War in the Middle East

Spring 2022
TuTh 3:30-5
Course Description

The Middle East seems plagued by endless strife:  wars, civil wars, insurgencies, terrorism.  Is that perception true?  If so, why is this region so conflict-prone?   What factors motivate, constrain, and shape these conflicts?  How can policy makers influence war in the Middle East?  This undergraduate lecture class takes on these and other thorny questions.  It is a sequel to PS124A (“War!”) and builds on insights from that class to explore war in a particular part of the world.

This is not a class on Middle East politics.  It is an IR class focused less on the politics of particular states and more on relations between states, especially violent relations.  This is not a class on the Arab-Israeli conflict or on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.  Both are important cases of war in the Middle East and will be explored alongside other significant conflicts in the region. 

Most importantly:  This is not a class designed to defend a specific claim or theory about conflict in the Middle East.  On the contrary, this is a social science class:   My goal is to teach the importance of exploring pressing policy questions by testing the strengths and weaknesses of competing and often contradictory theories in an even-handed manner.  At the same time, students will be expected to reach their own conclusions and produce pragmatic recommendations in the form of policy memoranda.

This class begins, like its counterpart, with a historical overview of war in the region.  The second part of the class introduces theories that complement and elaborate on theories from PS124A:  arguments about the relationship between war and resources, religion, authoritarianism, civil-military relations, territorial disputes, sovereignty, and power.  In the third part of the course, we will explore current policy concerns related to conflict in the region:  Nuclear proliferation, terrorism, the civil war in Syria, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, drone warfare, and the U.S. role in the region.


Students interested in enrolling should be prepared for a demanding class that will require proactive involvement, mandatory attendance at weekly sections, three exams and several written assignments.   The class is also reading intensive: students can expect to read 200-300 pages per week.


PS124A (“War!”) is a prerequisite for this class.  Students who have not taken PS124A will not be admitted to PS124B, without exception, since PS124B assumes familiarity with theories of war.

We will be monitoring enrollment. If you have not taken POL SCI 124A, you will be DROPPED.