17.S950 | Fall 2016 | Graduate

Social Science and the Iraq and Syrian Wars


1 Broad Theory

Major concepts related to war in general and civil war in particular: the security dilemma; deterrence; balance of power thoery as related to civil war alliance formation; civil war as a technology; the problem of credible commitment in negotiating an end to civil war; the role of territorial control related to levels of violence; the dynamics of competitive intervention in civil war. For some students, this class might be review; for others, an introduction. Either way, we will be returning to these concepts throughout the course and assessing their relevance and explanatory power.

2 Iraq Background and Empirical Overview

Data and description. Students will read the executive reports of the International Crisis Group over the course of the conflict to gain a sense of the evolution of the conflict as well as reading on-the-ground descriptions and summaries.

3 State-Building, Nation-Building, Democracy

Back to theory. Examine how academics and policy-makers understand the process of building a state and democracy. We will specficially look at the beliefs and assumptions in the 2003-2004 period and trace why these beliefs did not often play out.

4 Strategy I: Hearts and Minds; Not Winning Hearts and Minds; Mechanization/Indiscriminate Violence

How various methodologies and theories are applied to data and events during the Iraq War. We will examine the relationship between theory and data through the lens of one of four theories of counterinsurgency/state building: 1) clear, hold, build; 2) decapitation; 3) homogenization; 4) community mobilization. Many academic works have examined how these strategies, or important elements of these strategies, explain change in key conflict-related variables.

5 Partition and Homogenization

See class 4 for topics.

6 Community Mobilization/Indirect Rule

See class 4 for topics.

7 Decapitation and Collateral Damage

See class 4 for topics.

8 Organizations and Networks

Examine the role of networks and organizations. In recent years, many MIT Security Studies Program students have studied the organization of violence, and we will read several of their works.

9 Syria Reports, Getting Up to Speed

A survey of events and data regarding Syria.

10 Syria II Topics

Returning to the central question of the course: how well do the theories and methods examined in the earlier sections of the course help us understand this continuing conflict? Special attention will be given to the dynamics of outside intervention in civil war.

11 Syria III

See class 10 for topics.

12 Comparing Across Space and Time

We consider the use of the comparative method. How much can we learn through comparisons of Iraq and Syria with each other, with Afghanistan, or with Vietnam? How legitimate is it to reason by analogy in these cases?

13 Conclusions

This final class will be used for broad discussion and speculation. We will consider the future of the Iraq/Syria region specifically and the future of counterinsurgency policy, U.S. intervention practice, and state-building in more general terms.