Third, and most worrisome of all, we see increasing evidence that states in the axis actively coordinate their foreign policies. For those who are skeptical whether there is an axis, much less whether they coordinate their policies, senior government officials in Iran have no such doubts. Last week, Saeed Jalili, the head of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council said, “Iran will not tolerate, in any form, the breaking of the axis of resistance, of which Syria is an intrinsic part.”
This is very misleading. Everyone understands that the Iranian and Syrian governments consider themselves to be part of a “resistance” front that is opposed to the U.S., Israel, and other U.S. clients in the region. This mighty “axis” includes these two states, Hizbullah in Lebanon, and Hamas in Gaza. That’s it. Jalili wasn’t confirming Martel’s “authoritarian axis” argument. Martel is using a piece of boilerplate pro-Assad rhetoric from an Iranian official to create the impression that the Iranian government sees itself as belonging to a global “authoritarian axis.” Iran doesn’t see itself this way, because this “authoritarian axis” including Russia, China, et al. does not exist. We know that Iran doesn’t want Assad to lose power. It wants to keep a pro-Iranian government in Damascus as long as possible. That’s all that this statement means.
For the West, this axis is the defining issue in foreign policy because it signals the rise of authoritarian governments whose central policy objective is to undermine democracy, freedom, and human rights. By the “West,” I mean the vast majority of societies that are united by their commitment to democracy and free markets. If it is successful, and we rightly should be highly skeptical, the axis seeks to fundamentally realign world politics toward repression.
This definition of “the West” is so broad as to be meaningless. Do India and Brazil consider themselves to be part of “the West” on the basis of some shared political values? I don’t think so. I suppose Martel could fall back on the anachronistic phrase “free world,” but that doesn’t mean as much as it once did. There is no one central objective for all of these governments, because they have varied and sometimes divergent and conflicting interests. The priorities of all of these governments are to remain in power and to secure what they perceive as their national interests. Russia and Iran have no particular interest in Chinese ambitions in the South China Sea, and China has been noticeably unhelpful in backing up Russia in its disputes with Georgia. Both states voted to impose U.N. sanctions on Iran over its nuclear program on multiple occasions, the most recent of which was just two years ago. Would any of these things be happening if there were an “axis” of states whose “central policy objective” was undermining “democracy, freedom, and human rights”? These states aren’t in a position to realign world politics. They aren’t interested in the export or promotion of authoritarian repression elsewhere, which would get them nothing in any case.
Martel isn’t done yet:
Several principles govern the foreign policies of the axis states. The first is reflexive opposition to the United States. No principle seems more important than to resist and restrain American power and influence whenever the opportunity arises.
If there is nothing more important than resisting and restraining American power, why has Russia (the “nominal head” of the so-called axis) been cooperating with the U.S. in supplying the war in Afghanistan? Why has it allowed the creation of a transit hub in Ulyanovsk? If it were acting as the leader of this so-called axis, shouldn’t Russia be trying to make things as difficult as possible for the U.S.? It isn’t doing that. It’s almost as if the Russian government were making its policy decisions based on the Kremlin’s understanding of Russian interests.
Authoritarian governments sometimes end up on the same side of certain international issues, and Russia and China sometimes coordinate their diplomatic efforts at the U.N. when they both object to the prospect of international intervention in another state’s internal affairs. They are often not alone in objecting to Western military intervention. Occasionally, the authoritarian major powers supported sanctioning Iran, and democratic states such as Brazil and Turkey have opposed U.N. sanctions because they believed there was a way to broker an agreement that would make the sanctions unnecessary. Authoritarian governments cooperate with one another when it helps secure their interests, just as they sometimes cooperate with democratic states when they find it useful. The “authoritarian axis” is a fantasy, and the most foolish thing the U.S. and Western governments could do in our dealings with all of these governments would be to act as if such a thing existed.