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Throughout the forty-year conflict over the Western Sahara, the United States has supported Morocco's occupation of the disputed territory. This overall policy has remained relatively consistent over time, yet constantly subjected to contestation. The debates over policy and various modes of exercising American power in this North African region have shifted over time as the structure of global politics changed. My research is guided by two interwoven questions: (1) How did the discourses on the Western Sahara conflict produced by U.S. policymakers change or remain consistent with shifts in the perceived imperatives of foreign policymaking from the Cold War to the War on Terror? And, (2) what do these discourses reveal about the state and the process of statemaking? My project is to explore how the Western Sahara has been scripted as a place of insecurity in the geopolitical imaginations of U.S. foreign policymakers and what this process can reveal about the nature of the state.
I examine the practices of representation, with a particular focus on discourses of security, which have situated the Western Sahara conflict in the imaginary geographies of U.S. policymakers. I trace the reformulations and reiterations of these discourses across historical shifts in international politics. Through close examination of the discourses of foreign policymakers recorded in official texts, I explore continuities, ruptures and contestations of representations of the conflict and their impact on policy decisions. My research specifically focuses on the language used by congressmen, State Department officials and presidents, seen in the texts of congressional hearings and other government documents. I argue that historical moments of opportunity to resolve the conflict were foreclosed by the discourses of security and the imperial practices of American statecraft. I conclude that understanding these discourses as part of a performative process of statecraft helps to reveal the vulnerability of the imperial state, and to make possible interventions into the discourses to produce real change and a just resolution to this conflict.
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