Syria has long been a paradox for U.S. Policymakers. The country's weak economy, diverse population, and vulnerable geographic position would be expected to minimize its clout in the Greater Middle East. But under long-time dictator Hafiz al-Asad and his son and successor Bashar, Syria has been and continues to be a major regional actor.
Syria occupies an important strategic position in the Middle East, one made even more significant as American considers long-term involvement in the reconstruction of neighboring Iraq. Syria has cultivated numerous Lebanese clients and allies—most notably Hizballah—during its more than twenty-year occupation of Lebanon. Damascus, which sees Israel as a hegemonic power, remains intransigent on Israel's complete withdrawal from the disputed Golan Heights as the sine qua non for peace with that state.
Since the death of Hafiz al-Asad in 2000 and the transfer of power to Bashar, debate on Syria's place in the region has been renewed. The policy challenges posed by Syria's problematic behavior on a number of fronts have grown more pressing in the present security environment, and the United States has had difficulty formulating a coherent and effective policy toward Damascus. Western consensus on how to deal with the Syrian leadership has been thrown further into doubt.
Inheriting Syria fills this void with a detailed analytic portrait of the Syrian regime under the leadership of the Asad dynasty and the strategic legacy bequeathed from father to son. It draws implications for U.S. policy, offering a bold new strategy for achieving American objectives, largely via a "conditional engagement" employing both carrots and sticks. This strategy would be independent of the Arab-Israeli peace process and thus a historical departure for the United States.
A highly readable analysis of Bashar al-Asad's ascendancy and approach to rule, Inheriting Syria provides valuable insights to anyone concerned with events in the Middle East, the war on terror, and the future of American foreign policy. It is an important resource for all who seek deeper understanding of this enigmatic nation and its leadership.
Wisconsin Public Radio, interview with Kathleen Dunn, May 18, 2005, 9:00 am.
Brookings Event: Saban Center Briefing: Inheriting Syria, April 25, 2005.
"Son of a gun," The Economist print edition, April 21, 2005. (login required)
"'Inheriting Syria' In the Modern Age," Fresh Air interview with Terry Gross, WHYY, March 31, 2005.
"Ex-Bush Official Warns the Administration: Don't Rush on the Road to Damascus," Democracy Now interview with Amy Goodman, March 31, 2005.