Special Subject: The United States in the Middle East, 1917-Present

Module code: V1438
Level 6
30 credits in autumn & spring teaching
Teaching method: Seminar
Assessment modes: Unseen examination, Coursework

The countries of the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) have been a focus of U.S. foreign policy since the early twentieth century, and particularly so since the Second World War. The region receives the lion¿s share of U.S. development and military assistance, and beneficiaries of U.S. aid include Israel, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, and Yemen. More arms flow into the Middle East than any other region of the world, and the United States is the leading arms provider in the region. U.S. allies in Europe and Japan are heavily dependent on oil from the Gulf and North Africa. Likewise petroleum's unimpeded flow from the region is crucial for the U.S. domestic economy. What are the nature of the historical relationships between the MENA region and the United States, and why do discussions of America¿s presence in the region inspire such strong responses? Who and what most influenced United States foreign relations with the peoples of the Middle East during the twentieth century? How did the U.S. respond to anti-colonial and nationalist movements in the region? How has the U.S. related to Islamic parties and movements? Why do the United States and Israel hold such a close relationship? This special subject will explore these and other questions. The course is designed to provide students with an in-depth understanding of U.S. relations with the countries of the Middle East from Morocco in the West to Iran in the East from the early twentieth century to the present. One of the major premises of this special subject is that we need to understand U.S.-Middle East relations not only in political terms, but also in cultural, economic, and social terms. In that vein, we will begin the course with a chronological survey of US policy towards the Middle East, which we will frame by examining how American policy makers defined and pursued US strategic interests and sought to counter regional challenges to their policies. Then we will cast a broader net to look at other official and unofficial forms of relations. We will examine cultural and ideological constructions, domestic political factors, and the actions of private businesses, non-governmental organisations, and the media in shaping the relations between the U.S. and the region. Cultural sources including films, cartoons, and other media will be of particular importance in this regard. We will look at America¿s rise to global power in the region; Woodrow Wilson¿s doctrine of self-determination; the Arab-Israeli conflict; superpower rivalry; decolonization and nationalism; the politics of oil; Islamic revivalism; cultural exchange and the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001; the U.S.-Iraq War of 2003-2011; the Arab Spring of 2011 and questions of democracy and political change; (mis)perceptions of Arabs and Americans; the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and peace process; and other topics. We will seek deeper explanations for the mistrust with which many Middle Easterners have come to regard American policy. Students taking the U.S. in the Middle East special subject will engage in substantive and important debates in the history of foreign relations, the history of transnational cultural flows, and the history of empires and American imperialism. This is a research-led module and students will be encouraged to conduct primary research as well as individual and group work. Students will also have the opportunity to explore some of the historical challenges that U.S. and Middle Eastern officials faced in constructing policy through playing advisors and stakeholders in a few case studies.

Module learning outcomes

  • Demonstrate a detailed knowledge of a closely defined topic.
  • Situate, evaluate and analyse primary historical sources.
  • Relate the interpretation of primary sources to secondary interpretations.
  • Construct sophisticated written arguments that demonstrate intellectual maturity and integrity.