Since its commencement in the upsurge of the Arab Spring in 2011, the Syrian civil war has claimed in excess of 200,000 lives, with an estimated 8 million Syrians, more than a third of the country’s population, forced to flee their homes. A stalemate now exists in the country with the government of Bashar al-Assad maintaining its grip on most of the cities in the west, while large swathes of the countryside in the north and east are under the control of the Islamic fundamentalist groups ISIS and the Nusra Front. The Caliphate announced by ISIS in the summer of 2014 occupies some 35% of the country, as well as vast territory across the border in Iraq.
The nuances of this conflict have never been well-understood in the West, least of all, it seems, by governments in the US and Europe, who, anticipating Assad’s sudden departure, made it a condition of any negotiated settlement. The consequences of that miscalculation, Charles Glass contends in this illuminating and concise survey, have contributed greatly to the unfolding disaster that we witness today.
Glass has reported extensively from the Middle East, and travelled frequently in Syria, over several decades. Here he melds together reportage, analysis and history to provide an accessible overview of the origins and permutations defining the conflict, situating it clearly in the overall crisis of the region. His voice, elegant and concise, humane and richly-informed, is a vital antidote to the sloganizing that shapes so much commentary, and policy, concerning the civil war.