The HiLoBrow website has this amusing collection of essays where different writers examine Captain Kirk in both movies and television show. From the entry titled Federation Exceptionalism:
In "The Enterprise Incident" Capt. Kirk enters screwy as Capt. Queeg, and exits smirky as Zap Brannigan. Here the narrative tries (and fails) to balance a story of interstellar espionage that veers from romantic tragedy (with alluring Romulan commander) to pointy-eared farce. Though Kirk is secretly acting on Federation orders, it's hard not to see his usual maverick virtues as an expression of Federation (read: American) exceptionalism. He's kind of a dick, untroubled by his actions, and blind to any moral quandaries he's forced upon Spock.
When we first saw Kirk squaring off with the Romulans (in "Balance of Terror") he outwitted his rival using stratagems dating back to the submarine warfare of WWII, and indeed, Kirk seemed to embody that era's virtues: resourcefulness, cunning, coolness under pressure. But here Kirk curdles over with Federation entitlement. The Neutral Zone? Merely a guideline, easily tossed aside if there's an opportunity to steal a cloaking device.