Research In-Progress

My current research focuses on two main topics:

1 – The politics of counterinsurgency, examining how political preferences of civilian policymakers shape the strategies adopted by counterinsurgents

2 – Dynamics of civil war violence and the ways in which the interactions between armed groups and non-combatants, including the provision of goods and the exercise of coercive threats, shapes non-combatant behavior.

Negotiating Counterinsurgency: The Politics of Strategic Adaptation

My current research examines the politics of counterinsurgent adaptation, asking why counterinsurgents tend to adopt and retain strategies they recognize to be ineffective rather than selecting new ones.

I focus on the role of civilian policymakers in the process of strategic planning, demonstrating that policymakers select the strategy that best conforms to their political preferences from among the recommendations of competing military and diplomatic advisors.

I focus specifically on the impact of geopolitics on strategy, showing that geostrategic pressures exert a significant influence on policymakers to shape counterinsurgency strategy to conform to overarching grand strategic and foreign policy goals, which often dictate particular strategies and inhibit adaptation. Strategic change becomes likely when new geostrategic challenges render existing strategies liabilities for emerging foreign policy objectives, leading policymakers’ preferences to shift in favor of alternate strategies.

These dynamics are highlighted in a most-similar comparison of British responses to the Palestinian Rebellion (a case of successful change) and the Jewish Rebellion (a case where ineffective strategy was retained).

This research forms the basis of a book manuscript in progress and an article that is forthcoming at Security Studies.

The article examines the impact of the onset and end of World War II on British responses to the Arab and Jewish Rebellions in the Palestine Mandate.

The book manuscript will extend the analysis to the case of British counterinsurgency in Cyprus, which demonstrates how emerging geostrategic pressures can force a counterinsurgent to abandon a successful strategy, and the Vietnam War, which reveals a shifting relationship between geostrategic pressures on one hand and domestic political constraints on the other.

Compelling Collaboration: Coercion and Non-Combatant Behavior – Evidence from the Palestinian Rebellion, 1937-1939

This project examines the use of collective punishments as a strategy to compel collective mobilization in support of an armed group.  Drawing on Thomas Schelling’s typology of coercion and brute force, this project aims to present a typology of the multiple logics of violence against non-combatants during irregular wars, focusing on the distinction between strategies designed to deter defection, compel collaboration, and brute-force “drain the sea.”

I use the example of changing British strategies during the Palestinian Rebellion to highlight the differences in each logic and the conditions which are likely to render them more or less effective.

I compare strategies of coercion before and after the military gained control of security policy in Palestine in October 1938 to explain why collective punishments before October failed to produce Palestinian-British collaboration while those exercised after October succeeded.

Saudi Arabia and the Arab-Israeli Peace Process

Saudi Arabia has been a leading Arab player in the Arab-Israeli peace process since the 1980s and the creation of the Fahd Plan. More recently, following 9/11, Crown Prince (and later King) Abdullah created the Arab Peace Initiative. Saudi leaders see the Arab-Israeli conflict as a source of three of distinct threats to the state’s security and the regime’s hold on power.  First is the emergence of domestic (especially Islamist) challenges to Saudi Policy, which is seen to be strongly pro-US and pro-Israel, undermining its Arab and Islamic legitimacy. Second is the ways in which support for the Palestinians and aggression towards Israel encourages a process of outbidding by regional rivals, at various times Egypt, Syria, Iraq, and Iran, which encourages conflict and undermines regional stability. Third is the ways in which Saudi Arabia’s negative image in the West, especially following 9/11, might undermine US support for Saudi security. Saudi rulers saw active leadership in the Arab-Israeli peace process as a way to simultaneously address all three challenges, rendering it an instance of “omnibalancing,” or the use of foreign policy to simultaneously address internal and external security threats.

Future Research: Military Ineffectiveness in the Middle East

My next major research project will address the ongoing debate over the sources of military ineffectiveness among Middle East, especially Arab, armies. Recent research has adopted the conservative, culturalist trope arguing that deficiencies in Arab culture undermine their ability to train, coordinate, and fight. This research has ignored the recent structuralist turn demonstrating how regimes facing internal threats tend to create armies ill-adapted for conventional combat, while also adopting inconsistent theoretical foundations and orientalist conceptions of Arab inferiority.

I aim to extend the structural argument to explain variation in battlefield performance in the Middle East by examining the ways in which different internal security and coup-proofing strategies impact military preparedness and battlefield performance. The project will examine the performance of Arab armies, including Egypt, Syria, Jordan, and Iraq in successive wars against Israel (’48, ’67, and ’73) to compare different armies against a single adversary as well as changes in each army over time to show that the cultural argument fails to explain variation in battlefield performance. I will then extend the analysis to analyze variation in battlefield performance in recent conflicts in the Middle East including wars in Syria, Iraq, and Yemen.


Previous  (and future) research has examined tribe-state relations and the impact of state policies on tribal structure, culture, and identity.
contesting identities cover

My first book, Contesting Identities in South Sinai, examines the impact of Egyptian development policies in South Sinai on the culture and identity of the Bedouin tribes that inhabit the area, arguing that increasing state penetration has led to the emergence of a Bedouin “ethnic” identity mobilized to resist state policies that favor migrants and multinationals over local inhabitants, and that increasing stateness is failing to encourage national integration and the internationalization of national identities and ideologies.