In the first half of 2011, an unprecedented wave of revolutionary fervor swept through the Arab world, catching everyone—Middle East rulers, Western statesmen, academic analysts, government intelligence officers, you name it—by surprise. The wave was as consequential as it was unexpected. It toppled Arab leaders who previously seemed impervious to opposition, and it discredited many of the basic concepts that had been guiding the policies of the United States government.

This two-week course will survey the upheaval in the Middle East, asking and seeking to answer a few simple questions: What was the Arab Spring? How has it, together with its aftermath, changed American priorities and strategies? What are the key challenges the United States is likely to face in the coming years?

While the Arab Spring is the starting point of our discussion, it is not our sole focus. We are deeply aware that this revolutionary wave struck while the United States was drawing down from Iraq and Afghanistan, locked in a prolonged contest with Iran, and frustrated by the lack of progress in Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. These issues will also command our attention. Our emphasis throughout will be on contemporary security dilemmas, but we will situate these within a broad context. Our approach is interdisciplinary—with readings drawn from policy practitioners, historians, journalists, intelligence officers, and political scientists.

Image: “You Will Pay for What you Done Mubarak” by Ramy Roof | Flickr, CC BY 2.0

Mike Doran on U.S. Security Policy in the Middle East


Michael Doran

Michael Doran, an expert in U.S. policy toward the Middle East, radical Islam, and the Arab- Israeli conflict, is a Senior Fellow at the Hudson Institute in Washington, DC. He has also held a number of senior U.S. government posts related to Middle East policy and strategic communication.

Preview the Syllabus by Week/Session



Discussion Questions: 

  1. Why is the Israeli-Palestinian conflict so deep?
  2. Can it be solved?
  3. Is solving it a US national security priority?
  4. Where does it rank with respect to other priorities in the Middle East?



Discussion Questions: 

  1. How compatible are Turkish and American interests in the Middle East?
  2. Is Turkey a major partner for the United States in the Gulf?  In the Arab-Israeli conflict? In Syria?
  3. Should Erdogan’s Islamism concern the United States in any way?
  4. What explains the deterioration in Turkish-Israeli relations?



Discussion Questions:

  1. Why has Assad managed to hold on so long?
  2. Can he hang on indefinitely Is toppling him an American priority?
  3. Why has the Obama administration refrained from implementing a regime-change strategy?
  4. How might Iran and Hezbollah remain linked in a post-Assad world?



Discussion Questions:

  1. Where do US and Russian interests in the Middle East overlap?  Where do they conflict?
  2. Do China and Russia have identical interests in the region?
  3. Should the United States seek to bring China and Russia in as partners, or lock them out?
  4. Are American and European interests identical?

Other Courses You Might Be Interested In

The Iranian Challenge

Consider the strategic options for dealing with Iran’s nuclear program.

The War in Iraq: A Study in Decision-Making

Examine key strategic decisions during one of the most dynamic confrontations of the late 20th and early 21st centuries: the U.S. and Iraq.

The Ideology & Strategy of al Qaeda & ISIS

Explore major intellectual discussions underpinning the Salafi-jihadist ideology of al Qaeda and ISIS.

The Yom Kippur War: A Case Study in Strategy, Power, & Character

Explore the Yom Kippur War, one of the great understudied hinge points of history.

U.S.-Iran Strategic Competition

Explore the challenges Iran presents to the United States, from its nuclear program to its regional ambitions.

Great Figures: David Ben-Gurion

Assess the visionary leadership of David Ben-Gurion, founding father and first prime minister of Israel.