Escaping the Conflict Trap coverMEI is proud to present a new book, Escaping the Conflict Trap: Toward Ending Civil Wars in the Middle East. 

Available in print and electronically, this volume brings together academics, experts, and practitioners to explore pathways to ending the current civil wars in the Middle East. It starts by examining the history of civil wars in the region in the 20th century, moves on to what we know about ending civil wars and the geopolitics of the current conflicts, and then delves into the causes, drivers, and dynamics of the ongoing civil wars in Syria, Yemen, Libya, and Afghanistan, as well as the recent civil war in Iraq.

While readers will find little easy optimism within these pages, they will gain a better understanding of the obstacles and opportunities for advancing toward peace and stability in each of these countries, as well as escaping the conflict trap in which the region is mired. The unique combination of academic, analytic, and practitioner perspectives will help policymakers step back from the immediacy of today to consider the various elements of a broader sustained strategy for resolving these conflicts that involves actors at the national, regional, and global levels. Policymakers, academics, students, and concerned citizens will come away with a richer and more nuanced understanding of the drivers of civil conflict in the region, the particular challenges of the individual civil wars, and the factors that need to be brought to bear to bring these conflicts to an end, and create a stable and sustainable peace.


Print Length: 213 pages
Publisher: Middle East Institute (August 1, 2019)
ISBN: 9781082039157


This book is available for purchase through Amazon in paperback or for Kindle.

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Praise for Escaping the Conflict Trap

"This is a terrific volume on a desperately-needed topic. ... It furnishes a superb guide to the civil wars of the region, providing great wisdom and insight into their origins, dynamics, consequences, and possible solutions. ... If you really want to understand the conflicts of the Middle East, there is no better place to start than this slim, smart book."
- Kenneth M. Pollack, Resident Scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, Former Director for Persian Gulf Affairs at the the National Security Council

"This timely volume provides a sober, thoughtful framework for understanding the roots of civil war in the Middle East, as well as ways to mitigate the human tragedy and strategic folly which all too often result."
- William J. Burns, President of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Former Deputy Secretary of State

"An enormously important book that goes beyond the common Sunni/Shia or Islamist/secular analysis of civil wars in the Middle East to offer unexpected insights and solutions. The book was clearly written by experts who lived these conflicts day-to-day, understand why they took place, and know what it will take to end them."
- Anne W. Patterson, Former Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs

"This volume provides incredibly useful reflections on conflicts in the Middle East. It helps us all better understand specific wars--tragic Syria, messy Iraq, militia-riddled Libya ... and regional strife in Yemen--as well as broader trendlines that peer into the future."
- Robin Wright, author of Rock the Casbah: Rage and Rebellion across the Islamic World


  1. Preface
    Paul Salem and Ross Harrison

  2. Middle East Civil Wars: Definitions, Drivers, and the Record of the Recent Past
    Paul Salem

  3. What We Know about Ending Civil Wars
    Jessica Maves Braithwaite

  4. The Global and Regional Geopolitics of Civil War in the Middle East
    Ross Harrison

  5. Yemen: The 60-Year War
    Gerald Feierstein

  6. The Syrian Civil War: Bringing the Conflict to a Close
    Robert S. Ford

  7. Afghanistan's Unending Wars
    Marvin G. Weinbaum and Ahmad Khalid Majidyar

  8. The Origins of the Libyan Conflict and Options for its Resolution
    Jonathan M. Winer

  9. Iraq: A Conflict over State Identity and Ownership
    Randa Slim

  10. The Diplomacy of Engagement: Ending Civil Wars in Transitional Middle Eastern States
    Chester A. Crocker

  11. Concluding Thoughts and Policy Takeaways
    Paul Salem and Ross Harrison 

About the Editors

Paul Salem is president of the Middle East Institute.

Ross Harrison is a senior fellow at the Middle East Institute and is on the faculty of the School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University and the University of Pittsburgh.