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The Rise of the Terror State 9/11, the Arab Spring & the End of the Postwar Order
Bard College
Fall 2015

Description
During the heady months between the September 11th attacks and the invasion 

of Iraq, an alluring phrase could be heard murmured here and there among Bush 

Administration strategists: “constructive instability.”  Determined to take 

advantage of the “unipolar moment” of maximum United States power to 

destroy the decrepit order of corrupt Arab autocracies and replace it with a 

modernizing cadre of new governments – starting, of course, with the 

American-installed regime in Baghdad – the Bush Administration launched its 

Iraq adventure with infinite ambition of destroying the old Middle East and 

building a new one in its image. A dozen years later the region is in chaos, with 

ongoing wars in Iraq, Syria, Libya and Yemen, a sharp increase in Iranian 

influence, and the rise of an entirely new actor, the Islamic State, straddling the 

erstwhile border separating Iraq and Syria. In this seminar we will explore the 

consequences of “creative instability” with an eye to US policymaking under 

both the Bush and the Obama administrations. We will examine the impact of 

the 9/11 attacks, the launch of the Iraq War, the coming of the Arab Spring -- 

and we will attempt to discover how exactly the launch of the War on Terror led 

ultimately to the rise of the Terror State.


Syllabus
The Rise of the Terror State

9/11, the Arab Spring & the End of the Postwar Order

Bard College, Fall 2015, Human Rights 327

Mondays 1:30 – 3:50 PM, Reem Kayden Center 102 

During the heady months between the September 11th attacks and the invasion 

of Iraq, an alluring phrase could be heard murmured here and there among Bush 

Administration strategists: “constructive instability.”  Determined to take 

advantage of the “unipolar moment” of maximum United States power to 

destroy the decrepit order of corrupt Arab autocracies and replace it with a 

modernizing cadre of new governments – starting, of course, with the 

American-installed regime in Baghdad – the Bush Administration launched its 

Iraq adventure with infinite ambition of destroying the old Middle East and 

building a new one in its image. A dozen years later the region is in chaos, with 

ongoing wars in Iraq, Syria, Libya and Yemen, a sharp increase in Iranian 

influence, and the rise of an entirely new actor, the Islamic State, straddling the 

erstwhile border separating Iraq and Syria. In this seminar we will explore the 

consequences of “creative instability” with an eye to US policymaking under 

both the Bush and the Obama administrations. We will examine the impact of 

the 9/11 attacks, the launch of the Iraq War, the coming of the Arab Spring -- 

and we will attempt to discover how exactly the launch of the War on Terror led 

ultimately to the rise of the Terror State.

Class Requirements: This is a seminar – a discussion class - which means the 

success of the class is dependent on student participation. The most important 

requirements are that students

   --Attend all class sessions

   --Do all reading and writing assignments

    --Participate in discussions

A student’s record of attendance and participation in class discussion, together 

with the thoroughness of his or her preparation, will determine the success of 

our class and contribute the better part of the grade.

Schedule Note that all classes will take place on Monday afternoons, 1:30PM- 

Reading Our primary reading will draw largely from books and articles, some 

of which are listed below. I strongly urge you to obtain these books in your own 

copies, either from local bookstores or from online suppliers, so that you will be 

able to highlight and annotate them.

Writing: Students will be assigned one final research paper of twelve 

pages, due on December 7. A single paragraph of three or four sentences setting 

out the theme of the paper is due in class on November 16. There may be the 

occasional in-class quiz. To bolster the clarity and vigor of your English prose, I 

strongly suggest reading two works: George Orwell’s essay, “Politics and the 

English Language” and Strunk and White’s little manual, The Elements of 

Style. The text of the Orwell essay can be found easily on the web.

Presentation: Each student will deliver a presentation to the class, having to do 

with some aspect of the Islamic State or the broader subject of terrorism. Use of 

multi-media is encouraged. We will discuss presentations further in class.

Films From time to time during the term we will screen films intended to 

complement our studies. Details will be announced.  

Grading: Students will be graded on their preparedness for and their 

participation in class, the strength of their presentations and the quality of their 

written work. For all of these reasons a solid record of attendance is most 

Tamim Ansary, Destiny Disrupted: A History of the World Through 

Islamic Eyes (Public Affairs, 2010), 416

Abdel-Bari Atwan, Islamic State: The Digital Caliphate (California, 

Daniel Byman, Al Qaeda, the Islamic State and the Global Jihadist 

Movement (Oxford, 2015), 304

Marc Lynch, The Arab Uprising (Public Affairs, 2013), 304

Jessica Stern and J.M. Berger, ISIS: The State of Terror (Ecco, 2015), 

Lawrence Wright, The Looming Tower: Al Qaeda and the Road to 9/11 

Joby Warrick, Black Flags: The Rise of ISIS (Doubleday, 2015), 368

September 7—Introduction: The Rise of the Terror State. The Arc of Post-

9/11 Foreign Policy. From One Worldwide Terror Network to Two. The 

Modalities of Terror. The Forever War. 

Class Discussion: 

-Overall course requirements and what is expected of students in this course. 

-Watched a short film from VICE news dealing with the spread of 

ISIS/Islamic state into Syria.

-Why are young people drawn to ISIS organization? Sense of community, 

clear enemy.

September 14—Michael Scott Doran, “Somebody Else’s Civil War,” 

Foreign Affairs, January/February 2002.

------Daniel Byman, Al Qaeda, the Islamic State and the Global Jihadist 

Movement (Oxford, 2015), pp. 1 – 139.

------Christoph Reuter, Spiegel Online International, The Terror 

Strategist: Secret Files Reveal the Structure of Islamic State

http://www.spiegel.de/international/world/islamic-state-files-show-

structure-of-islamist-terror-group-a-1029274.html

-------Anne Barnard, NY Times, Children, Caged for Effect, to Mimic 

Imagery of ISIS

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/02/21/world/middleeast/activists-trying-

to-draw-attention-to-killings-in-syria-turn-to-isis-tactic-shock-

value.html?_r=0

--------Tom Engelhardt, The Nation, 14 Years After 9/11, the War on 

Terror Is Accomplishing Everything Bin Laden Hoped It Would

http://www.thenation.com/article/14-years-after-911-the-war-on-terror-

is-accomplishing-everything-bin-laden-hoped-it-would/

Class Discussion: 

-Division of Country’s the US has fought wars with by use of Troops, 

Drones, Air.

-Questions to think about…Why do they hate us? How did the US lose the 

Iraq war? Was 9/11 a success?

-Strategy of Provocation: a series of attacks attempted to get the US to 

respond in a specific manner, such as launch military attacks. 9/11 is an 

example of a provocation. 

-4 debates between Arab militant groups and Al Qaeda 

1) Killing Civilians 

2) Suicide Bombing 

3) Attacks “Far Enemy” vs. “Near Enemy” 

4) Caliphate eventually

-Puppet Theory

-The war within Iraq 

Sunnis vs. Shia (understanding the series of attacks that led to this 

war, Who attacked who first) 

September 21-- Daniel Byman, Al Qaeda, the Islamic State and the 

Global Jihadist Movement (Oxford, 2015), pp 141 – 228.

Presentation: Zohra Almagri – Al Nusra Front 

Class Discussion:

- Broad Questions: Where has the Islamic State come from? Where did 

the power and wealth of the Islamic State come from? What is the 

relationship between Islamic State and Al Qaeda? What is the United 

Sates national interest in the Middle East?

- Current Republican Race

- Narrow interests of the US in Middle East

o Jeb Bush defends George Bush

o What should our counter terrorism actions be? Lindsey 

Graham: more boots on the ground

o Oil

o Israel

o Kurds

o NATO

o Credibility

- R2P: right to protect (debate on whether this is a consistent reason to 

intervene. We didn’t intervene in Rwanda, why should we intervene 

in the Middle East?)

- Overdetermined: Entering into 1 decision, but there are a number of 

reasons why (vector diagram) 

- National Security State: a state that exists to keep itself in power (Iraq, 

Syria, etc.

o Characteristics: overlapping security agencies that watch each 

other

- Big Question: Did America create its own enemies in Iraq? (Paul 

Bremer discussion)

*A Problem From Hell by Samantha Powers (title of book we talked about 

September 28 – Tamim Ansary, Destiny Disrupted: A History of the 

World Through Islamic Eyes (Public Affairs, 2010)

Jihad Against Jews and Crusaders Statement from Usama bin Laden 

regarding Fatwa 

Class Discussion:

- Obama’s opinion on the Islamic State?

o Apocalyptic Death Cult

o Not an Islamic group 

o A terrorist group

- New York Times article: 

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/09/27/world/middleeast/thousands-

enter-syria-to-join-isis-despite-global-efforts.html

- Destiny Disrupted Notes

o Why are foreign fighters joining ISIS?

o Key Terms

o Key Figures

? In order to answer this question, it is necessary to 

understand the history of Islam (Destiny Disrupted

? Middle World: defined by land routes, spans from Indus 

to Istanbul

? Umma: People living under Muslim Guidance

? Nahkbah: the castastrophe

? Khalif: deputy

? Occultation: Sunni belief that Mahdi will return and 

bring peace to the world

? Rashidun: the rightly guided ones

? Salafi: the time of Muhammad and the early caliphate 

? Muslim: “one who submits to God”

? Allah: “the only god”

? Mohammed (“praiseworthy”)

? 4 caliphates

? C. 570-623

? C. 610: Discover’s Islam at the age 40 (story of 

angel Gabriel and Mohammed)

? Born in Mecca, Died in Medina

? Abu Bakr

? Omar

? Othman

? Ali

- Why is it so important that the Muslim world grew out of war and 

military power?

o When the Muslim army wins, it confirms their success and 

o If the Muslim army loses, it cause the Muslim community to 

rightness. 

question their faith 

o This crisis of faith leads to mass movements that are meant to 

prove Islam is right-this leads to ISIS and other groups fighting 

for Islam

- Shia vs Sunni

- Islamic State and the iconography of power

October 5 -- Lawrence Wright, The Looming Tower: Al Qaeda and the 

Road to 9/11 (Vintage, 2007)

- Watched Battle of Algiers

- Important Dates

o 1954-1962: Algerian war of Independence 

o 1966: Release of Movie

October 12 --  NO CLASS, Fall Break

October 19 -- Lawrence Wright, The Looming Tower: Al Qaeda and the 

Road to 9/11 (Vintage, 2007)

- http://www.nytimes.com/2015/10/11/opinion/sunday/why-is-

money-still-flowing-to-

isis.html?emc=edit_th_20151011&nl=todaysheadlines&nlid=6938

9956&_r=1

- http://www.washingtonpost.com/rweb/top/life-in-the-islamic-

state-till-martyrdom-do-us-

part/2015/10/05/210cef4f922dfa9ce1a1148dd1bc18d0_story.html

- http://platosguns.com/2015/10/03/life-in-the-islamic-state-spoils-

for-the-rulers-terror-for-the-ruled-kevin-sullivanthe-washington-

post/

Suggested Reading

- “The Drone Papers”, the intercept

https://theintercept.com/drone-papers/

*Presentation: John Glascock - Radicalization

Class Discussion:

- Film Discussion 

o The difference between the battle against NLF and the battle 

against the French

? There is no clear enemy when battling against the NLF. It 

o How does the struggle in the Middle East relate to 

decolonization? 

? Muslims Nationalists in the largest sense: the Muslim 

is Muslim against Muslim

nation

- Clear and Hold: free an area from insurgency and then hold onto that 

area (political problem)

- Strategy and Provocation

- Steps Shown in the Film

o Forcing military control to create more oppression

o Everyone is forced to choose a side

o Get secure safe houses

o Recruitment

o Attacks on Police

o Terror (hard targets)

o Terror (soft targets)

o Insurrection

- Reading Notes

o Islam started out as a powerful state and has since fallen

? Employment rate

? Society that has gone wrong: police state, lots of 

o Destiny Disrupted tries to answer how the Middle East got to its 

current state

o Can your belief in God be so strong that you feel like you have 

to committee violence?

oppression

October 26 – Joby Warrick, Black Flags (pg. 1-98)

Mark danner, Iraq: the war of the imagination (NY Review of Books)

http://www.markdanner.com/articles/iraq-the-war-of-the-imagination

*Presentation: Clara Allison – The Yazidi and ISIS 

Class Discussion

- Al Qaeda Strategy to the year 2020 handout 

- Does the United States have an obligation to intervene in countries 

affairs, such as the case with Iraq and Afghanistan?

- Does the United States history with Iraq, give the US an obligation to 

intervene with the Yazidi situation?

- Realist vs Idealist

- Unipolar Movement: 1 sided as opposed to bipolar 

o Realist: Sovereign States interests/ National interests are 

narrowly conceived

? Can be…

? Vital national interests

? Keep oil flowing

? Keep Sea-lanes Open

? NATO

o Idealist:

? Should be….

? Humanitarian intervention

? R2P

? Genocide Convention

o Example: Iraq intervention – the ideal was to transform the 

entire region

o Iraq war: Methods used to fight the United States

- Asymmetric Warfare: IED’s and Suicide Bombing

- Creative Instability: If instability is created in the Middle East, it will 

evolve positively (Phrase used before Iraq war began)

- Ungoverned Spaces: ISIS takes advantage of failing governments

- . If trying to achieve a representative government and you had 

the US Army, what would you have done?

- Could the US avoid the evolution represented in the Al Qaeda 2020 

handout?

November 2 – Joby Warrick, Black Flags (pg. 99-end)

*Presentation: Julia Minin – Russia’s Plan for Syria

Class Discussion:

- United Nations Interests

o No historical evidence proving this theory true

o Ensure the loyalty of Sunni officers

o Remove Assad from Power

o Remove ISIS 

- Assad Created a violent revolution, so that he could then suppress that 

revolution (helping him stay in power)

- Syria

o 12% Shia

o 70% Sunni

o 20% Kurd

o 12% Sunni

o 70% Shia

o 18% Kurd

- Minority governments in both Iraq and Syria

- Relationship between Turkey, United States, Kurds, ISIS, etc

- Big Questions

o Turks bomb the Kurds, even though Turks are anti ISIS and the 

Kurds are the only group successfully fighting off ISIS

o Kurds are a threat to Turks

o Turks are the largest ethnic group without land

o Assad does has three groups opposing him

? Jabhat al nusra

? ISIS (He does not fight ISIS)

? FSA

o Assad only fights the moderate groups, because by eliminating 

these groups, the US will have to choose to support him or 

ISIS. The US will not support ISIS, so the US must support 

Assad. 

o Should the United States send Special Forces to intervene in 

Syria (to fight against Assad)?

o Is it required by the way that we think of the world, that the 

terrorist’s states be destroyed? If so, why?

November 9 – Abdel-Bari Atwan, Islamic State: The Digital Caliphate 

(California, 2015)

- http://www.nytimes.com/2015/10/04/magazine/meet-the-american-

vigilantes-who-are-fighting-isis.html

Presentation: Matt Phelps and Ariella Kust (Current Event Update) – 

Iran, Russia, and Syria

Class Discussion:

- Current update

o Switchblade drone found in Syria (US Drone) 

o Russians sent tanks to the Assad Regime

o YPG taking al-Hasakah (removing ISIS fighters between Mosul 

and Raqqah

o Supply highway

- The Americans were fighting in an alliance to remove ISIS, now 

America is fighting alone. Why is this important? 

o America will be more likely to receive backlash

o If we are the only nation committing to the war, should we 

actually be there? More Americans are doubting the purpose 

behind war

o Helps ISIS in recruiting, US has no political cover

- What are the republican and democratic positions on the war against 

ISIS?

o Republicans: main goal is to remove ISIS. They believe Obama 

has been weak around the world

? Causing the strengthening of America’s Enemies

o Democrats: Support of no fly zone (Hilary Clinton)

- General Theme: Political future of Syria and strategy on how to deal 

with it

o Current US Strategy: to degrade and then destroy IS

? Should this be the major goal of US policy? If yes, how? 

If no, what should be?

- What should the US’s major mission be in regards to IS?

o Right now, the US bombs everyday and ships weapons to Syria.

? Should the US do this?

- How does the question of ending the Syrian civil war go along with 

this idea of right and wrong actions?

- Can we live with the Islamic State?

- If we remove IS from power, what becomes of all these jihadists? 

Where will they go? How do we deal with this as a matter of foreign 

policy?

November 16 – Final Paper Theme Paragraph Due

Abdel-Bari Atwan, Islamic State: The Digital Caliphate  

- https://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/world/explaining-the-

syrian-conflict/

- https://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/world/islamic-state-attacks/

- http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2015/03/what-isis-really-

wants/384980/

- http://www.nytimes.com/2015/11/15/world/europe/strategy-shift-for-

isis-inflicting-terror-in-distant-

lands.html?action=click&pgtype=Homepage&clickSource=story-

heading&module=span-abc-region&region=span-abc-

region&WT.nav=span-abc-region

- http://www.nytimes.com/2015/11/15/world/europe/paris-terror-

attacks-response-islamic-state.html

- http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2015/11/14/after-paris-time-to-

roll-on-raqqa-the-isis-capital.html

Presentation: Julia Marx – The Ramifications of Recent Paris Attacks, 

and Ariella Kust – Abu Hamza

Class Discussion:

- How do we know ISIS is responsible for Paris attacks?

- 2004 Madrid train attacks

- Why did France launch airstrikes?

o 191 people dead

o Clear political consequences

? Opposition pledged to pull Spain forces out of Iraq

o Because of the bombings

o Political pressure to fight back

? This causes the public to focus less on the number of 

civilians being killed, everyone is the enemy

- How many civilians are being killed in the bombings of ISIS 

territory?

o How do we determine who are civilians?

o Do we change are definition of civilian according to our needs?  

? ISIS is a hybrid state

? US does not know how to deal with this fact

- The idea of a necessary sacrifice

- The management of savagery 

- Why did ISIS bomb Paris?

o Increase xenophobia, increase hatred

o Prolong state of emergency

o Provoke military response (“act of war”, legitimacy)

o One up AQAP

o Tilt policies right

o More French foreign fighters

o Attack secularism and democracy 

- What should we do?

o How much power does ISIS have? Who will they target next? 

Should there be a foreign policy on this? Should policy change?

November 23 – Jessica Stern and J.M. Berger, ISIS: The State of Terror 

(Ecco, 2015)

Presentation: Dylan Long – Jihadists in Belgium

- https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/9-young-men-and-their-

paths-to-terror-in-paris/2015/11/21/edc19464-8ee6-11e5-934c-

a369c80822c2_story.html?hpid=hp_hp-top-table-high_paris-plot-

450pm%3Ahomepage%2Fstory

- https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/inside-

the-islamic-states-propaganda-machine/2015/11/20/051e997a-

8ce6-11e5-acff-673ae92ddd2b_story.html

Class Notes;

November 30 – Jessica Stern and J.M. Berger, ISIS: The State of Terror 

(Ecco, 2015)

“Management of Savagery”: ISIS Prominent Handbook 

- http://www.nytimes.com/2015/11/29/world/middleeast/isis-grip-

on-libyan-city-gives-it-a-fallback-

option.html?hp&action=click&pgtype=Homepage&clickSource=s

tory-heading&module=second-column-region&region=top-

news&WT.nav=top-news&_r=0

Presentation: Erin Carden – ISIS Recritment Propaganda 

Class Notes:

- Terrorist groups are opportunistic

- Libya is attractive to ISIS because it is a large, ungoverned state

- Possible fall back location

- Saddam Hussein and Ghadaffi are products of the dysfunctional 

states; by getting rid of them, the United States thinks democracy will 

be achieved but this has proven to be a mistake in Iraq and Libya

- ISIS is lacking outward to look like victors in headlines, etc.

- Final Paper notes 

o Cover Page

o 12 Pages

o Number Pages

o Work Cited

December 7—Final Paper Due

- http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/dec/07/leaked-isis-

document-reveals-plan-building-state-syria

- http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2015/12/06/us-intel-to-

obama-isis-is-not-contained.html

Presentation: Ashley Casale – YPG/j and Western Fighters in Rojava

Class Notes:

- Obama’s speech on terrorism

o Republican response:

? Donald Trump: He Wants to increase gun owners in the US, claims 

that we can prevent future terrorist attacks if we can protect 

ourselves, continues to support bombing over boots on the ground 

action

o Democratic Response

? Hilary Clinton: US should intensify fight against ISIS. In her 

response to Obama she made sure to demonstrate a distinction 

between Muslims and terrorist. She was trying to be more 

diplomatic than Republicans in their fight against ISIS and 

terrorism

o Many Republicans believe that Obama is being weak because he is not 

taking a firmer stance on Terrorism

- What will be the US’s further action

o Many politicians are supporting a boots on the ground action plan, but this 

is what ISIS wants

o IF we begin another war, our resources will be drained and ISIS will have 

more power


© 2017 Mark Danner