The Chinese Communist Party prides itself on protecting fellow dictators around the world - and none more so than the mullahcracy in Iran. The Khomeinist regime in Tehran has been the CCP's oldest and closest friend in the Middle East - albeit because most "Middle Eastern" maps do not include Pakistan. Moreover, Tehran's virulent anti-Americanism makes it a perfect tool for combating the United States and the rest of the free world with little chance of geopolitical consequences. Zhongnanhai would prefer not to be blamed for fueling the Iranian regime's ambitions, and the mullahs are desperate to take all the credit for their actions. It's a perfect arrangement - so long as the mullahs had a firm grip on Iran.
Events of this past week, however, revealed that the mullahcracy's grip on the Iranian people remains as shaky as it was this past summer.
December 7 in Iran is National Students Day, a day to honor students who in 1953 protested a pro-American coup. For twenty years, the regime is happy to have large crowds marching in the streets, but anti-regime students essentially took over the day's events in 1999; the regime has tamped down December 7 ever since (Los Angeles Times).
It didn't work this year. Despite over a hundred pre-NSD arrests and the usual clamor about "foreign influence" (Fox News), campuses all over Iran witnessed large anti-regime protests. Even worse for the mullahs, for the first time, ethnic minorities (Kurds and Azeris) got in on the act (LAT).
Now, the regime did survive, and will for some time yet, but the mullahs will continue to waste energy terrifying their people into silence and imprisoning - or worse - those who refused to be cowed. This comes despite anemic support for the protesters coming from the free world.
That won't be lost on the folks in Zhongnanhai. They, too, have a potentially lethal combination of determined dissidents and ethnic issues - the latter exacerbated by the fact that the CCP conquered the nations in question (Tibet and East Turkestan). They, too, have done everything they can to take advantage of the free world's willingness to look the other way on human rights and other matters. Moreover, unlike the Iranian regime, the CCP long ago lost its ideological justification for its cruelty.
If the Iranian tyrants still have to worry about massive protests erupting at certain dates, to what can the CCP look forward? That is the question that keeps the cadres up nights.
For nearly two decades, the CCP has tried to avoid the fate of the European Communists. They deftly redesigned economic Marxism - effectively transforming the state from factory manager to the equivalent of an omnipresent holding company. They spent years polishing their image among the elites of the world, building alliances with other tyrants, and attempting to co-opt any dissident they could find.
Here's the problem: the first item, while quite ingenious, can only take the regime so far, and there's evidence aplenty that it has run its course. The rest is straight out of the European Communists' playbook - and it has led to the same paucity of results.
Anyone who remembers the 1970s has seen this movie before. The free world was willing to look the other way vis a vis European Communism, too (including both political parties here in America). There were other matters that seemed to trump human rights (in that decade, it was the nuclear arms race and, ahem, global cooling). Tyrants seemed on the march under Soviet protection. The decade ended with Iran itself succumbing to the Khomeinists. Yet European Communism still fell.
What we tend to forget, however, is that the 1970s was the one decade during which the CCP paid the least attention to the rest of the world. The chaos of the Cultural Revolution, the post-Mao factional battles within the CCP, and the first signs of popular protest against the regime combined to keep the eyes of the CCP leaders firmly fixed inward.
So, while the CCP learned the lessons of the 1980s (i.e., the state as factory manager doesn't work, and neither does open resistance to an assertive free world), they missed the lessons of the 1970s (an unassertive free world never stays that way, the people will never be won over by foreign plaudits, and allied tyrants inevitably cost more to prop up then their worth).
In other words, the CCP is marching into the same trap the snared their European brethren, but they don't see it coming, but they were not paying attention during the decade that most closely resembles this one. In time, when the free world arises from its stupor (as it inevitably does), the trap will be sprung, and the Chinese Communist Party will take its rightful place on the ash heap of history.