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Understanding and explaining US-Syrian relations: conflict and cooperation, and the role of ideology

Gani, Jasmine K. (2011) Understanding and explaining US-Syrian relations: conflict and cooperation, and the role of ideology. PhD thesis, The London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE).

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Abstract

This thesis is a study of US-Syrian relations, and the legacy of mistrust between the two states. While there has been a recent growth in the study of Syria’s domestic and regional politics, its foreign policy in a global systemic context remains understudied within mainstream International Relations (IR), Foreign Policy Analysis (FPA), and even Middle Eastern studies, despite Syria’s geo-political centrality in the region. The primary purpose of the thesis is to analyse and understand the driving factors in US-Syrian relations, both the continuities – distinctive in the context of the region’s dynamic political landscape – and the rarer instances of discontinuity. By analysing the causes and constituents of US-Syrian relations, the thesis will also challenge a purely realist and power-political explanation that has dominated the discourse on Middle Eastern foreign policy; without discarding the value of alternative conceptual explanations, the thesis will argue that Syria’s position towards the US has been significantly (though not exclusively) influenced by a politically embedded set of ideas and principles that have evolved from an anti-colonial Arab nationalist ideology. Though recent constructivist debates have (rightly) brought the role of identity and social structure back to the fore, ideological or value-laden motives are still at times treated dismissively as an instrument of power politics (particularly in relation to Middle Eastern regimes) or, conversely, as a sign of regime irrationality. The apparent methodological impasse in credibly connecting ideational motives with foreign policy implementation and the perceived incompatibility between ideas and pragmatic decision-making have prevented a deeper and more sophisticated exploration of ideological influences within IR. Thus the second aim of the thesis is to redress this imbalance by introducing a methodological framework of analysis for studying ideology in foreign policy-making; this will be operationalised by historically charting the development and influence of ideas on Syria’s position towards the US, drawing upon original archival material that has hitherto not been utilised in existing literature on this subject. I argue that in Syria’s case state interests and security concerns are not dichotomous to ideational values; rather the two are coterminous goals in Syrian foreign policy. In doing so the thesis employs historical analysis and FPA methods to assess the significance of the following factors in influencing Syria’s ideology, and thereby its relations with the US: Syria’s colonised past and contemporary US interventionism in the region; the policies and ideology of Israel; and finally the structure of the Syrian regime, and its connection to public opinion.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Additional Information: © 2011 Jasmine K. Gani
Library of Congress subject classification: J Political Science > JZ International relations
Sets: Departments > International Relations
Supervisor: Halliday, Fred and Gerges, Fawaz
URI: http://etheses.lse.ac.uk/id/eprint/348

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