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  • Cited by 8
Cambridge University Press
Online publication date:
December 2019
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Book description

Our understanding of civil war is shot through with the spectre of quagmire, a situation that traps belligerents, compounding and entrenching war's dangers. Despite the subject's importance, its causes are obscure. A pervasive 'folk' notion that quagmire is intrinsic to certain countries or wars has foreclosed inquiry, and scholarship has failed to identify quagmire as an object of study in its own right. Schulhofer-Wohl provides the first treatment of quagmire in civil war. In a rigorous but accessible analysis, he explains how quagmire can emerge from domestic-international interactions and strategic choices. To support the argument, Schulhofer-Wohl draws upon field research on Lebanon's sixteen-year civil war, structured comparisons with civil wars in Chad and Yemen, and rigorous statistical analyses of all civil wars worldwide fought between 1944 and 2006. The results make clear that the 'folk' notion misdiagnoses quagmire and demand that we revisit policies that rest upon it. Schulhofer-Wohl demonstrates that quagmire is made, not found.


'This brilliant and erudite book, the outcome of assiduous and painstaking research, pulls together the premises underlying the heuristic metaphor of Quagmire. It is a master stroke. Destined, in my view, to become a landmark, a tour de force, even a classic for the analysis of civil wars in their diverse origins and manifestations. Like other classics, Professor Schulhofer-Wohl offers an enlightened theoretical paradigm, grounded empirical fieldwork, sustained by compelling prose. Equally appealing, he adopts a multilayered approach that draws on both internationally and domestically-centered perspectives to analyze the strategic interactions between foreign states and internal warring parties. In short, to understand how belligerents become entrapped in civil wars.'

Samir Khalaf - Emeritus Professor of Sociology, American University of Beirut

'It is sometimes said that powers 'find' themselves bogged down in quagmires. In this lucidly written work, Jonah Schulhofer-Wohl argues that 'quagmires are made, not found.' Schulhofer-Wohl shows just how foreign backers and belligerents make quagmires through the interaction of their strategic choices. Quagmire in Civil War is not only a significant contribution to our understanding of why some civil wars become prolonged, but also an important work adding to our comprehension of the preferences and interlocking strategic choices of external and domestic actors in civil war in general.'

Roger Petersen - Arthur and Ruth Sloan Professor of Political Science, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

'Professor Schulhofer-Wohl penetrates deeply into the question of why some - but not all - civil wars entrap governments, rebels, and foreign backers. Quagmire’s analysis sheds light on Syria’s civil war after 2011. It explains why both pro-government and rebel forces often fell back to non-territorial warfare between 2014 and 2016 and why the balance shifted in favor of Asad when Russia especially escalated to back the Syrian government’s move for costly territorial control and rebel backers declined to match the escalation. Aspiring policymakers need to go beyond simplistic descriptions of the evolution of civil wars to consider Schulhofer-Wohl's analysis about how decisions by different actors can together produce outcomes not originally foreseen or intended by any side in a civil war.'

Robert S. Ford - US Ambassador to Syria, 2011–2014

'In this magisterial book, Schulhofer-Wohl takes on a big question: Why do some civil wars become 'quagmires' while others do not? His innovative answer points to the strategic structure of a conflict and associated decision-making problems for the warring parties and their potential foreign backers. Moving research on civil wars in new directions, he brings conceptual rigor to the notion of a civil war quagmire and highlights key mechanisms leading to their emergence. His rigorous empirical approach, which combines hypotheses derived from a formal model, original fieldwork in Lebanon, cross-national statistical tests, and comparative historical research on Chad and Yemen, inspires confidence in his arguments.'

Melani Cammett - Clarence Dillon Professor of International Affairs, Harvard University

'While many scholars have viewed the Lebanese Civil War as a key case study in comparative research on armed conflict, it was never quite written. Jonah Schulhofer-Wohl has finally done that job, and no one could have done it better. Quagmire in Civil War at once provides theoretical sophistication, in-depth empirical analysis, and policy relevance. It is one of the best studies on Lebanon and the Middle East I have seen in a very long time; a strong rebuke to anyone still claiming that Middle East studies fails to contribute to political science and the comparative study of war and peace.'

Reinoud Leenders - Reader at the Department of War Studies, King's College London, and author of Spoils of Truce: Corruption and State-Building in Postwar Lebanon

'How do warring parties get trapped in interminable civil wars, unable either to win or withdraw? In this important new book, Jonah Schulhofer-Wohl explains why quagmire is the tragic consequence of particular strategic interactions between contending factions and their foreign backers, and not the result of domestic constraints, strategic myopia, or other decision-making pathologies. Theoretically rigorous and empirically rich, Quagmire in Civil War is an exemplary work of policy-relevant social science.'

Stephen M. Walt - Robert and Renée Belfer Professor of International Affairs, John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University

‘Quagmire in Civil War offers not only a fascinating read on a highly relevant topic, but provides a model for how statistics, game theory, history, and political science can present a challenging topic.’

Jerry Lenaburg Source: New York Journal of Books

‘Quagmire in Civil War is a masterpiece of conflict studies, combining a variety of research methods to explain a confusing phenomenon which tends to compound war’s dangers and bog down superpowers in foreign theaters.’

Giuseppe Spatafora Source: Journal of Peace Research

‘This is an excellent and important academic book that will interest Middle East scholars, political scientists, and political economists.’

Laia Balcells Source: The Middle East Journal

‘… the book provides a rigorous understanding of the mechanisms of foreign-domestic entanglement in civil wars. The quantitative comparative analysis of 140 civil wars that follows the in-depth study of the Lebanese case convincingly points to the wide applicability of the theory. From this perspective, the book is a vital reference for scholars of civil wars and internationalisation of local conflicts, setting the stage for a new research agenda for the study of quagmire, its causes, duration, effects and implications for local belligerents, foreign powers and most crucially the civilian populations that are always at the receiving end of the nightmares of quagmires.’

Marina Calculli Source: The International Spectator

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