American Counterinsurgency Doctrine and El Salvador

The Frustrations of Reform and the Illusions of Nation Building

by Benjamin Schwarz

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Abstract

This report assesses the political and social dimensions of American counterinsurgency policy in El Salvador. It attempts to explain why low-intensity-conflict doctrine has not produced the desired results and to reassess that doctrine's future utility. The author's appraisal of U.S. involvement in El Salvador leads him to conclude that there is a vast disparity between U.S. objectives and achievements there. For a decade, U.S. policy toward El Salvador tried to synthesize liberal and conservative aims: foster political, social, and economic reform, and provide security to a country whose freedom from communism the United States deemed essential. In attempting to reconcile these objectives, however, the United States pursued a policy that used means unsettling to itself, for ends humiliating to the Salvadorans, and at a cost disproportionate to any conventional conception of the national interest.

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