Mark Danner

The Rise of the Terror State: 9/11, the Arab Spring & the End of the Postwar Order

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 


Mark Danner


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- 3:50PM. 


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 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 important.


Required Texts


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, 2015), 256

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), 416

Lawrence Wright, The Looming Tower: Al Qaeda and the Road to 9/11 (Vintage, 2007), 540

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


Tentative Syllabus


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.


    • Tom Engelhardt, The Nation, 14 Years After 9/11, 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
    • Killing Civilians
    • Suicide Bombing
    • Attacks “Far Enemy” vs. “Near Enemy”
    • 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
    • Jeb Bush defends George Bush
    • What should our counter terrorism actions be? Lindsey Graham: more boots on the ground
  • Narrow interests of the US in Middle East
    • Oil
    • Israel
    • Kurds
    • NATO
    • 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.
    • 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 in class)


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?
    • Apocalyptic Death Cult
    • Not an Islamic group
    • A terrorist group
  • New York Times article:
  • Destiny Disrupted Notes
    • Why are foreign fighters joining ISIS?
      • In order to answer this question, it is necessary to understand the history of Islam (Destiny Disrupted
    • Key Terms
      • 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”
    • Key Figures
      • Mohammed (“praiseworthy”)
        • C. 570-623
        • C. 610: Discover’s Islam at the age 40 (story of angel Gabriel and Mohammed)
        • Born in Mecca, Died in Medina
      • 4 caliphates
        • Abu Bakr
        • Omar
        • Othman
        • Ali
  • Why is it so important that the Muslim world grew out of war and military power?
    • When the Muslim army wins, it confirms their success and rightness. 
    • If the Muslim army loses, it cause the Muslim community to question their faith
    • 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
    • 1954-1962: Algerian war of Independence 
    • 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)


Suggested Reading

*Presentation: John Glascock – Radicalization

Class Discussion:

  • Film Discussion
    • The difference between the battle against NLF and the battle against the French
      • There is no clear enemy when battling against the NLF. It is Muslim against Muslim
    • How does the struggle in the Middle East relate to decolonization? 
      • Muslims Nationalists in the largest sense: the Muslim nation
  • Clear and Hold: free an area from insurgency and then hold onto that area (political problem)
  • Strategy and Provocation
    • Forcing military control to create more oppression
    • Everyone is forced to choose a side
  • Steps Shown in the Film
    • Get secure safe houses
    • Recruitment
    • Attacks on Police
    • Terror (hard targets)
    • Terror (soft targets)
    • Insurrection
  • Reading Notes
    • Islam started out as a powerful state and has since fallen
      • Employment rate
      • Society that has gone wrong: police state, lots of oppression
    • Destiny Disrupted tries to answer how the Middle East got to its current state
    • Can your belief in God be so strong that you feel like you have to committee violence?
  • 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
    • Realist: Sovereign States interests/ National interests are narrowly conceived
      • Can be…
      • Vital national interests
      • Keep oil flowing
      • Keep Sea-lanes Open
      • NATO
    • Idealist:
      • Should be….
      • Humanitarian intervention
      • R2P
      • Genocide Convention
  • Unipolar Movement: 1 sided as opposed to bipolar 
    • Example: Iraq intervention – the ideal was to transform the entire region
  • Asymmetric Warfare: IED’s and Suicide Bombing
    • Iraq war: Methods used to fight the United States
  • Creative Instability: If instability is created in the Middle East, it will evolve positively (Phrase used before Iraq war began)
    • No historical evidence proving this theory true
  • 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?
    • Ensure the loyalty of Sunni officers
  • 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
    • Remove Assad from Power
    • Remove ISIS
    • Assad Created a violent revolution, so that he could then suppress that revolution (helping him stay in power)
  • Syria
    • 12% Shia
    • 70% Sunni
    • 20% Kurd
  • Iraq
    • 12% Sunni
    • 70% Shia
    • 18% Kurd
  • Minority governments in both Iraq and Syria
  • Relationship between Turkey, United States, Kurds, ISIS, etc
    • Turks bomb the Kurds, even though Turks are anti ISIS and the Kurds are the only group successfully fighting off ISIS
    • Kurds are a threat to Turks
    • Turks are the largest ethnic group without land
    • Assad does has three groups opposing him
      • Jabhat al nusra
      • ISIS (He does not fight ISIS)
      • FSA
    • 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. 
  • Big Questions
    • Should the United States send Special Forces to intervene in Syria (to fight against Assad)?
    • Is it required by the way that we think of the world, that the terrorist’s states be destroyed? If so, why?


  • Current update
    • Switchblade drone found in Syria (US Drone)
    • Russians sent tanks to the Assad Regime
    • YPG taking al-Hasakah (removing ISIS fighters between Mosul and Raqqah
    • Supply highway
  • The Americans were fighting in an alliance to remove ISIS, now America is fighting alone. Why is this important? 
    • America will be more likely to receive backlash
    • If we are the only nation committing to the war, should we actually be there? More Americans are doubting the purpose behind war
    • Helps ISIS in recruiting, US has no political cover
  • What are the republican and democratic positions on the war against ISIS?
    • Republicans: main goal is to remove ISIS. They believe Obama has been weak around the world
      • Causing the strengthening of America’s Enemies
    • Democrats: Support of no fly zone (Hilary Clinton)
  • General Theme: Political future of Syria and strategy on how to deal with it
    • 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?
    • 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 (California, 2015)

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
    • 191 people dead
    • Clear political consequences
      • Opposition pledged to pull Spain forces out of Iraq
  • Why did France launch airstrikes?
    • Because of the bombings
    • 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?
    • How do we determine who are civilians?
    • 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?
    • Increase xenophobia, increase hatred
    • Prolong state of emergency
    • Provoke military response (“act of war”, legitimacy)
    • One up AQAP
    • Tilt policies right
    • More French foreign fighters
    • Attack secularism and democracy 
  • What should we do?
    • 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



Class Notes:

November 30 – Jessica Stern and J.M. Berger, ISIS: The State of Terror (Ecco, 2015)

“Management of Savagery”: ISIS Prominent Handbook 

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
    • Cover Page
    • 12 Pages
    • Number Pages
    • Work Cited


December 7—Final Paper Due

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

Class Notes:

  • Obama’s speech on terrorism
    • 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
    • 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
    • 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
    • Many politicians are supporting a boots on the ground action plan, but this is what ISIS wants
    • IF we begin another war, our resources will be drained and ISIS will have more power