Syria has been in the news recently in connection with the United Nationsí report on the investigation into the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri; Syrian and Lebanese politicians have been accused by Haririís supporters of his February 14, 2005, assassination. The report agrees with those supporters that high Syrian and Lebanese government members were involved, although President Bashar al-Assad has not been personally accused as of yet. The U.N. investigators say that Syria did not cooperate with them and, when they did, what they said were lies. With this news, the future for Syria and its president is unsure. The final copy of this book will include an update on the assassination, but this reviewer did not have the final copy in hand.
Bashar al-Assad was not the first choice to succeed his father, Hafiz al-Assad, as Syrian president. His older brother, Basil, was being groomed for the position, but he died in a car accident in 1994. Bashar took his brotherís place as heir.
Hafiz al-Assad died on June 10, 2000, but Bashar did not become president until July 10, 2000; he first needed approval and to be elected to particular positions in the ruling party to do this. Bashar trained as a medical doctor first in Syria and then in England. Many thought that, when he became president, he would reform the government, economy, and other aspects of Syrian life. This has not happened as quickly as some had expected or hoped. Bashar is hampered to move too quickly because he has to live up to his fatherís legacy - and he has to please his family and his fatherís closest supporters, who are still very powerful.
Hafiz al-Assadís used his supporters to get what he wanted within or outside of Syria. In his push to control Lebanon, he used the Lebanese against each other. He used Hezbollah against Israel and others, and he used Palestinian groups not aligned with the PLO to attack both Israel and the PLO.
Flynt Leverett shows how Bashar came to power and what he must to do to retain that power. Bashar is not in an easy position; he could easily be toppled by any different group in Syria or by someone outside of Syria. Leverett discusses the history and politics of Syria that Bashar has inherited from his father. He shows what Syriaís place and influence is in the Middle East and the rest of the Arab world and discusses Syriaís relationship with the United States. Bashar tried to improve relations with the United States after the 9/11 attacks by supplying information on terrorists, but the American administration did not reciprocate. Syria also supported actions U.N. Security Council actions against Iraq but opposed the war. Syria has been accused of helping terrorists or insurgents enter Iraq from its territory. Now Bashar and Syria are in trouble over the Hariri assassination.
Leverettís book shows why Bashar al-Assad and his government are in trouble with the United Nations and other countries, only part of the bigger mess beyond his control Bashar inherited from his father. He must live up to his fatherís legacy or face being deposed. He walks a fine line, not firmly in control of Syria. Leverett implies that Bashar would like to implement reforms in Syria but is not powerful enough yet. He has inherited a complicated situation.
This book is recommended by Richard A. Clarke, the former U.S. national coordinator for counter-terrorism, and by former CIA director George Tenet. Flynt Leverett is a senior fellow at the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution. He has served as senior director for Middle East affairs at the U.S. National Security Council and as a senior Middle East analyst at the CIA. He helped edit The Road Ahead: Middle East Policy in the Bush Administrationís Second Term (2005). Leverett includes a timeline of Basharís presidency from 2000 to 2004, as well as black-and-white photos, maps and extensive endnotes.
Inheriting Syria is recommended for public and academic libraries and to those interested in Middle Eastern affairs.