The Lebanese war that began in 1975 has been massively studied but el Khazen breaks new ground by looking in detail at the precursor years to the war. It's like sifting through the years 1910-14 instead 1914-18 – a big difference. In a massively researched, factually reliable, and politically centrist interpretation, the author (an associate professor of political studies at the American University of Beirut) provides what will surely become the authoritative account of Lebanon's slide to war.
As his title implies, el Khazen sees the weakening of the Lebanese government as the central development in the period following the Six-Day War. He asks why the Lebanese state broke down in the first half of the 1970s and then analyses how that breakdown took place. He establishes that Lebanon had much going for it, being one of those rare countries where the society predominates over the state; it was also unusual in its accommodation an extremely pluralistic population. But the early 1970s was also a period when ideology and mass politics arrived with the Palestine Liberation Organization, political parties, labor unions, and university students all taking active part and all agreeing that the existing order had to go . On the other side, primarily, were the Maronites, who most closely identified with the state. The inability of the sides to find common ground eventually led to a collapse of politics and a resort to arms, specifically over the issue of the PLO's armed presence. In early 1975, these differences had become internationalized: by that point, "a civil war between two (or more) Lebanese groups over strictly domestic issues was not possible." When it comes to assessing blame, the author is clear and definite: "PLO armed presence has fundamentally derailed the course of Lebanese politics and has deeply disrupted sectarian relations."
El Khazen writes well and makes complex points in a pithy manner: "Just as in 1958 Camille Chamoun was the Nasser of the Maronites, Pierre Gemayel in 1975 became their Arafat." He is scathing on the press coverage of the PLO's role in the conflict – and also of Western scholars – for their willingness "to accept the Palestinian version of the story."