Turning the Blind Eye
: U.S. Military-Led State Building and Host-Nation Political Corruption, from the Spanish-American War to the Global War on Terrorism

  • Douglas Allen Pryer

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


By inserting the key concept that is political corruption into the aperture of American occupations since 1898, this thesis unlocks greater understanding of why occupations succeed—but more often fail—in creating stable democracies. This study begins with the first Essex School analysis of the logics long driving American foreign policy. Predictive patterns in presidential discourse are linked to practices by demonstrating the alignment of state-building objectives with American ideals—ideals that scholarship associates with reduced political corruption. The doctrinal and historical analysis that follows shows that, while officers often projected abroad corruption-limiting democratic institutions from home, they persistently failed to directly address the host-nation corruption undermining their missions. Historical analysis is built on a foundation of other firsts, including the analysis of American occupations’ impact on host-nation corruption and the causes and consequences of this impact. Fifty-four economic, political, and other determinants of corruption are employed to determine causes. One broad finding is that U.S. occupations affected most determinants favorably, but
favorable effects since the Korean War have been offset by the creation of crippling economic dependency and, sometimes, destabilizing insurgencies. Another key finding is that corruption scores at the start and end of occupations—and changes to scores during occupations—predict how long new or supported democracies endured after occupation. The concluding Afghanistan case study adds more historical flesh to the trends uncovered, showing how the grammar of
corruption-related American discourse and actions contributed to Kabul’s fall in 2021. Ultimately, this thesis demonstrates that the problem of reducing host-nation political corruption is why stabilizing new democracies usually require costly, generational commitments to achieve. Such commitments—even when desired by most occupied people—are almost always unsustainable for modern democratic state builders.
Date of Award2022
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Aberystwyth University
SupervisorR Gerald Hughes (Supervisor)

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