The U.S. has now endured seven years of a president whose strategy in the war on terror has been variously to lead from behind (which is not really leading at all) and — as Sen. Marco Rubio observed in Wednesday night’s GOP debate — to inflict “pinpricks” on our enemies.
So how have those strategies been received by bad players globally? On Tuesday, North Korea announced it had upgraded and restarted all its atomic bomb fuel production plants as a warning to the U.S. Russia now boasts of having closed the air superiority gap.
But perhaps the best indicator of little Obama’s U.S. is feared by those out to kill us comes out of Iran, where some leaders, in the wake of the nuclear agreement with the U.S., are disputing whether America is still the “Great Satan.”
According to The New York Times’ Tehran correspondent Thomas Erdbrink, a debate has emerged over the image that America should play in a newly unbalanced Iran. The 1979 revolution that established Iran as the world’s only “Islamic republic” included the slogan “Death to America” at its heart.
The spirit of 1979 is reflected in Iran’s unique political system, which combines democratic elections with a strong check from the Shiite Islamic clerical class. The combination of anti-imperialism with theocracy means that “Death to America” and anti-Zionism remain central to the regime’s rhetoric.
But with the U.S. helping de-isolate Iran — something a majority of Iranians desire, against their government’s wishes — many are scrambling to re-assess the Great Satan. One economist joked to the Times, “Perhaps we should use ‘lesser Satan’ now.”
Outside the regime, most Iranians see the U.S.’ scathing economic sanctions on Iran as an unjust and humiliating public burden. The nuclear deal, and the promise of reduced sanctions for bad behavior, was an enticing chance to return to a state of international normalcy.
Statements by President Hassan Rouhani suggest that the elected portion of the government is interested in greater “openness” to the outside world, to the benefit of everyday Iranian citizens.
Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, too, cautiously backed the process that led to negotiation with the U.S., in the interest of maintaining the Iranian system. But he has repeatedly emphasized ongoing enmity with the U.S. and Israel, insisting that nothing will change in Iran’s revolutionary fervor.
And plenty of elements within the regime, including the head of the elite military unit tasked with defending Iran’s Islamic principles, see the deal as a dangerous concession to the American enemy.
The U.S. and Iran are unlikely to restore normal diplomatic relations anytime soon; the shuttered U.S. Embassy in Tehran remains a potent symbol of the two countries’ deep mutual alienation. For the Iranian public, though, the implementation of the nuclear deal presents an opportunity to reconsider who their friends, allies and rivals might be.
This report, by Ivan Plis, was cross-posted by arrangement with the Daily Caller News Foundation.