The Essence of Desperation: Accounting for Counterinsurgency Doctrines as Solutions to Warfighting Failures in Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan
Riddle, William Bryan
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Why does counterinsurgency emerge during periods of warfighting failure and in crisis situations? How is it conceptualized and legitimized? As the second counterinsurgency era for the United States military ends, how such a method of warfare arises, grips the military, policy makers, and think tanks provides a tableau for examining how we conceptualize the strategy process and account for geostrategic change. This dissertation takes these puzzles as it object of inquiry and builds on the discursive-argumentative geopolitical reasoning and transactional social construction literatures to explore the ways in which the counterinsurgency narrative captures and stabilizes the policy boundaries of action. It conceptualizes strategy making as a function of defining the problem as one that policy can engage, as the meaning applied to an issue delimits the strategic options available. Once the problem is defined, narratives compete within the national security bureaucracy to overcome the political and strategic fragmentation to produce consensus. A narrative framework is applied to study counterinsurgency strategy during the Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghan wars. This framework examines the symbolic power and positioning of COIN advocates, hegemonic analogies and commonplaces used to legitimize COIN, and the romanticized language and imagery associated with COIN doctrine. These elements define the "who, what, where, and why" of the courses of action. Together these discursive resources serve as the building blocks for the counterinsurgency narrative and enable it to capture the geostrategic debate space. This narrative further defines how COIN is conceptualized in particular geostrategic contexts and how it is to be executed. The study concludes that by empirically tracing the ways in which the actors, analogies, and narratives are produced and deployed into war strategy debates the reasons for COIN's emergence in crisis periods can be determined. This allows for a thicker analysis of wartime and crisis decision making and a broader view of the ways in which strategy and policy are actually produced within the national security bureaucracy. In conceptualizing military strategy and policy in this way, we are better able to understand how dramatic changes in strategy occur and map the dynamics which enable that change to occur.
- Doctoral Dissertations