Five Reasons Why the Assad Regime Survives

Syria's conflict has morphed into a civil war whose fault lines and consequences are quite different from other Arab rebellions

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A handout photo made available by the official Syrian Arab News Agency shows Syrian President Bashar al-Assad speaking during an interview with the pro-government Addounia TV in Damascus, Syria, 29 August 2012

President Bashar al-Assad promised Wednesday to “cleanse” Syria of the rebels that have challenged his rule, but he’s unlikely to achieve that goal. Indeed, in a rare interview with Syrian TV, Assad conceded that his promised victory would not come soon. Still, there may be more than empty braggadocio to Assad’s claim that, from his regime’s point of view, “the situation is better now.” That’s because although his forces are unlikely to ever restore Assad’s authoritarian control over all of Syria or to pummel the rebellion into submission, at the same time there’s little sign right now of the Syrian rebels or their regional and international backers being able to muster the knockout punch that topples the regime. The rebellion has made intractable gains, but the regime sustains a capacity to fight that negates the narrative of an isolate despot facing the wrath of his people.

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Not only is the international community divided over Syria, but even those countries most supportive of the rebellion have not settled on a common strategy, while the disarray among the Syrian opposition further deepens disquiet over intervention.

Whether by design or luck — or the failures of the opposition — the Assad regime may well have created a situation in which it survives for quite some time, even if in considerably diminished form. Lebanon, just next door, is a grim reminder that civil wars can go on for years, and seldom end with a decisive victory for either side.

Here, then, are the five factors that combine to keep Assad in power well beyond the predictions of early enthusiasts of the rebellion:

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