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POLSC 344: Politics of the Middle East (Roberts)

Foreign Policy Brief

The principal writing and analysis assignment for the course will involve the selection of a current foreign policy issue relating to US interests in the Middle East. The student is to assume the role of foreign policy advisor to the President of the United States (the benevolent Professor Roberts) and will write a policy brief or policy recommendation regarding that issue. The student will analyze the issue in sequential writing projects, focusing in turn on:

  1. Topic selection (Due September 10, 2021)
  2. Background and analysis (Due October 8, 2021, 10%)
  3. Normative considerations (Due November 5, 2021, 10%
  4. Policy advice (Due December 3, 2021, 10%)
  5. Final draft (Due on date of final exam, 15%)

The purpose of the sequential writing is to provide a context for close faculty-student interaction and directive and suggestive comments by which the student will understand the complexity of current issues and also the need for clarity and conciseness in the policy making process.

The assignment is done in four drafts, with further ongoing refinement encouraged. The main purpose is to guide the student during the semester through a comprehensive and ordered reasoning process preparatory to reaching an action-oriented recommendation, all done concisely in only ten to twelve pages of final product. This task requires condensing a great deal of essential information and a broad perspective into a short and carefully reasoned evaluative essay. The sequential nature of the project’s four parts provides for frequent instructor-student interaction on substance and style, to promote the students’ integrative and critical skills as they work to produce the final complete and polished draft, which is the final one to be graded. The sequence of the assignment follows these lines:

  1. The first component is an empirical analysis of the issue in four to five double-spaced pages (one inch margins using 12-point serif font such as Times New Roman, Georgia, etc.), emphasizing the nature, significance, causes, effects, dynamics, and trends of the current situation. Historical coverage itself must be kept somewhat limited, but knowledge of the historical dimensions of the matter must be incorporated as background to evaluation throughout the entire essay. The first section is due several weeks after topic selection and is returned with comments by the professor. The most common observations tend to direct the students to use a more concise and smoother style, to favor interpretive trend analysis over details and descriptive chronology, to deepen and broaden the analysis, and to improve on the title in view of the ultimate policy purpose and target. Sources should be properly and fully cited from the start, using Chicago Manual of Style 1 (footnotes and bibliography). A brief guide is available (http://www.chicagomanualofstyle.org/tools_citationguide.html). Writing should conform to the State Department Foreign Affairs Manual Standards 2 FAH-1 H-110 (https://fam.state.gov/FAM/02FAH01/02FAH010110.html) in all other respects.
  2. The second section is four to five double-spaced pages that consider the normative aspects of the issue. The emphasis here is on eliciting a rigorous assessment of the scope of concerns (practical, strategic, and ethical) and multiple group interests at stake, through perception of the terms of the ongoing debate on the issues inherent in the topic. What are US interests and how are those interests manifested? This section evaluates the interests, value positions, and alternatives briefly and clearly. Observations about the normative draft usually request the student to frame the issues and U. S. interests more completely and explicitly and to clarify the nations’ goals (as a lead-in to the third section). All other details of formatting and citations must comply with the requirements specified in part 1.
  3. The third section is four to five double-spaced pages of clear policy analysis. The student uses the draft to refine ideas in the empirical and normative stages in order to present the most realistic, specific, and applicable action plan(s) possible, directed to the designated actor named from the start in the form of possible options. Students usually find this culmination of the paper to be the most challenging, because it places them vicariously in the position of a responsible policymaker faced with limited options, limited resources, and limited control over the situation. The policy section also invites conjectural thinking. The instructor evaluates this action plan according to the degree to which the recommendations are spelled out clearly and seem to be broadly feasible, informed by what is actually occurring in the real-world situation, and in line with the flow and conclusions of the previous two sections. The most common suggestions at this point call for more explicitness in defining the preferred outcome and in elaboration of steps toward achieving it. All other details of formatting and citations must comply with the requirements specified in part 1.
  4. The final 12-15-page paper, to be given a final grade, is to be a blended synthesis of the three earlier sections, with transitions smoothly providing, in order, the logical sequence of the student’s explanation of the nature, causes, and effects of the situation, an assessment of the values and interests at stake, followed by his or her own preferred outcome, and recommendations on what should be done and by whom to try to bring about that desired outcome. Again, all other details of formatting and citations must comply with the requirements specified in part 1.