Bashar al-Assad and Kim Jong Un: A tale of two dictators

(CNN)In its first 100 days, the Trump Administration has found itself in confrontation with two dictators: Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and North Korea’s Kim Jong Un.

Though they rule vastly different countries on opposite sides of the world, their regimes share some striking similarities.

Family business

The leaders of Syria and North Korea bothinherited their positions from their fathers: Hafez al-Assad and Kim Jong Il. Their family dynasties have ruled countries of roughly similar size and population for decades, running police states that use brute force to crush dissent.
    Dr. Leonid Petrov, Visiting Fellow at the Australian National University, notes that while Syria and North Korea are not ideologically aligned, both have “hereditary dynastical lines which control their respective countries with fear and repression.”
    Hafez al-Assad seized power in 1970 in a bloodless coup by military leaders, and for 29 years he dominated Syrian life and politics.
    Following the death of his first-born son in a car accident, Hafez groomed his second son, Bashar al-Assad, to be his heir apparent. Bashar took over in 2000 after Hafez’s death.
      The North Korean dictatorial dynasty goes back a little further than Syria’s. With the help of the Soviet Union, Kim Il Sung, the grandfather of the Kim dynasty also known as “The Eternal President,” became the first premier of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea in 1948.

      Kim passed on the mantle to his son Kim Jong Il, who became Supreme Leader after his father’s death from a heart attack in 1994. North Korea’s current dictator, Kim Jong Un, is the youngest son of Kim Jong Il.
      The Hermit Kingdom has been defined and shaped by a cult of personality surrounding its ruling family. Tens of thousands of memorials and statues of the Kim dynasty are proudly displayed across the secretive country.

      Super power patrons

      In addition to benefiting from support for each other, Syria and North Korea alsodepend heavily on the patronage of much larger allies. Syria gets weapons and direct military support from Russia, while North Korea depends on China for more than 80% of its international trade.
      But both are most aligned in their confrontation with the US. Syria’s state news agency has even referred to the US as a “common adversary” of Syria and North Korea.
      Shea Cotton, Research Associate from James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies, believes their mutual pariah status could push the two countries closer together.
      “They are both fairly isolated countries and both have stuff that the other can deliver. North Korea desperately needs hard currency and Syria desperately needs weapons,” he said.

      US pressure

      The two pariah nations quickly became a target of US President Donald Trump. His administration is trying to end Syria’s alleged use of chemical weapons and North Korea’s active nuclear weapons program by trying to persuade Moscow and Beijing to abandon Syria and North Korea, leading international efforts to isolate these regimes through sanctions, and threatening the use of military action.
      US Vice President Mike Pence, visiting Seoul this week, invoked President Trump’s recent military action in Syria and Afghanistan as a warning: “North Korea would do well not to test [President Trump’s] resolve, or the strength of the armed forces of the United States.”

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      But both Pyongyang and Damascus remain defiant.
      Kim Jong Un’s regime continues to threaten regular missile tests and defends its nuclear weapons program — though both are banned under UN Security Council resolutions.
      Meanwhile, despite a grinding conflict that has killed more than 400,000 Syrians and left nearly half of the population displaced, Bashar al-Assad still clings to power while denying accusations of chemical weapons use and systematic human rights abuses.

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