determine how presidents have used their power: Bay of Pigs, 1961; Dominican Republic, 1965; Panama, 1990/91; and Haiti, 1995.
The study considers what the Founders intended, and how it has been interpreted over the years. Presidents have made claims about their power. Those claims are discussed against their actions. The Constitution informs the congressional legitimacy, but it is a living document and has been interpreted differently over time. The study examines how presidents can gain legitimacy in the international, political and public arenas. A main finding is that do presidents consider legitimacy but are more concerned with how their actions are perceived.
The work concludes that presidents view legitimacy in a different way from that intended by the Constitution. Legitimacy is an important aspect of their decision making, but they do not follow due process. They systematically and wilfully manipulate the information to present their actions in a legitimate light. In this they have scant regard for the Constitution, or International Law. Public legitimacy is shown to be a key issue for the presidents in the study.


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