From the 1940s to the end of the 1960s, Syria knew no political stability. Three military coups in a single year (1949) and a brief union with Egypt (1958-61) were interspersed with unstable, short-lived governments. Syria was a pawn in the overlapping arenas of Arab, Arab-Israeli, and U.S.-Soviet diplomacy. Then, in 1970, Hafiz al-Assad began his one-man rule that was ended only by his death last year. How did he survive where others had not? In brisk chapters, Zisser sets out the major strands of Assad's political record, including the establishment of a virtual Syrian protectorate over Lebanon; its adjustment after the demise of its Cold War patron, the Soviet Union; and the movement from war to negotiations -- but still no peace -- with Israel. Zisser sees Assad as a masterful tactician who nonetheless lacked a long-term vision. This study provides a useful basis for appraising the prospects and pitfalls facing his son and successor, Bashar.