In This Review

Syrian Requiem: The Civil War and Its Aftermath
Syrian Requiem: The Civil War and Its Aftermath
By Itamar Rabinovich and Carmit Valensi
288 pp, Princeton University Press, 2021

Despite their book’s ominous title, Rabinovich and Valensi don’t actually think Syria—or even its current regime—is dead. In fact, they seem impressed by the staying power of both the country and its government, given the many attempts to bring the regime of Bashar al-Assad down and pull Syria apart over the last decade. In tracing this unexpected resilience, the authors have produced a very useful primer on an astonishingly complex history. An efficient summary of the rule of Assad’s Baath Party sets the stage for an examination of the 2011 uprising and the subsequent civil war through 2018. The authors examine the roles of domestic, regional, and international actors, before attempting to conclude what is in truth an unfinished story by chronicling the events of 2019 and 2020. They are damning in describing what they charitably call the “fluctuations” of an inconsistent U.S. policy on Syria in the past decade. And they supply dizzying accounts of the raucous geopolitical square dance—with regional actors changing partners in Syria with abandon—that has left millions of Syrians dead, displaced, or exiled. Their treatment of Israel’s interests and activities in Syria is predictably astute. In a surprisingly moving section, they discuss the devastation of what was once a robust and lively arts scene in pre-uprising Damascus.