Miller Center

Colloquium - Rhetoric, Power, and the Making of U.S. Security Policy

Ronald Krebs
October 25, 2007
12:30PM - 12:30PM (EDT)

Ronald Krebs
Ronald Krebs

Ronald Krebs, Assistant Professor of Political Science, University of Minnesota

Ronald Krebs, a 2001 Miller Center Fellow, is an Assistant Professor and a McKnight Land-Grant Professor in the Department of Political Science at the University of Minnesota. His most recent book is Fighting for Rights: Military Service and the Politics of Citizenship (Cornell University Press, 2006) and he has published articles in International Organization, International Security, the European Journal of International Relations, Security Studies, Survival, and the Journal of Strategic Studies, as well as in edited volumes. His current research explores the role of rhetoric and narrative in shaping foreign policy, and the effects of war on democratic institutions and processes. In addition to the Miller Center, Krebs' research has been funded by, among others, the Donald D. Harrington Faculty Fellowship at the University of Texas at Austin, the John M. Olin Institute for Strategic Studies at Harvard University, the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard University, and the United States Institute of Peace.

Statesmen devote considerable attention to reworking the narratives that structure debates over national security policy. They recognize that such narratives limit what positions can be sustained, or legitimated, in the public sphere and thus constrain the set of possible solutions. Even talented and committed national leaders, however, often have difficulty shaping the narratives that underpin foreign policy, and the usual theories have difficulty accounting for why and how particular narratives emerge as dominant. To address this puzzle, this article develops a conjunctural account highlighting particular configurations of the material and institutional power available to speakers, the rhetorical demands of the environment, and the rhetorical modes contestants adopt. To illustrate the explanatory power of these configurations, the article explores three prominent episodes in the history of US security policy: the emergence of the War on Terror as the dominant narrative after 9/11, FDR's failure to discredit isolationism before Pearl Harbor, and Ronald Reagan’s unsuccessful crusade to banish the Vietnam syndrome.

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