An account of contemporary Syria, its extraordinary leader, and its current and future place in the Middle East.
Three years ago, Lesch raised the possibility of "writing a book about Bashar and modern Syria" with some highly placed Syrian friends. After a two-year wait, he got the green light he needed: Bashar al-Assad would see him. Using several interviews with the Syrian president and other officials, conducted in May and June 2004 and in May 2005, as well as his knowledge of U.S.-Syrian relations, Lesch has produced both a biography and a political and diplomatic history of Syria under the Assads. His approach is mostly topical, with separate chapters on U.S.-Syrian relations (a subject that inevitably intrudes throughout the book), Syria and Israel, and efforts at domestic reform and modernization. There is also a chapter intriguingly entitled "Syria Is Not Iraq." Lesch makes himself part of the story, facing up to the fact that Assad and the Syrians surely gave him access in the hope of a favorable account. He diligently presents different possible interpretations of Syria's actions and policies, but Assad must in the end feel satisfied that he agreed to be interviewed: this is a nuanced and favorable picture of Syria's president, although less so of the regime over which he presides.