Response to “Internationalized Civil War” Essay
Response to “Internationalized Civil War”
Karen Rasler’s essay “Internationalized Civil War: A Dynamic Analysis of the Syrian Intervention in Lebanon” is a highly scientific exploration of what exactly happened when the Syrian military stepped in amidst the internal conflict between the Lebanese Front and the Palestinian Resistance Movement (many other groups were involved at different points, but for simplicity’s sake I will just use these groups as a right vs. left catch-all for the bulk of the conflict).
Rasler begins by addressing the idea that, as much rhetoric as has been given to external intervention in the case of internal conflict, much of the studies done and articles published have failed to address the larger issue of not only what the immediate effects of external intervention are, but also what are the long-term reverberating effects on the country that has either sought external aid or had it forced upon them. Rasler cites several questions regarding the effects of external intervention, including whether or not the external aid escalates violence and ultimately prolongs the conflict.
What Rasler sets out to do in her essay is create a longitudinal examination of the Lebanese Civil War (1975-1977). Rasler contends that this particular example, being so well-covered in the media and, at the point in time which Rasler wrote the piece, having had enough time pass to study its residual effects, is a solid example to begin with, even if it is not representative of all cases of external involvement in civil wars.
She is seeking the extent to which the Syrian military occupation in Lebanon either decreased or increased internal conflict, as well as the long-term ramifications intervention had for Lebanese politics. Rasler begins with four basic hypotheses which she sets to measure against the Lebanese Civil War.
These hypotheses are as follows: (1) External military intervention will increase the level and duration of domestic conflict; (2) Military intervention will occur during periods in which the level of internal conflict escalates beyond previously established levels; (3) Military intervention will occur during periods of extreme polarization between domestic political groups; and (4) Military intervention will occur during periods in which cooperation between domestic political groups and the intervening external nation-state are escalating beyond previous levels.
After stating her hypothesis, Rasler then begins to collect “empirical evidence” complete with line graphs stating what her “findings” were. From here the essay becomes a muddled mess of pseudo-scientific jargon that the reader has no choice other than to believe it because the values and empirical methods used are inadequately introduced or explained and therefore difficult to refute. The problem is, even at the end of the essay, it is unclear whether or not Rasler has succeeded in proving or completing undermining her own hypothesis.
Certainly she has revealed some interesting findings, but largely it seems to be not exactly what she thought she was going to unveil. There are several problems with the way this essay presents Rasler’s “findings” and with the source material in general. First of all, I will address more of what I have previously mentioned: the equations Rasler uses to find her “empirical evidence” measure such things as social polarization, domestic cooperation, impact of military intervention, and totals of domestic conflict, just to name a few.
But never at any point in time does Rasler dedicate any extensive analysis in her essay to an explanation of where exactly these initial figures and statistics (which then got plugged into strange, little-explained equations) came from. It seems as if she pulls these numbers out of thin air, which automatically discredits any of her “research” because there is no standard for where these numbers came from, how they were initially reported and gathered, what they are measuring to determine things like “conflicts,” etc.
For example, Rasler spends a great deal of time discussing how conflicts were on the decline before Syrian military occupation, and then the amount of conflicts spiked up again immediately following the occupation, only to decrease again to levels lower than before. My question is: how is the idea of “conflict” being qualified? Is “conflict” the number of reported incidents of violence in the area? Does it deal with casualties?
How exactly is the quantifiable “amount” of “conflict” being measured, exactly? But this is never discussed, which means these numbers could just as easily be fabricated and completely arbitrary for all the weight they carry with them. Not only that, but the pages and pages of jargon that follow an otherwise engaging introduction to the study and the greater questions at hand make it impenetrable for the common non-career-scientist reader.
It is off-putting and kind of come across almost as if Rasler is saying, “If it sounds smart enough, no one will question it. ” Another problem I see with this, and Rasler herself even addresses it, is that this one solitary conflict cannot possibly account for or be representative of all other conflicts similar to it in which external intervention is sought to ease internal conflict. And even though Rasler does indeed point this out, I feel it is necessary to reiterate because of the framework of the essay.
Rasler speaks in terms of generalizations about external military occupations and what their long-term effects are on the country and government, speaking of the importance of a longitudinal study to really dig deeper into those issues. And I agree, wholeheartedly, especially after the way she presented all of it. Which is exactly why this study needed to go so much further than just delving into the details of this one isolated conflict in order to really carry with it any weight or credibility.
As far as I’m concerned, this “study” is really only the beginning of what needs to be a large-scale study to really effectively address the questions being raised. Another issue I took with this particular case study is the idea that 6 years’ time, especially when the conflict is still continuing (in southern Lebanon where Syrian forces cannot invade without threat of Israeli invasion), might not be enough time for an appropriate longitudinal study to be conducted. To really study the long-term reverberating effects on the people and the government, my guess would be that more time would have to pass first.
Overall, I believe Rasler’s essay made some interesting points and observations, and was written in an engaging way (when not swallowed up by scientific jargon). However, I think there are some severe errors in her empirical methods that render much of her “findings” meaningless, and in order for this to be an effective study on the issue of external intervention in civil war conflicts, it needs to be much more all-encompassing and at least provide a series of examples to cross-reference.