Review-The Battle for Syria: An excellent and non-partisan explanation of the Syrian conflict and its major actors

The Battle for Syria, international rivalry in the new Middle East
Christopher Phillips
Yale, 2018

This excellent work dissects the Syrian conflict and explains, in a clear and unbiased way without any political and media spin, how the conflict came about and who the key actors are. It does an admirable job both of explaining events and providing context for them, including discussing how different nations approaches to the conflict are based on wider strategic concerns and competition. For example, the regional Saudi-Iranian rivalry and the new US-Russian rivalry in Eastern Europe and the Middle East.

One point the author makes clear several times throughout the book is that while religion plays a part in these conflicts, it is often just a convenient¬†cover for more cold, calculated political decisions. This is in stark contrast to a commonly held western view that religious conflict plays a major role which many authors and thinkers subscribe to. Phillips does an excellent job of demonstrating just how complex the war is, how it plays into the wider political climate and how it cannot be explained by just religious disputes. While ISIS is discussed, it isn’t the major focus which is in contrast to many books which claim to cover the civil war but who focus almost entirely on ISIS.

My only suggestion is that a section on Israel would have been an excellent addition as Israel has had a significant effect on Syrian history both before and during the civil war and it would have been interesting to see a greater discussion on the subject.

In conclusion; an excellent work on the conflict and one that anyone who wishes to fully understand the Syrian civil war should read if they want to appreciate how difficult a solution to the conflict will be to find.