This concise guide to Syria’s intractable conflict provides a nuanced analysis of Syrian sectarianism and national identity. It also offers a useful history of the Baath Party’s dominance in Syria since 1966 and the near-total capture of the military and intelligence infrastructure by the minority Alawite sect, which was led first by Hafez al-Assad and since 2000 has been led by his son Bashar. Van Dam chronicles the efforts since 2011 to find a negotiated solution to the civil war, which has claimed at least 450,000 lives and displaced some six million people. He dismisses the possibility of an insider coup against Assad by the Alawites themselves and deplores the excessive idealism and lack of realpolitik displayed by outside forces, especially Western governments’ refusal to include Assad in any negotiated transition. Van Dam sees no way out in the short term, but nor does he feel that Assad can sustain a military victory even if, with Iranian and Russian help, he achieves one.
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