Setting a New Beginning in US-Muslim Relations
: President Obama and the Arab Awakening

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


Early in his presidency, Barack Obama announced that setting a new beginning in US-Muslim relations would be a top-priority of his administration. To what extent did President Obama’s foreign policy actually represent a paradigm shift in the traditional US foreign policy toward the Muslim world, and especially toward the Greater Middle East? This research assesses change or continuity in the foreign policy of the United States toward arguably one of the most geo-strategically important regions of the world.
To provide an exhaustive answer to our research question, we undertake a study of US foreign policy at three different levels: foreign policy rhetoric, foreign policy practice, and the relationship between the two. First, we demonstrate that US rhetoric has been consistently influenced by the time-honored idea of national exceptionalism and its foreign policy spin-off, the myth of innocence. Second, with regard to US practice, we argue that the national interest is a multifaceted concept and a fundamental driver of foreign policy. We also identify the core national interests that have traditionally informed US foreign policy toward the Greater Middle East: access to the region’s energy resources, containment of hostile powers, policies to counter terrorism and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, the special relationship with Israel, and democracy promotion. Third, we show that US Middle East policy has often been characterized by a noticeable disconnect between foreign policy rhetoric and foreign policy practice.
Finally, we analyze President Obama’s Middle East policy to assess whether it represented a significant break with the tradition of US foreign policy toward the Greater Middle East. In order to do that, this research focuses on the transformative events that upset the region in 2011, and especially on a comparative analysis of the first Obama administration’s response to the popular uprisings in Egypt, Bahrain, Yemen, Libya, and Syria.
Date of Award2018
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • King's College London
SupervisorGreg Kennedy (Supervisor), Anatol Lieven (Supervisor) & Warren Chin (Supervisor)

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