China, Russia, and Iran Form a New Axis of Tyranny

March 16, 2023 | Clifford May and Waller Newell
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In 1996, representatives of Russia, China, and three former Soviet republics gathered to sign a treaty in Shanghai, laying the groundwork for an alliance between these two nuclear powers—one that Xi Jinping affirmed last year when he declared that there would be “no limits to Sino-Russian cooperation.” Together with Iran, these countries constitute what Clifford May and Waller Newell call an “axis of tyrannies,” the primary goal of which is to reduce the influence of the U.S. They write:

For Vladimir Putin, the goal is the “new world” of a Eurasianist empire; for Xi Jinping, the ceaseless extension of his totalitarian “social-credit” blueprint and the replacement of the American-led liberal international order with one that is illiberal and whose rules are made in Beijing; for Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, the restoration of a powerful new Islamic empire.

While differing in important ways, these tyrants all subscribe to an authoritarian and collectivist vision of society. All are irrevocably hostile to America and, beyond that, to Enlightenment values of individual rights and democratic governance.

One encouraging note: all three axis regimes are enduring difficulties, none more serious than in Iran, where the Khamenei dictatorship has been beset not just by an unprecedented demand for rights—women’s rights in particular—but by opposition to clerical rule. Nevertheless, his regime continues to threaten his neighbors. He provides funds and arms to Palestinian Islamic Jihad, Hamas, and of course, Hizballah, through which he dominates Lebanon, which is now—not merely coincidentally—a failing state. Most strikingly, his regime has begun supplying Mr. Putin with weapons for use in his war to conquer Ukraine.

The axis of tyrannies will no doubt draw lessons from what Mr. Putin does or does not achieve [in this war]. Its leaders will make decisions based on whether the [America and its] allies are steadfast in their support of Ukraine over time or confirm the prediction of the 9/11 mastermind (and tyrant) Khalid Sheikh Mohammed to his CIA interrogator: “We will win because . . . we do not need to defeat you militarily; we only need to fight long enough for you to defeat yourself by quitting.”

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