Courtesy Reuters

How Assad Stayed In Power—And How He'll Try to Keep It

Iran, Russia, Turkey and the Syrian Spring

On November 12, the Arab League suspended Bashar al-Assad's Syria. After that, King Abdullah II of Jordan publicly called on the Syrian President to go -- the first such demand by an Arab leader. Turkish officials have been even more vocal: Ten days after the Arab League's decision, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan explicitly called on Assad to "remove [himself] from that seat," accusing him of "cowardice." And just this week, the Arab League imposed sanctions on the regime, including freezing its assets, ending all dealings with the Central Bank of Syria, and halting financial interaction with the Syrian government. Iraq abstained, and Lebanon "dissociated" itself from the decision.

For now, however, Assad is hanging on -- and has been for the better part of a year. He has relied on allied countries, especially Iran and Russia, to block international action, hoping to buy time to put down the protesters himself. Although his hand is proving weaker by the day, he will continue to play it. It is all he's got.

Iran has been the regime's strategic ally since 1979. For more than three decades, the two have worked together with Tehran's proxy, Hezbollah, to counterbalance the pro-American Arab states. Syria, meanwhile, has been indispensable to Iran, serving as its bridgehead in the eastern Mediterranean and main supply line to Hezbollah. Accordingly, both have come out in strong support of Assad during the current crisis, and neither will likely turn on him in the future.

If "Lebanon and Iran are our economic lungs," as one Syrian official recently put it, then "Russia is our political shield." Indeed, Russia blocked a resolution at the UN Security Council in early October that would have condemned Syria's "grave and systematic human rights violations" and proposed possible actions -- namely, sanctions -- to be considered against the Assad regime. The United States and France are hoping to revisit the issue soon (France has even advocated building a "secure zone to protect civilians," although the European Union

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