Inheriting Syria: Bashar's Trial by Fire

In This Review

Inheriting Syria: Bashar's Trial by Fire

By Flynt Leverett
Brookings Institution Press, 2005
286 pp. $27.95

The death of Hafiz al-Assad in June 2000 ended what may well have been the longest "reign" (30 years) of anyone in Damascus since the rise of Islam. Only one Umayyad caliph lasted more than 20 years, and the most time any leader stayed at the top during independent Syria's stormy saga from the 1940s to 1970 was fewer than five years. Clearly, the father managed to put together a durable system. Is the son continuing in the same vein, or is he, in the Mafia metaphor proposed by Leverett, the son of Don Corleone who wants to make the family business legitimate? After surveying the last five years, Leverett concedes that "the jury is still out about Bashar's gradualist approach to internal reform." As for Bashar's foreign policy, Leverett, who tracked Syria as a U.S. government official from the late 1990s to 2002, tells the story largely in terms of U.S.-Syrian relations. He does not stint in relating how Syria has stymied U.S. goals (and often been maddeningly difficult in the process), but his reading of the record is that Washington now needs to offer Bashar's regime a more coherent policy of "conditional engagement."

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