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

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

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
 |  31 minutes each
  • 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

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Your professor

Salim Yaqub

About Your Professor

Salim Yaqub, Ph.D.
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...
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Reviews

United States and the Middle East: 1914 to 9/11 is rated 4.2 out of 5 by 137.
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Historical course, not propaganda. I am a professor of political science from France, living in France. So forgive my English. I have gotten history courses from the great courses from Amazon. It is better to spend time driving listening to great courses than listening to music. But here is my comment about this course..... Many people have commented that this course is a propaganda, that I decided to write my first review here. I will make it short. Imagine that a person from North Korea grew up in that country, and this person is 40 years old. Then this person watches/listens to a course where it shows facts about North Korea from the outside world. What would that person think? This person would abviously think it is a propaganda. How is the relations between Palestine and Israel showed in the public relations of media, both gorvernment and private? And how this influences the perception of the public?.... In other words, this course is good, and the professor is an academic, not journalist or public relations person working for the interest of a group. If you want to learn middle east history from the beginning of the 20th century up to the time this was produced, buy this course!
Date published: 2018-07-01
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Clear, factual - a definitive series of lectures This is a remarkable series of lectures and one of the best series of the Teaching Company (I have watched and listened to many.) It is clear, factual and provides a very balanced assessment of Middle East - Western relations. I am from the UK and I can understand that the series may be particularly difficult listening for some Americans, for some Israelis and for American Jews - it is also not comfortable for those from the UK and France.... However, unless we are keen to keep repeating the mistakes of the past with the concomitant loss of largely innocent lives we need to be better and more subtly informed than by the clash of civilisations narrative that is being poured into our ears. If you rejected this course after first hearing, breathe, be brave, and listen again. Don't let your personal biases stop the growth of your intelligence. You can be better.
Date published: 2018-06-24
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Interesting allegations but few facts Until the lecturer gets to the creation of the state of Israel he seems on uncontroversial ground. The exception is the statement that Hitler did not originally intend the extermination of all Jews (among other groups) but that Hitler only intended the expulsion of these peoples. Typically, no source is cited for this. Once the lecturer gets to the creation of the State of Israel the lecturer veers off into a world of his own. He cites as facts (no source given): (1) that fighting broke out between the Arabs (now known as Palestinians) and the Jews in Palestine resulting in the Palestinians leaving the area that eventually became Israel. (2) the surrounding Arab nations actually were willing to acknowledge a State of Israel (the lecturer does note that the Arab governments never went public with this revelation which causes the student to wonder how the good Prof. cane to know this rather shocking item (he never says). First, the issue of why the future Palestinians left the area is a subject of hot debate that decades of argument have failed to resolve. One side argues that the Grand Mufti of Palestine called for all Arabs to leave so they would not get in the way of Arab armies invading Israel. The other side argues that fearing a massive 5th column within their area with massive Arab armies invading from outside the Jews forced the future Palestinians to leave. Apparently no solid proof has been presented to end this debate over the exit of the Palestinians. The “right of return” has proved to be a major and so far insurmountable obstacle to peace. The lecturer neglects to mention that the demand for the right of return included not only the originally estimated 900,000 Arabs that left “Israel” but also their descendants now numbering in the millions. In essence the Palestinian demand was to establish a Palestinian State outside of Israel and at the same time repatriate enough Palestinians back into Israel to create a Muslim majority in Israel in a generation or two thus destroying Israel from the inside. This is why Israel has refused to concede this issue and it remains a major block to peace. The prof’s contention that Israel’s security interest in the West Bank and Gaza is the main obstacle to negotiations is simply not born out by the facts. The issue of who controls East Jerusalem is also confused by the lecturer. The Prof. fails to mention that Jews, Israeli or not, are barred from travel to many Arab countries. Since the Wailing wall is in East Jerusalem the Israelis fear that if this area is given to the Palestinians Jews will be barred from their most holy site. As to the contention that the Arab states were willing to recognize Israel in 1948 under any terms seems to be a fantasy of the lecturer. He cites no source for this novel proposition and I for one have never heard this even hinted at in any other source. Even “one state” advocates like former President Carter and the many critics of Israel's present policies have not even made an oblique reference to this. It would be better if Prof. Yaqub when he makes these astounding pronouncements would give the student the basis for what he says. This problem pervades the entire series of his lectures. The lecturer’s omissions of certain inconvenient facts may be unintentional but they sometimes give a slanted view. For example Ariel Sharon’s visit to the “temple mount” was not to the Mosque located on the site but to the “wailing wall” the remains of the last great Hebrew temple built by King Solomon. This is why the site is called the “temple mount” and is the most holy site in the Jewish religion. In failing to mention this,Prof. Yaqub gives the impression that Sharon’s visit was to the Mosque and was essentially done to humiliate the Palestinians./. Prof. Yaqub then blames Sharon for the subsequent unrest. In the section on Bin Laden, Prof. Yaqub neglects to mention that the main source of radical Islam is in fact Saudi Arabia itself. Bin Laden is merely an offshoot of the branch of Wahhabism , a reactionary form of anti modernist Islam taught in the Madras funded by Saudi Arabia in many areas of the Muslim world. Bin Laden, killed after the course was published, brought money and modern forms of attacks into the otherwise 7th century world of fundamentalist Islam. The rise of ISIS (ISIL) after the essential destruction of Al Qaeda shows that Bin Laden was not unique in his beliefs. The lecturer does get Bin Laden’s immediate motivation correct (the presence of US infidel troops in Saudi Arabia) but fails to correct the post hoc reason given (the Israeli- Palestinian problem). The lecturer’s statement that an invasion of Iraq after the Gulf War would have been easy was obviously proven wrong by the later disaster that ensued when George W. Bush actually invaded Iraq. Lastly, the Professor chooses to base his explanation of the dynamics of US-Middle Eastern conflicts solely on the past and present imperialistic actions of the Western world, undoubtedly one of the causes, but ignores the fact that fundamentalist Islamic beliefs are no more compatible with modern Western values than Puritanism is. The United States is not responsible for the right wing rule of Saudi Arabia or Iran or the Taliban. When the Shah was overthrown in Iran and other authoritarian regimes were overthrown in other Islamic countries the US didn’t install fundamentalist governments to replace them. This was an indigenous rising of Islamic core values using the US as an excuse to impose 7th century values in a 21st century world. Blaming the US is no more valid than 14th century Spain blaming the actions of Protestant England for Spain imposing the Inquisition. It is true that the US has during the cold war bolstered certain authoritarian regimes like Saudi Arabia against other countries but the Middle East has not until very recently had democratic uprisings for the US to oppose or support. The US has behaved very badly in the Americas during the cold war against arguably democratic governments (with a leftist leaning ideology) but as noted no such governments or movements have arisen in the Middle East until recently and the US has supported those democracies. The Prof. completely ignores the war of Muslim ideologies (Sunni vs. Shiite etc.) that has now gone on for 14 centuries and has been fought with words and often weapons. Similar to the Catholic-Protestant conflicts of the past (and not so past in Ireland) this Islamic religious conflict is at least responsible for the convolutions of Middle Eastern politics as much or more than anything done by the Western powers. As discussed by Prof. Taylor in the Great Courses “America and the New Global Economy”, there are problems in fundamentalist Islam,the autocratic nature of many Islamic nations, and their dependence on a single resource economy that have created a basic incompatibility between these nations and Western political, cultural and economic values. In summary, besides some of the unsupported allegations and omissions of important facts the lecturer essentially blames the US and Western powers for the mess in the Middle East ignoring the fundamental indigenous causes of the problems. The US et al may not have helped and have given some Middle Eastern countries good excuses for their bad behavior but they are not the source of the problems.
Date published: 2018-05-03
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Complex Relationships Deconstructed I am not an academician but lived for four years in the Middle East in the 1980’s. Ever since, the Middle East has held a special place in my heart. I have tried to understand its history and its ever present place in the news - typically negative. Professor Yaqub has helped me to see the series of decisions that has been the groundwork for current relationships between the US and the Middle East. He is interesting and well paced. I’ve listened to some of the lectures two and three times for their breadth of policy decisions and the personalities of the decision makers. I hope that Professor Yaqub is working on a next lecture series that will cover the United States and the Middle East from 1914 to the present.
Date published: 2018-03-22
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Pure Propaganda This course is so biased and one-sided, that it can be characterized only as using this Great Courses excellent platform to deliver pure Propaganda. Very disappointing.
Date published: 2018-03-16
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Super interesting! Professor Ressler is terrific: energetic and passionate about the subject. This is my third course with him!
Date published: 2017-11-02
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Good review of history There is little material here that i didn't know. But the course brought it together in a useful way, giving it context and drawing a thread through the last 70 years
Date published: 2017-10-18
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Great lecture series The lecturer did a fantastic job laying out the long and complicated relationship between the U.S. and the Middle Eastern region. I found his overall treatment of the subject very fair and balanced.
Date published: 2017-10-15
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