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United States and the Middle East: 1914 to 9/11

United States and the Middle East: 1914 to 9/11

Professor Salim Yaqub Ph.D.
University of California, Santa Barbara
Course No.  8593
Course No.  8593
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Course Overview

About This Course

24 lectures  |  31 minutes per lecture

At the dawn of World War I, the United States was only a rising power. Our reputation was relatively benign among Middle Easterners, who saw no "imperial ambitions" in our presence and were grateful for the educational and philanthropic services Americans provided. Yet by September 11, 2001, everything had changed. The U.S. had now become a "world colossus so prominent in the political, economic, and cultural life of the Middle East that it was the unquestioned target of those bent on attacking the West for its perceived offenses against Islam."

How and why did this transformation come about? And how did each of the factors that make the Middle East so complex contribute to this transformation?

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At the dawn of World War I, the United States was only a rising power. Our reputation was relatively benign among Middle Easterners, who saw no "imperial ambitions" in our presence and were grateful for the educational and philanthropic services Americans provided. Yet by September 11, 2001, everything had changed. The U.S. had now become a "world colossus so prominent in the political, economic, and cultural life of the Middle East that it was the unquestioned target of those bent on attacking the West for its perceived offenses against Islam."

How and why did this transformation come about? And how did each of the factors that make the Middle East so complex contribute to this transformation?

Placing Today's Headlines in Historical Context

This lecture series is a narrative history of U.S. political involvement in the Middle East from World War I to the present day. Presented from a historian's perspective, it is meant to strengthen your ability to place today's headlines into historical context, evaluate what is most likely to happen next, and understand those oncoming events when they do occur.

Step by step, with attention to the viewpoints and motivations of each nation and leader involved, the course explores, over a 90-year span:

  • growing American involvement in the Middle East
  • the ongoing quest for political independence and self-mastery by Middle Easterners
  • the difficulty the U.S. has experienced in weighing diverse and conflicting objectives in the region, especially as the Cold War against the Soviet Union intensified
  • the increasing antagonism between Americans and Middle Easterners that came to such a shocking culmination on September 11, 2001.

Over and over again, these themes surface, expressed in the actions of characters in a history still being written as we watch. America's presidents from Woodrow Wilson to George W. Bush. George Kennan. David Ben-Gurion. Gamal Abdel Nasser. Mohammed Shah Pahlavi. Ariel Sharon. Yasser Arafat. Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. Menachem Begin. Saddam Hussein.

The course ranges across subjects as diverse as the changing realities of the oil economy and the impact of changing policies as a succession of American presidents bring their own ideas and doctrines to the arena of the Middle East.

Dr. Salim Yaqub's background offers a unique opportunity to present the issues of this course from both American and Middle Eastern perspectives (the latter of which are rarely homogenous and often contentious).

Dr. Yaqub is also the son of an American mother and a Palestinian father. His father taught at the American University in Beirut, and the family lived in the expatriate American community while Dr. Yaqub was a high school student in the 1970s.

When he discusses the epidemic of hostage-taking by Shiite extremists that plagued that community during the Reagan administration, for example, it isn't only from the viewpoint of an academic, but from the experience of someone who personally knew victims of terror.

Changing U.S. Involvement through Two World Wars


You learn in this course that many of the seeds of U.S. policy and its dilemmas were planted during the administration of Woodrow Wilson.

It's fascinating to view, with the benefit of hindsight, the later ramifications of issues like Wilson's endorsement of the Balfour Declaration, and its collision with the concept of national self-determination Wilson advanced in his famous "Fourteen Points." Or the decisions made at the 1920 San Remo Conference when Europe's victors (with minimal U.S. participation) divided the Ottoman Empire's non-Turkish areas into "mandates" to be temporarily administered by France (Syria and Lebanon) and Great Britain (Iraq, Transjordan, and Palestine) until ready for independence.

Of all the Arab nations east of Egypt, only Saudi Arabia was to receive immediate independence, and the decision caused shock and dismay throughout the Arab world.

By the time World War II was approaching, the factors that would ultimately have such a tremendous impact on U.S. involvement in the region were beginning to coalesce. Germany's increasingly monstrous policies against the Jews, combined with restrictive immigration policies and existing promises of a homeland in Palestine, were colliding with Middle Easterners' own aspirations for self-determination.

And now oil entered the picture: the American embrace of the automobile had made the petroleum in the Middle East vitally important.

As the course progresses, Professor Yaqub brings together the events and personalities of the next six decades, creating a vivid context against which recent and current history can be understood. Consider three examples:

  • Choosing Iran's Leader. You see Great Britain and the Soviet Union forcing the 1941 abdication of Reza Shah—considered too supportive of Germany—from the throne of Iran in favor of his son, the far more malleable Mohammed Shah Pahlavi. Under this younger Shah's rule an immense American establishment took root in Iran. You see the social tensions that would, combined with the Shah's internal policies, eventually explode during the hostage crisis that doomed Jimmy Carter's presidency.
  • Creating Israel. Professor Yaqub explains the background leading to the U.N. vote on partition and the creation of a Jewish state. He shows how motivations as mixed as genuine humanitarianism, domestic politics, and simple inertia moved President Truman to direct a U.S. vote in favor of partition. But he notes that President Truman then stood by to let the new state "fight [its] own battle" against the Arabs. The administration's "passivity and ineffectualness" is captured in a public statement by America's ambassador to the U.N., who pleaded with Arabs and Zionists to—and we quote—"settle this problem in a true Christian spirit."
  • The U.S. in Iraq and Afghanistan. Ironies in our relations with this region abound:
    • The United States has fought two wars in Iraq barely more than a decade apart. The history of the Hussein regime and the sometimes ambivalent American policies toward it are explored.
    • We are fighting a war in Afghanistan whose own roots extend not only to a terrorist attack on our nation but to a revolution in Afghanistan—supported by the U.S.—out of which Osama bin Laden and his al-Queda network were bred. What spurred the rise of this terrorist group in the 1990s?

Like all the topics into which this course delves, these share something in common. None can really be understood in isolation from the others. The subject of the Middle East and America's relationship to it demands a contextual understanding if today's events—and tomorrow's—are truly to be understood.

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24 Lectures
  • 1
    A Meeting of Two Worlds
    An introduction to the themes of increasing American power, indigenous political aspirations, conflicting interests and goals, and growing mutual antagonism sets the stage for World War I. x
  • 2
    Wilson & the Breakup of the Ottoman Empire
    An examination of wartime and postwar American policy shows how Wilson's commitment to an ethnocentrically defined view of national self-determination drove his efforts to shape the postwar settlement in the Middle East. x
  • 3
    The Interwar Period
    A look at American interest in the Middle East between the wars reveals our focus shifting in the 1930s to American interest in Saudi Arabian oil and the increasing activism of American Zionism in response to Hitler's persecution of German Jews. x
  • 4
    U.S. & the Middle East During World War II
    United States entry into World War II alters Americans' conception of the Middle East, whose geopolitical orientation is now seen as vital to American security. x
  • 5
    Origins of the Cold War in the Middle East
    Three Cold War crises culminate in the issuing of the Truman Doctrine—which would guide U.S. Cold War policy for a generation—while the evolution of U.S.-Saudi relations produces a formal pledge to defend that nation from possible Soviet attack. x
  • 6
    Truman & the Creation of Israel
    A look at competing explanations for Truman's support for Israel's creation and its consequences includes the dispossession of the Palestinian people and the resulting decline in America's reputation in the Arab world. x
  • 7
    Eisenhower, the Cold War & the Middle East
    President Eisenhower's responses to the challenge of Middle Eastern nationalists include a successful effort to overthrow the regime of Muhammad Mossadeq in Iran and a less successful effort to arrest the drift of Egypt's Gamal Abdel Nasser toward the Soviet orbit. x
  • 8
    The Suez Crisis & Arab Nationalism
    Egypt's nationalization of the Suez Canal and the ensuing crisis—with Great Britain, France, and Israel invading Egypt—marks a crucial turning point, with the United States replacing Great Britain as the preeminent western power in the Middle East. x
  • 9
    Kennedy—Engaging Middle Eastern Nationalism
    This is an examination of President Kennedy's attempt to deemphasize Cold War themes in U.S. policy toward the Middle East. Paradoxically, the strategy initially improves America's Cold War position, but leaves a far less promising situation to Kennedy's successor. x
  • 10
    Johnson—Taking Sides
    Kennedy's efforts to strike a balance between competing interests with respect to Iran, Nasserist Egypt, and Israel are abandoned by Lyndon Johnson, who openly takes sides in all three policy areas. x
  • 11
    The Six-Day War
    The 1967 war dramatically alters the political, strategic, and psychological landscape of the Middle East with the diplomatic and political fallout of U.N. Security Council Resolution 242 and a devastating impact on Nasserist Arab nationalism. x
  • 12
    The Nixon Doctrine & the Middle East
    Nixon relies on regional "cops on the beat" to protect American interests, while initially keeping the Arab-Israeli conflict on a separate policy track. But Israel, too, soon becomes an American ally within the meaning of the Doctrine. x
  • 13
    The Yom Kippur War & Kissinger's Diplomacy
    An examination of America's response to this 1973 war includes Egypt's and Syria's divergent aims, Kissinger's diplomatic efforts during and after the war, and the legacy of that diplomacy for future peacemaking. x
  • 14
    Carter & Camp David
    A thorough look at President Jimmy Carter's efforts to broker an Arab-Israeli peace settlement examines an assessment of the Camp David process and the divergent ways in which Arabs, Israelis, and Americans have interpreted that experience. x
  • 15
    The Iranian Revolution & the Hostage Crisis
    A quarter-century of simmering resentment against the U.S. boils over in revolution, topples the shah, sets the stage for a prolonged hostage crisis, and virtually ensures the outcome of an American election. x
  • 16
    Era of Limits—Energy Crises of the 1970s
    The oil shocks of the 1970s are strongly felt in the West, but also force changes that eventually bring the oil-producing nations of the Middle East face to face with a hard new reality. x
  • 17
    The Soviet Invasion of Afghanistan
    The Soviets' 1979 invasion of Afghanistan has far-reaching implications for both the Soviet Union and the U.S., whose support for an Afghan jihad against the Soviet Union attracts tens of thousands of young men to the struggle, including a young Saudi named Osama bin Laden. x
  • 18
    Reagan & the Middle East
    This look at President Reagan's policies pays close attention to his efforts to contain militant Islam, especially in Lebanon, and includes the Marine barracks bombing, the highjacking of TWA Flight 847, and the arms-for-hostages machinations of Irangate. x
  • 19
    The First Palestinian Intifada
    A detailed examination of the American response to the first Palestinian uprising in the West Bank and Gaza Strip discusses the American revival of the Arab-Israeli peace process and the involvement of the PLO. x
  • 20
    The Gulf War
    A look at the first Bush administration's response to the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in 1990 includes America's "tilt" toward Iraq in the war against Iran, the events and implications of Operation Desert Storm, and the controversial end to the conflict. x
  • 21
    The Rise & Fall of the Oslo Peace Process
    An examination of the origins of the Israeli-PLO direct talks looks in depth at the terms of their preliminary agreement, the conflicting explanations for why the process ultimately failed, and what happened in its wake. x
  • 22
    The United States & the Kurds
    This lecture traces American relations with this single Middle Eastern people over a long period of time, examining who they are and the role of their aspirations in our own involvement in the Middle East. x
  • 23
    The United States & Osama bin Laden
    Osama bin Laden's emergence in the 1990s as a sponsor of anti-American terrorism begins with the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan and continues with his formation of the al-Qa'ida network, its escalating campaign, the Clinton administration's sporadic efforts to counter it, and the ambivalent position of the Saudi government. x
  • 24
    September 11 & Its Aftermath
    A look at the events of September 11, their aftermath, and Washington's immediate reaction brings the series to a conclusion at the beginning of 2002 and discusses the implications a more ambitious strategic agenda may have for subsequent U.S. policy toward the Middle East. x

Lecture Titles

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Salim Yaqub
Ph.D. Salim Yaqub
University of California, Santa Barbara
Dr. Salim Yaqub is Associate Professor of History at the University of California, Santa Barbara. He earned his B.A. from the Academy of Art College and his M.A. at San Francisco State University, continuing on to Yale University, where he earned an M. Phil and a Ph.D. in American History. Dr. Yaqub specializes in the History of American Foreign Relations, 20th-Century American Political History, and Modern Middle Eastern History since 1945. Professor Yaqub is the author of Containing Arab Nationalism: The Eisenhower Doctrine and the Middle East. His dissertation of this work earned him the John Addison Porter Prize and the George Washington Egleston Prize from Yale University.
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Reviews

Rated 4.3 out of 5 by 91 reviewers.
Rated 1 out of 5 by muslim terrorist propaganda I would never recommend anyone get this course. It is difficult to listen to because it sounds like a computer is reading it without knowing the proper places to pause in a normal voice. It will drive you crazy. How is it possible for a professor to not know how to speak? The material is very biased and anti-Semitic and anti-American. How does this professor know what President Wilson was "thinking". Before you order this course google the professor and you will find complaints about him regarding his bias. August 10, 2014
Rated 5 out of 5 by Outstanding I found the course well organized, very well presented and well worth the time and cost. Professor Yaqub presented the long lasting difficulties of America and the Middle East in an unemotional, balanced perspective, even-handedly showing foregone opportunities for all involved parties to constructively address the challenges. I think all Americans would benefit from a better understanding of how this troubled relationship developed and hopefully have an appreciation for steps to be taken to ameliorate this continuing risk to world harmony. July 12, 2014
Rated 5 out of 5 by Insightful and fact filled Like many Americans, my knowledge of the Middle East is sketchy and is overly shaped by the media. I used audio only to fill in my knowledge gaps, and to help while away the hours I spend commuting. In doing so I was aware that I was taking a risk. The US/Middle East relationship is complicated and intricate, and thus can be difficult to follow at the same time that you are traversing the highways. However this course was superb, even with the limitations of "listening while ensuring that you are not rear ended". True, the professor has some mannerisms that are occasionally notable, but I do not expect Professors to be trained actors. True, some areas are glossed over, covered quickly or noted only in passing. But, one cannot even begin to imagine the work that it took to prepare for such a course as this, where history is still being written, and events of the past ebb and flow in terms of importance. I was impressed with his mastery of detail and commitment to his topic. He found a way to nicely chunk complex issues into 30 minute segments -- which as another Professor I can assure you is an enormous task -- each of which provided something clear and of value. Some Great Courses I simply work my way through - this one I backed up from time to time in order to hear an important message again. In addition, I found myself scanning the newspaper for articles on the Middle East with interest. After finishing the course we began a home study program on the Middle East for our son to help ensure that he does not grow up with an education as sketchy and incomplete as mine. Well done. April 12, 2014
Rated 3 out of 5 by Title Describes Course, But Not What I Wanted I am a long-time Great Courses aficionado and (professional) foreign policy wonk and I was excited when I started listening to this course since I've recently come to realize I know less about the Middle East than I thought I did.....Unfortunately this course did little to fill in the gaps in my knowledge. After some reflection I realized that was because this course is more about the US and its policy shifts toward the Middle East rather than about the Middle East itself. I was looking for something that would give me an overview of the extraordinary changes that have happened there over the past few decades - this course was not designed to do that. So, bad on me for not taking the course title at face value. Professor Yacoub's speaking style is a little choppy, but it is written OK and he did keep me engaged. February 22, 2014
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