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In the Lion's Den: An Eyewitness Account of Washington's Battle with Syria [Paperback]

Andrew Tabler

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Book Description

Sept. 1 2011
A key player and an unrelenting obstacle in the Middle East peace process, Syria has long been a thorn in Washington's side when it comes to forging strategic alliances with powers in the region. But only after the events of 9/11 and Damascus's staunch opposition to the War in Iraq did the U.S. government begin a campaign to pressure President Bashar al-Asad's regime to change its policies and bring Syria into the Western political orbit.

Author Andrew Tabler was both a witness to and participant in the events of this covert conflict. No other Western journalists or academics were based in Damascus during this entire period, and as co-founder of what was then Syria's only English-language publication, Tabler was not only watched and censored, but courted by the Syrian government in an attempt to influence his stories to the international community. He gained unique access to the upper echelons of power like no other journalist before him, even accompanying the Syrian president on a state visit to China.

In the Lion's Den provides a rare glimpse into the machinations of one of the world's most baffling political systems. The book vividly captures Tabler's behind-the-scenes experiences as well as the story of Syria itself post-9/11 and Washington's attempts to craft a "New Middle East." Tabler's astute political analysis of the goings-on around him is seamlessly interwoven with a devastating critique of U.S. foreign policy. He examines the effects of the the Bush adminstration's strategy, asking what went wrong, what went right, and where Washington needs to go from here to deal with this volatile Middle Eastern country.


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Chicago Review Press (Sept. 1 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1569768439
  • ISBN-13: 978-1569768433
  • Product Dimensions: 23 x 15.4 x 1.4 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 408 g
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #380,037 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

Review

"Tabler's unique position as an American working to promote Syrian culture allowed him a keen perch from which to observe unfolding events...A singular, critical look inside this compelling Arab nation." —Kirkus
 


"Tabler's frontline report offers readers a chilling glimpse of an enigmatic region."
Publishers Weekly


“A fascinating odyssey through the maze of modern Syria. Full of wisdom, optimism, and caution.” —Jon Alterman, Director of the Middle East Program, Center for Strategic and International Studies



“It is difficult to think of a more timely book and of an author better suited to write it. Andrew Tabler worked around the inner sanctum of Bashar al-Assad [and] offers unique insights into the inner workings of the regime and of Syria’s ruling elites. Mandatory reading.” —Itamar Rabinovich, Israel’s former chief negotiator with Syria and ambassador to the United States


“Riveting . . . a compelling insider’s account of life under the Assad regime.” —Steven Heydemann, United States Institute of Peace

About the Author

Andrew Tabler is a fellow with the Washington Institute for Near East Policy and one of the most sought-after voices on contemporary Syria. His articles have appeared in the New York Times, the New York Times Magazine, Newsweek, the International Herald Tribune, Foreign Policy, and Foreign Affairs. His opinion is regularly sought by CNN, NBC, and PBS. After seven years of living and working under Assad’s regime, Tabler left Damascus for Beirut.


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Amazon.com: 4.9 out of 5 stars  8 reviews
10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Must-Read Narrative on Syria under Bashar Assad May 6 2012
By CMC - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
A captivating insider perspective, over the course of two days I only put down "In the Lion's Den" out of necessity, and wished there was more when I finished.

"In the Lion's Den" offers an unparalleled view on life in modern Syria: the oppression of citizens and foreigners, the corruption, the changes to the system under Bashar, the "Damascus Declaration" and the rise of the opposition, and significantly, Syria's relations with the United States. Tabler makes clear that one cannot fully understand the situations in Lebanon, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Palestine, and the wider Middle East without having a firm grasp on Syrian politics and Syria's foreign endeavors.

Tabler's privileged position as an adviser to an NGO under the patronage of the President's wife - we learn that some consider deceased President Hafez al Assad's wife to still be the "First Lady" - allows him unprecedented access to the powerful actors defining Syrian life from 2001-11. He meticulously charts the specific dates on which events occurred that shaped the history of a nation and region.

Bashar Assad's reign begins with hopes for reform and change, but positive political change never comes. Repressive laws written generations ago remain on the books, and even Asma al-Assad's NGOs exist in legal limbo. Tabler slowly comes to understand the myriad forms of power the state exerts on its population and the factional balancing act the president must play to remain in power during particularly challenging times.

Tabler chronicles the plethora of techniques the regime uses to psychologically imprison its population and to keep foreign powers guessing. As in Ryszard Kapuscinski's works, Tabler elucidates the seemingly trivial but critical details that keep the Syrian people constantly guessing. Casual looks or the lack thereof from the President's wife reveal an employee's closeness to power. Gossip is disproportionately influential. Cryptic comments from powerful individuals cause nervous breakdowns.

Despite having myriad sources within the regime, Tabler is still left unknowing. In experience after experience, Tabler realizes that one of the most powerful instruments the regime uses to control its population is to leave people in the dark. Knowledge is rarely forthcoming. Rumors and conspiracy theories abound with claims that an "old guard" is preventing Bashar from taking action or trying to overthrow him, or that certain figures close to Bashar - like Assef Shawkat and Maher al-Assad - have enough power within an alleged close-knit power circle that he cannot oppose them.

Regardless of the Sopranos-like drama within the ruling family, the people are left in what Tabler describes as "the Blackness." Incredible violence occurs, assassinations take place, officials are replaced, but no one knows why. It is amazing that Tabler survived in that environment for so long - likely a testament to his canny reading of the subtleties of the regime, but he finally finds himself unwelcome in the country that hosted him for nearly a decade.

Despite political stasis, Syria dramatically changes under Bashar's reign. A demographic boom in the 1980s, a drop in oil production and smuggling, US sanctions, the end of control over Lebanon - a regime cash cow, and a free trade treaty with Turkey all force the regime to make dramatic economic changes simply to stay fiscally afloat. Tabler masterfully describes how President Assad uses the new economy to empower himself over other state actors, becoming the chief arbitrator in a system without rule of law and predicated on bribery.

The Bush and Obama Administrations craft policies to counter the regime's deleterious effect on Middle East stability succeeding in some areas and making mistakes along the way. Tabler provides sound advice to policymakers for future encounters with Syria, and helps his audience understand the political, religious, and economic conditions that led to the Syrian uprisings during the Arab Spring.

"In the Lion's Den" is a must-read for anyone interested in understanding Syria during the 2000s.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars In The Lion's Den July 23 2012
By Amazon Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
As reviewed for Executive-magazine.com -

Andrew Tabler's account of his time in Syria between 2001 and 2008 is refreshing -- relative to the reams of Orientalist trite other Western authors have published about the Middle East and North Africa -- in that he actually spent years in the region getting to know the place, first studying Arabic and working as a journalist in Cairo and later traversing the MENA for the Oxford Business Group writing country investment reports, before eventually basing himself in Damascus. Thus his offering, "In the Lion's Den", is neither `parachute journalism' nor the story of a doe-eyed apple-pie eater struggling to make sense of an alien Arab fantasyland -- the two most common categories of expat writing on the region. Rather, Tabler -- a former contributor to Executive -- is candid and observant in relating the challenges of trying to comprehend the vast complexities of a country like Syria.

The author has been accused of being naïve, in asserting that after Bashar al-Assad's succession to the presidency in 2000 the country would move from autocracy to democracy, but what Tabler says interested him more was getting an "unexpected front-row seat to a fight", pitting the young reformist Assad against the entrenched status quo of the old guard. He later admits some of his shortcomings in framing the situation as such; while there were superficial changes, it was clear after the first few years of the new Assad's leadership that regime survival would always be the paramount concern.

Tabler was in a unique position to assess the touted reforms in Syria after a private meeting with Assad's wife, Asma, and then working for one of her government-organized non-governmental organizations (GONGOs), the Fund for Integrated Rural Development of Syria. This led him to start up, under the auspices of Asma Assad, the country's first English-language magazine, Syria Today. Tabler's account of his meeting with the "first lady" is intriguing, as are the relations between Asma and her go-betweens at the GONGOs. Equally fascinating is Tabler's account of being the only non-Arab and the first American to accompany a Syrian president on a state trip, to Beijing in 2004.

A criticism of "Lion's Den" is it goes into no great depth about such encounters, or the running of Syria Today. Tabler also reveals little about his life in Damascus and travels around the country. A possible explanation for this may be that the book was intended both as a memoir and a dovetail into future career aspirations -- Tabler's current employer is the neoconservative Washington Institute for Near Eastern Policy think tank.

Much of the book consequently concerns Syria's relations with Lebanon, Iraq and Israel, and America's resultant foreign policy with Damascus. This ranges from Western hopes of engaging Assad to bring Syria `in from the cold' -- primarily through solving the Arab-Israeli conflict -- to problematic relations after the Bush administration labeled Syria part of the `Axis of Evil' and Damascus' apparent reluctance to prevent fighters crossing its border into Iraq following the 2003 United States invasion. Relations soured further following the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri in 2005, leading the US to withdraw its ambassador to Syria and Damascus entering into a strategic alliance with Tehran. The account of the ongoing tussle between Damascus and Washington is succinct and bipartisan, providing a useful primer on bilateral relations.

Tabler chose to write the book after he was not allowed back into Syria in 2008, due to his increasingly vocal criticism of the regime. Published in September, Tabler could not have asked for a more opportune moment for the release, given the international media attention on the Syrian uprising, and he has capitalized on this in the epilogue in arguing how Assad and the regime should be handled by Washington. While Tabler may have been taken in by Assad's veneer of reform a decade ago, "In the Lion's Den" resounds as an impeachment of the Syrian leadership and a call for even tighter international sanctions to bring the regime to account.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Good read which will take you behind the scenes in Syria. Jan. 31 2013
By Patti Jo Kiraly - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
I finished this book two nights ago. What a story! Not just that, but also well told. Mr. Tabler's writing is truly exceptional. I noticed how he leads off each new section with action, so it becomes very hard to close the book without reading what will happen next. As a previous writer's wife, I really enjoyed the rhythm he set and the style he crafted.
On the subject of Mr. Assad, all I can say to sum up my thoughts is, "Oh, dear." It's a crazy world they have created. Whether it is purposely dumbfounding or accidentally is kind of moot. There seems to be no effort to truly right the ship they are sailing. Tabler did such a great job describing not only the daily life but also the systemic disorder. In the trips I have made to the region it is always the warmth of the people that gives me hope, and I enjoyed the other characters that surrounded him because of that. You can't truly get a good idea of the area without visiting and meeting the people.
I am not even close to understanding the big picture of the Middle East, but I do think about it a lot. I'm glad we have this writer, and others like him, who help people like me to understand it all.
Thanks for the read,
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars None Aug. 21 2012
By Andy - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Kindle Edition
a perfect starting point for any study of syria, especially regarding the rule of bashar al assad. gives enough historical background so that even those who are totally unfamiliar with syrian history and politics can gain a good, general understanding of how the events currently unfolding came about. tabler's style is highly readable and like another reviewer, i had a hard time putting this one down. a must read. *as a side note, i want to apologize for the lack of capitalization in this revew, it's being written from my kindle and the capital button isn't working for some reason.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great book, factual yet easy to read Jan. 9 2013
By Trudi Boxx - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Kindle Edition
Mr Tabler does a geat job illustarting events in Syria as power transitioned to Bashar al-Assad. It also douments the short-lived yet hoped for Damascus Spring where many in the west were hopeful that Bashar and his wife would open Syria to reform and implement anti-corruption measures. The book serves as a wonderful primer for the current war in Syria - and thus if anyone wants to understand the events leading up to the Syrian civil war - read this book. A wonderful juxtopostion of academia and personal, heartfelt journal of modern Syria. Tabler ranks with the likes as Patriock Seale as a must have for one's Syria book collection.

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