Dagher gives an account of the Syrian civil war from its beginnings as an unarmed civilian uprising, its transition into an armed insurgency, and its bloody conclusion in the ambiguous and partial victory of the Assad regime. The author, a journalist stationed in Damascus, provides a comprehensive picture focusing on the Syrian participants, including rebel activists. But the narrative in particular centers on Manaf Tlass, son of Mustafa Tlass, Hafez Assad's long-serving defense minister. The younger Tlass, a general in the Syrian Republican Guard, defected to the opposition early in the war but was sidelined there, unable to find a new role.
Dagher writes well and never allows his accessible style to detract from the seriousness of his narrative. The book offers a comprehensive account of the rise of the Assad regime, the sectarian core of its support, and the brutal means by which it has maintained itself. The book's emphasis is very much on the fight between the regime and the insurgency, less on the conflict between Islamic State (ISIS) and the coalition against it. Dagher offers fascinating insights into the inner workings of the regime at the highest level and harrowing eyewitness accounts of how the regime terrorized citizens who dared to challenge its authority.
As Dagher makes clear, the choice inherent in the book's title proved to be misleading. Tragically, Syrians now find themselves in a reality where the Assad regime has survived, but the country has been largely destroyed. Assad or We Burn the Country is a valuable addition to the literature on the Syrian war and is likely to remain one of the standard texts on this subject.